Education Memoir Parenting

Stuck Behind a Bus

photo by Thomas Hawk @

Ever been stuck at a red light behind a school bus? Of course you have. You know that moment when the kids suddenly realize, Hey! We’re not moving! And there’s a car back there with a person in it! And then they all start frantically waving?

It’s definitely a decision moment.

There are non-wavers who live among us.

I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Recently I found myself stuck behind a school bus, facing The Rowdy Boys, and I had one of those flashback moments a la Wayne’s World when I remembered my time spent at the back of the bus. These days, most school buses (in these parts anyway) have two parallel rows and an aisle with an emergency safety exit in the back; in the 1970s-80s, on the buses at my district’s alma mater, the back seat of the bus was one long row that extended from one side of the bus to the other. (If there were ever an emergency, I think we were supposed to kick out the rear window with our feet and jump out.) Or something.

A “walker” from kindergarten until fifth grade, I wasn’t introduced to school bus culture until middle school. In sixth grade, I made sure to sit in the front of the bus — close to the driver, but by eighth grade, I was definitely back seat material. I was soooo cool, wearing my cool jeans that pressed against the aged, red cushion where generations of cool kids sat before me. I sat with the smokers and the naughty girls and the angry boys. I read graffiti scribbled on the walls, watched people carve their initials into the metal bus walls, felt the bus move and sway beneath me. We tried to figure out the lyrics to The Sugar Hill Gang‘s “Rappers Delight.” We exchanged dirty jokes. We made plans to hang-out out after school.

But the bus I trailed the other day was peopled with elementary school aged innocents who smiled and laughed  and acted like goofballs, making faces and sticking out tongues. Separated by a little metal, glass, and asphalt, they probably felt like I did in eighth grade: Cool. Maybe a little bit naughty. Waving to a stranger in her car? What would their mommies say?

I made them work for it a little bit. They flapped their arms furiously, and I smiled. Eventually, just before the light turned green, I waved. Because I always wave back. And, of course, they loved it. I saw them whooping it up, high-fiving each other, as if they’d placed bets on whether or not I’d return their advances. (Maybe I am underestimating those elementary schoolers. Maybe they did place bets! Maybe that kid in the red Old Navy shirt won a lot of money because I actually waved.)

For kids, the bus is a buffer, a zone between the world of school and home, and the ride serves a dual purpose. It is a convenience (read: Mom doesn’t always have to be the chauffeur), but the bus-ride also provides time for kids to mentally shift gears from school — the land of increasing independence and increasing work and increasing expectations — and home, the land of dependence, where they are not the boss and there is homework to be done and sports to prepare for and instruments to practice and parents who still want to hear about every detail of the day, even if the kids themselves aren’t interested in sharing.

When you see kids on a bus, know they are between worlds. Time-traveling, if you will. And, if you are stuck behind a bus and the kids actually recognize your acknowledge in a positive manner, be glad. Just like adults, some of them have had fabulous days filled with glitter-glue and rainbows. But some of them have had lousy days. Dark days. Days where they have been mistreated and misunderstood. Maybe they have been bullied or made to feel small.

I say everyone should wave to kids on school buses; it’s such a little gesture, a little reaching out. It doesn’t cost anything, and it can bring so much joy.  Oh, but here’s a quick tip; only do the waving thing if the kids initiate it first. Otherwise, you’re just a creepy dork in the car behind the bus.

What do you remember from your school bus days?

17 thoughts on “Stuck Behind a Bus

  1. “Only do the waving thing if the kids initiate it first. Otherwise, you’re just a creepy dork in the car behind the bus.”

    Love it!
    My youngest daughter, age 12, waves at strangers from the car; she’s the most daring of our kids.


  2. STUCK BEHIND A BUS(herewith indicated as “SBAB” ) IN MIAMI: Deal with electric co-SBAB, deal with zoning dept – SBAB, deal with phone co- SBAB, grocery store line-SBAB, bank teller-SBAB, auto tag dept-SBAB, court house,traffic div-SBAB,condo assoc-SBAB, dept store returns-SBAB, cable tv-SGBAB, car ins.-SBAB, property tax dept-SBAB, driving to work-SBAB, pizza delivery-SBAB,Miami Dolphins going to playoffs-SBAB, waiting for the bus to pick up kids-SBAB,waking up in morning-SBAB.

  3. I forgot about the big red seat in the back! I have been looking at school buses for the past ten years and never realized that! Great description! I can picture it now as if it were yesterday. It was a score when you got to the back of the bus first! Bouncing up and down and laughing with your friends was the best!

    These days, if they are little kids waving, I will wave. If it is the high school kids, they are not usually waving – if you get my drift. One bus got pulled over by a police officer because a high school kid gave him the finger! Holy what?!

    1. Remember how “kewl” we were when we made it to the back seat? We were. I am not surprised that a bus was pulled over when somebody flipped a police officer “the bird.” That is pretty darn disrespectful. I mean, kids, if you are going to flip someone off, pick some random nose-picker, not the police.

  4. Great article. You are such a fabulous writer. You make the words come alive on the page. I can picture those kids laughing and whooping it up over a wave. Life was so simple back then. We all thought we were so cool. Hey, we still are!

  5. My 9-year old plays that game on the bus. Where we live the buses still have the long backseat, and the kids all play & call the game “sweet & sour”. She came home the other week & said “Dad was sour today!” – he didn’t see them waving at him…

  6. HA! Laughing at your last line – true, too true! I like the idea of “time travel” on the bus. Ever read The Magic School Bus series?

    I rode the bus for one year, elementary school. Torture. Had a couple of rotten little sh*thead boys who would act up on the bus. One winter day, when we were all bundled up against the cold, they acted up right in front of the school, while on the bus. Instead of kicking their little asses to the curb, the driver kept the bus parked and turned up the heat. I asked if she’d let me off (I hadn’t been misbehaving), and the driver refused: once you’re on the bus, you’re on until you get to your stop. I walked to and from school after that.

    One of our brain-trusts hollered out the window “It’s the po-po!” when he saw an officer approaching the school building. The kid about dumped a load in his drawers when the officer got on the bus and lectured about respect!

    1. Oooh, your mean ol’ bus driver sounded like our Maybelle. We did not mess with Maybelle. She was old and mean and bitter and mean and shriveled and mean. Did I mention she was mean? If you were not ready to get off the bus when she got to your stop, she kept going and you would have to get off at the next stop – which was sometimes kinda far. Back in the day, they actually spaced out the stops! Oooh, she was a tough one. I’m thinking Maybelle is long gone. But every school district has a Maybelle, right?

  7. As always, very smooth piece. Fluency is the difference between people who write and writers, I think. (By the way, do you think that fluency can be taught?)

    Yes, always wave. And if you’re driving a semi, honk your air horn. You’ll be a hero.

    Good stuff, Renee.

    Chase McFadden

    1. Chase, I am working darn hard at teaching comma rules and proper use of apostrophes at my local community college. Fluency? Lawd, I don’t know. I think with practice, fluency can be learned. But a person has to love words and really want to write well. I write every day, and every day the words come more and more easily. Most people are happy to be mediocre.

      Here’s how I feel about your blog: HONK! HONK!

  8. If you lived in West Seneca NY you would know that the children here are not raised with class.

    I was behind a bus tonight where two boys were enthralled that I seemed to be talking to myself (headset for my phone). They kept looking and pointing. I picked up the phone to pretend to take a picture of them and they had all “OOOOOO” faces and picked up their cell phones to make “a call.” Who were they calling? Reporting me for picking up a phone in my car while stopped at a red light? Calling mom that someone took a picture of them on the bus? Loser kids. I wound up giving them the finger.

  9. Ha ha! I know exactly what you are talking about. I remember back when I was in middle school, I always had the opportunity to sit in the back of the bus because I had an in the with eighth graders since my sister was one. We would play the game hot or cold, where we would wave to the drivers behind the bus, and if you received a wave they were hot but if you didn’t get one back, they were cold. Whoever got the most waves until we arrived at school won something. The prize differed depending on the day. Now, since I am a driver myself, I wave to the kiddies in the back of the buses. I love to watch the excitement arise from the kids when I throw a wave back.

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