because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Stuck Behind a Bus

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photo by Thomas Hawk @ flickr.com

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?