In our neighborhood, tradition mandated that everyone, high and low, ride the school bus. That was the correct, social thing to do and we all complied.
For years, as the sun peeked over the horizon, I’d watched mothers meet and chat, coffee cups in hand, while they waited for the school bus to whisk their little darlings away. The kids, more energetic than the moms, would push and shove and race about, filling the mornings with drama. Every day, someone overslept. Someone forgot their backpack or slopped their breakfast all over their uniform. Occasionally, someone would vomit or stick a pencil up their nose.
Oh, how I envied those moms and their days of freedom, until our turn came.
I remember standing at the designated corner bus stop, in shock. Amazed to discover, after years of praying for this day to come, that it was here. And, it was terrible. And, I wasn’t ready.
My little Gina was . . . so little. She still got cranky when she didn’t get her afternoon nap. And her teacher… Well, I wasn’t at all sure she would remember that Gina didn’t like peanut butter. She didn’t write it down when I told her. And sometimes Gina stuck jellybeans up her nose. What if she did that and I wasn’t there?
No, she wasn’t ready.
But Gina was excited. School meant adventure, friends and birthday parties. School meant she was “a big girl now.”
Yeah, all 3 feet 4 inches of her.
Standing there, waiting for the bus, with baby Mia on my hip, I realized I wasn’t ready to abandon my precious baby girl to the Kindergarten Parade.
Gina, on the other hand, was determined to go. She stood proud in her uniform. It matched everyone else’s. And all of the girls, even the tomboys, were brushed and braided. Hair tied back in big bows. The boys shuffled around, uncomfortable in their stiff new jeans and fancy collared shirts. Tucked in, of course.
All the kids looked, well . . . clean . . . and abnormally subdued. An illusion to be sure – underscoring this as the most prestigious of days.
That was before little John-John Myers stomped into the puddle left by the morning sprinklers, and sprayed mud everywhere.
Then the bus arrived, brakes squeaking.
All at once, the yelling and scramble began. “I’ll meet you here after school.” “Have a great day.” “Love you honey.”
Moms grabbed backpacks, forcing them on children. Kids lined up to load the bus. When it was Gina’s turn, she struggled to mount the stairs. They were too high for her short, little legs. Worse yet, she didn’t look back when she disappeared down the aisle
Frazzled, I ran along the side of the bus, trying to see where she was sitting. I couldn’t find her. So, I yelled, “I’ll follow… just in case you need me.”
Not knowing if she heard, I dashed across the street, plopped Mia into her car seat, strapped her in, shut the door, ran around the car and jumped into my seat. In position now, I waited, ready to pounce. The bus pulled out. I cut off one mother, and played chicken with two others, making sure I was the car immediately behind the bus so Gina could see me… if she wanted to.
I didn’t want her to panic.
She might, you know, panic, because I wasn’t with her.
We took off, following the bus, in this long funeral procession. Suburban after Suburban – dying all the way to school.
We turned into the school zone. Bedlam. Buses fought cars for parking spots. Kids ran riot. Everyone screamed.
I burst into tears. All this excitement would scare my little Gina.
Determined to find a parking spot where there was none, I nosed my car up, almost under the bus’s tail pipe. The air conditioner sucked the exhaust into the car. I gagged. A little chunk of vomit slid up the back of my throat. Nauseated, I backed up and rolled down the windows. But first, I made sure no one was trying to steal my spot.
Kids began unloading. I threw my car in park, grabbed Mia and raced to find Gina. I saw her. Relief coursed through my body. I waved wildly, like she hadn’t seen me in years. Joy radiated from her.
“Did you have fun?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. Jason farted on the bus.”
Not what I expected, but okay.
A teacher bellowed. “Kindergarteners meet here.”
Like cows at the feedlot, they were separating the herd.
“Did you get to sit in a seat by yourself?” Mia asked, mesmerized by her sister’s grandeur.
“I could have, but I sat with Lisa. She’s going to be my best friend. We agreed on the bus.”
“Oh.” Mia looked so impressed.
“Kindergarten… Over here.”
Gina’s head jerked up. She was listening.
“Mummy, I have got to go.”
Tears burned in my eyes.
Gina reached over and kissed Mia, then me.
“Want me to stay?” I asked.
“No, mummy.” She turned and disappeared into the crowd of munchkins.
Mia and I waited until all the children had gone inside. We were not alone. Other parents stood there too.
At least I wasn’t sobbing.
Before the buses took off, I found out when our bus driver would be back as I intended to follow her home. In case Gina got confused and got off at the wrong house.
After that, every morning and afternoon, I followed the bus, again not alone. A long train of Moms followed the yellow bus. But, as the days went by, the trail of Suburbans dwindled, until the day came when there was only me.
I didn’t care. Every day I watched Gina. She’d wave. I’d wave back. After a week or so, she quit. But, I liked watching her little head bob while she chatted away with her friends.
I was a fly on the wall, watching her interact with the world. I liked my spot.
After three weeks, Gina pulled me aside. “Mummy, you’re embarrassing me. None of the other mothers are still following the bus.”
She hesitated. Tears filled her eyes. “John-John called me ‘Your Baby.’ Everyone laughed.”
“Oh, honey. I’m sorry. I’ll stop. I won’t follow anymore . . . if you’re sure you know which stop is our stop.”
Gina rolled her eyes. “Mummy, I know the stop.” Then, she kissed me and raced away.
I didn’t follow the bus the next day, or the day after.
I’d learned my lesson.
When Mia went to school two years later, I was prepared. I made sure I wasn’t the first person behind the bus. I lagged back, blending with the crowd. And, after two weeks, when all the other mothers had quit, I hid, at least one city block back. After three weeks, I quit stalking the bus.
I’m proud to say, I don’t think Mia ever saw me.
I don’t think she ever even knew I was there.
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