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Friday, December 24, 2010

Yellow Bus

Anyone in elementary education knows what "children are not making good choices" means, but if you're not in elementary education, nor close to people undergoing or perpetrating it, let me be clear. "Not making good choices" means misbehaving. So naturally, when a letter containing this phrase in relation to riding the school bus came home, I perked up my ears. The letter came from no less a personage than the principal, who doesn't write memos often.

Last year, the district undertook a program, the Peaceable Bus program, which involved a couple of school-wide assemblies with the bus drivers and perhaps some community-building skills that involved children forming their bus groups and meeting with their individual drivers. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, since, well, since I have to rely on my 3rd grader (then 2nd grader) to provide them, and she was much more interested in how many times Zach chased her at recess than in the assembly.

The principal was sorry to state that the program was not producing the hoped-for results, and that some children were, you know, euphemism supplied. As a result, after the winter vacation children would be assigned seats on the bus for three months, after which the policy would be reviewed.

Curious, I asked my daughter what was happening on the bus. Just some screaming and yelling and jumping over the seats. Really? I said. Jumping over the seats? Well, not on my bus, the 3rd grader said. On her bus, the only thing besides the screaming and yelling was climbing under the seats.

I rode a yellow school bus for eight years, through 7th grade. One year, my nemesis, Catharina, developed a new idee fix for my humiliation. Unable to separate myself from her, I sat by her on the bus, day by day. Day by day she worked on me, goading me to scream at the top of my lungs. Go on, do it, she said, just do it. Just once, scream, really loud, just once, do it do it do it do it. Eventually, her persistence wore me down. One afternoon, just as Thomas the driver turned onto my street, I let out a blood-curdling scream that hurt my throat and surprised me. The bus lurched to a stop and my humiliation began the minute my volume muted. As I remember it, Thomas was prepared to yell himself, but when he saw that it was I who had done this, he relented. He told me I better never do that again or else he'd tell my parents. I wouldn't, I promised in a mumble, as I got off the bus.

As I write this, I am remembering that my 7th grader, who also rides the school bus, was once very late home and confessed to me that the reason they were late was that some of the people on the bus, herself included, were being loud and changing seats over and over again until the driver pulled over.

Now I have told my children to wear their seat belts on the bus. I even went so far as to read the District's rules regarding seat belts. They were a little lax, in my opinion, only suggesting that children wear them, not saying it's a law. My children were resistant to the idea, and I knew I was helpless to enforce it. According to them, no one else wears seat belts.  So I pulled out the fear-based motivator, and assured them that the single most important factor in preventing death and serious injury in an automobile accident has been proven to be the wearing of seat belts. I gave them my most evil eye and spoke in my most solemn tone, and hoped they carried.

Both children were home, at the kitchen counter, having snack, when I read this missive from the principal. So, are you still wearing your seat belts? I asked. Yes, said my 7th grader in a dull voice. People have stopped bothering me about it, she added. Good for you, I thought but did not say. She seems to have friends, many friends, despite her instinct for self-preservation.

What about you? I said to my 3rd grader. You're not climbing under the seats are you?

No! She said. I wear my seat belt.

Good, that's good, I said.

Just today, this boy asked my why I was wearing my seat belt, she continued.


So I told him I wear it because my mother told me to, she said. He said, Well, your mom isn't here...

So what did you say to that? I said.

I told him I wear it anyway, because I'm a good girl.

I am telling you this with only a small amount of pride, fully aware that the evil eye and the solemn tone probably won't hold out much longer under peer pressure. I am also marveling a bit at the extent of my power. And I am also a little sorry that what my 3rd grader said wasn't, Well, the reason I'm wearing my seat belt is that I value my life, or something equally pungent. She wants to be a good girl now, but I know that effort is doomed: eventually she will fall short of whatever standards she has applied to herself in her understanding of mine, and then, oh my God, and then. Then I'll be wishing she'd just given in and crawled under the seat herself.


  1. The school bus phenomenon... is what happens when you put kids in one place without any supervision. It's where they really have to find out who they are in relationship to others. It's where the personalities come out... quiet, bully, etc...

  2. How I love the idea of a Peaceable Bus. To this day I'm scarred from my many years of riding the school bus. The 45-60 minute ride from hell. Some things have changed for the better! Thanks for this post.