The big bad yellow bus…

Front of a yellow school bus.

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In another initiative to over protect our kids and alleviate any modicum of self-reliance, a suburban Chicago school district has outfitted their students backpacks with a luggage tag size GPS that monitors when the student gets on and off the bus.  While I can appreciate the concern of parent’s for their child’s welfare, this whole concept of micro-chipping our pets and kids has an ominous big brother tone that is eerily playing out before our very eyes.  But more importantly, from a developmental perspective, navigating the bus, with all its relational drama and intensity, is a rite of passage for a child. This is where we learn to stand on our two feet, set good boundaries and survive in a world without mom and dad. It’s where both good and bad decisions are made, and kids actually learn from natural consequences.

 This takes me back to my own bus story as kid, a defining moment in the spectrum of childhood adventure. It also makes me wonder how many kids will we emotionally handicap by never letting them screw up, get lost and find their way back home.

The year was 1977; I was seven-year old 2nd grader, taking the big yellow school bus home for the first time.  Apprehensive all day, the momentous occasion had finally arrived.  There I stood, in my rainbow knee socks and straggly pig-tails, taking in what seemed like an endless row of busses.  My parents had told me to take the bus that went to South Huntington Beach but I could only see black numbers on the side of the yellow behemoths.  Starting to panic, I asked one of the drivers where they were going.  He looked down at me, scratched his scraggly chin, and said, “Honey this bus is going to Huntington Beach.”

Well…that seemed close enough, so I skipped on up the stairs, and settled down into a seat near one of my classmates that I recognized.  We drove off and I settled in to what seemed like an awfully long ride to South Huntington Beach.  After all the kids but one had gotten off the bus, it started to dawn on me that something was terribly wrong.  Timidly I approached the driver, “Sir, I thought you said we were going to Huntington Beach?”

The old driver cackled, “I just drove through the whole damn town.  You lost kid?”

“Yes sir,” I warbled, my eyes filling with tears.

“Well this bus is going back to the yard and I got plans. You gotta get off at the next stop cuz I don’t have time to deal with you.  Go with that other kid and call your mom.”

“Ok,” I said, more scared of the bus yard than being abandoned.  I envisioned a field of empty yellow buses with no mommies for miles.

I followed the sole little girl off the bus and asked her if I could call my mom from her house. She agreed and off we trotted to her home.  Her mother fussed over me like a hen, until my own mom arrived, distraught over the mishap.  I heard my mother telling the girl’s mom; “you would think a kid going to a gifted and talented magnet school could figure out how to take a bus.”

Embarrassed and yet exhilarated that I had survived a dangerous journey all by myself, I stood up a little taller and I didn’t hold my mom’s hand on the way out like I usually did.  Strangely enough, some lessons of self-reliance can only be learned by getting on the wrong bus.

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