Two years ago, my oldest kid, Violet, climbed up on the school bus for the first time in her life, sat down in a window seat, and waved at Mom and Dad standing there jumping up and down (holding back tears, of course) on her first day of kindergarten.
Then things got weird.
I wrangled everyone back into the car with quickness and set off in hot pursuit of that bus carrying my baby girl. I have no idea why I did that, it’s impossible to explain. I was shaking and excited and nervous and giddy and, quite frankly, I think I was kind of out of my mind. But I guess it was because she was only 5 years old and on the bus by herself!
So I just had to follow her.
Of course, I crash landed that little idea in the end. When we got to the school, I was like,”Umm, uhhh, errrr … well this is awkward. We’ve got to get out of here so she doesn’t see us!”
We laughed at ourselves (okay, at me) and drove away, leaving our only daughter to the new galaxy of her elementary school.
Fast forward a couple years.
Now I’ve got a son, Henry, who is all set to start kindergarten himself here shortly. And I can’t lie: I might follow that bus again this year, too. But I won’t be freaking out in the process this time around. Looking back now, I think that me following that bus was my way of convincing myself that all was well. Two years of school bus experience has taught me all I need to know.
All is well.
It just is.
“Of course it’s totally safe and okay for little kids to ride that thing!”
That’s what I was trying to convince myself when I followed Violet’s bus to school.
Like almost any parent I can imagine, I was more than a little concerned. I mean, 5 is young. And young is scary. And we want to protect our own, you know? Plus it had been many, many moons since I’d ridden a bus to school myself. Everything was hazy. Me riding the school bus seemed so 1800s or something. This world is different now. It’s CRAZIER.
So I guess I just needed that extra reassurance or something.
Reassurance from what though?
I’m not even sure, to be honest.
That there wouldn’t be bullies hanging my daughter by her feet out the bus window?
That two blocks after she boarded the bus, fire wouldn’t come spouting from its roof?
The trouble with modern parenting, I figure, starts just beneath the glassy surface of Instagram and Pinterest, in those deep dark places where we all harbor serious reservations about real threats and danger. That’s where many of us start to question allowing our kids to do something so basic and good … like ride the bus to school.
“She’s not ready,” we whisper to ourselves.
“I just don’t want her bullied,” we convince ourselves.
“I don’t mind driving her in order to avoid any kind of drama,” we say, to no one in particular.
To hell with being scared.
I say let ’em ride the school bus.
From Day 1.
Don’t drive your kindergartener to school if you don’t absolutely have to.
We’re getting a little nuts when it comes to our kids these days. We get a little over-protective; we have the worst of CNN branded to the sides of our overworked brains. Sure, there are risks when we let a child ride the bus. But there are just as many risks, if not more, when we let them ride their bicycle or climb the monkey bars at the park, no?
But life must go on.
I love the school bus now.
I see it for what it is. And what it is is this really wonderful reminder vessel in these over-parenting times. Riding the bus to kindergarten and the early grades is one of the greatest sociological/community experiences that our kids can be exposed to. Especially our youngest.
Think about this: every school bus is a place where children learn that there is a pecking order in the world. And that there are ways to behave (and ways not to behave) when you’re amongst your peers. That experience, which is a must in this world if you’re ever going to survive, even involves varying degrees of fear or apprehension at times.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. In fact, learning to avoid confrontation with dimwits and assholes is a critical life skill that is best learned at the youngest age possible.
Hey, I’m 44 and I’m STILL trying to master the art form.
Kids who ride the school bus end up receiving a worthwhile second education — a street savvy one, if you will — every single day, free of charge. How is that a bad thing? How is that too much for them to handle?
Starting the apprenticeship at 5 sounds about perfect.
Look, one of the most magical, nourishing things about heading off to kindergarten is that our child is suddenly thrust into this entirely new sphere of independence. Every aspect of their existence changes in a million different ways. And because most of us are pretty far removed from our kindergarten years, it’s kind of hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes.
We mean well, but we forget almost everything.
You wanna know something strange? So many of us who love to harp on about how much more free-range we were as kids back in the ’70s and ’80s are also the ones who suck the adventure out of childhood for kids today.
We baby them long after they’re babies.
We coddle them when they need to fall out of the nest a bit.
We snark and snigger at other parents and their stupidity when something happens that was probably out of their control.
We contradict ourselves in waves until we are a raging storm of mixed messages and false flag advice.
Then, on beautiful fall mornings when anything seems possible, there we are, the free-range kids of yesteryear, passing the neighbor’s son at the bus stop a block from our front door, waving at him and smiling, and then cruising on down the road, driving our own children right up to the front door of their school in our own car.
Because we’re afraid.
Because we want to control the whole world even when we know we can’t.More On