I haven’t put my kids on a school bus for the past six years.
The bus picks up students right next to our house at 8 o’clock. At 8:10 a.m., I load my children in the car and drive them to school. Some mornings we pick up a friend or two and cart them to the drop-off zone at the local elementary and middle schools. Sometimes we sit in traffic right behind the same bus that picks up the neighbors.
I save no time or gas by driving them because we arrive at school at the same time as the long line of bus riders walks from the bus drop-off point into the school.
I have to say that I’m not a helicopter parent, hovering over every move of my children. I don’t spray antiseptic on every scratch, and I have been known to put mine to bed without a bath or even brushing their teeth. At drop-off, I see that the bus riders seem to be just fine, but I wonder if they have a Ted riding in the back of their bus.
Ted is the boy from my childhood whose behavior on the school bus is largely what I am avoiding by driving my kids to school some thirty years later. Actually, Ted and a bus driver are behind my reluctance.
In 1982, Ted the Bully is sitting in the back seat of bus number 16. He routinely lobs an insult or a trick question over the rows of seats. The Ted of bus number 16 can swear up a storm, too. The language is foul the volume just low enough to sting but never loud enough to be detected by the driver. Sometimes after exiting the doors of the bus, I find a book missing from my backpack or a spitball in my hair.
But some of my worst memories are from commentary about budding body parts from boys who had a clear line of sight to every aspect of my adolescent development and people who spotted my fashion faux pas and from the head to toe inspections, handed out five days a week, rain or shine, as I boarded the bus and scurried down the aisle to take shelter in a seat.
Today I know bullies are bullied, and some do it for attention, and some do it because they need to make themselves feel big by making someone feel small. That is little consolation for the singled-out kids out there who already feel small as they swim upstream against the vast and varied social rules that define “fitting in.”
My relatives sends their kids on the bus and reminds me that sometimes it isn’t the environment that is to blame, but instead, each person bears his or her responsibility for how they act in situations.
My friends tell me this behavior is everywhere. It is a part of growing up, they say. It is a part of developing character, finding inner strength, learning to operate in a world with not-so-nice manners.
They assure me that I can protect my kids from a half-hour bus ride, but remind me that the same behaviors, (bad language, bullying, sexual innuendo) happen in various places in school. In fact, it goes on through the whole day and until they are back home. They send their kids on the bus where they defend themselves (or fend for themselves, as I say.) They believe their kids learn good lessons on handling what life throws at them and that the bus is actually a pretty safe place to practice.
As for me, school has started, and I’m gearing up for another year of driving my kids to and from the drop-o point right outside its doors. While I know I can’t protect them from everything, this is one small trip I am willing to make to start their days off without a Ted.
Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning.