With our return to the States, my little family has been introduced to a classic American ritual: the twice daily wait for the school bus.
Not only for Princess Imagination, but also for me, this is an entirely new experience. Having had a relatively unique elementary education in the comfort of my own home, my limited experience with school buses had been transportation for summer camp day trips. These memories are fuzzy: mostly involving the slightly sweet smell of childhood sweat, the uncomfortable sensation of legs in short cotton shorts sticking to vinyl seats, and the awkward anxiety of hoping to find a seat buddy who would be friendly to the shy, gangly girl who didn’t really know anyone.
Thankfully, Princess Imagination is forming much different associations with the school bus. The news that she would finally get to take the bus to and from school (rather than suffering – apparently – under the chauffeuring of Mommy) was one of the greatest benefits of moving back to the States and a new school. In her mysterious world, the chance to take the school bus is unaccountably afforded a rank of high esteem. She had repeatedly begged for this privileged transportation to her expat school in Italy, but that service came with a heavy price tag and I liked the chance for regular contact with the place and people who filled her day, so her pleas were emphatically refused. When we finally arrived in the US only to be marooned temporarily in out-of-district transitional housing, she visibly chaffed at the delay. It was unclear whether the chance to take possession of her fondly remembered “flower room” and be reunited with all her toys from the overseas shipment, or the chance to finally start taking the bus, was the more desired objective.
Now that this elusive goal has finally been grasped, she is glorying in the possession of it. No longing for a bus buddy for Princess Imagination. Despite my perpetual fears that my shy, introverted daughter will be haunted by my own childhood traumas, she has had no trouble making friends for the circuitous ride through the neighborhood. I hear more about these girls than most of the children in her class; each day her backpack is crammed with little notes and art projects they have made together on the ride; and today, when one of these girls was absent, she came home with a present from an entirely new friend whom she had never met before today but who was apparently captivated enough by my sparkling daughter to give her a color-change pencil.
Clearly, the bus is living up to all of her glorious imaginings.
My feelings for the bus, however, are not so sanguine. I am no longer fearing that she will endure the painful social awkwardness I faced. I am not suppressing panicky anxiety at the thought of my sweet baby stepping out of my protective sphere of influence (Little Miss Independent’s confident attitude – and the strong safety record of the school buses – make any such fears feel absurd). I am not even missing the sense of connection to the world where she spends her days (thanks to a teacher who is highly accessible via e-mail and several chances to get involved in class parties and PTA activities in the first few months). No – none of these typical and understandable associations with bus transportation are polluting my pleasure at the arrangement’s convenience and the satisfaction my daughter finds in them.
Instead, I am struggling with a banal but nevertheless alarming frustration. I hate waiting for the bus. It’s boring. It’s this weird, brief interlude in my day that gets under my skin and itches just enough to make me realize how pampered and self-centered my life can become in the blink of an eye. So this poem is both my confession, and my appeal to all the other moms out there who struggle to find meaning in the moments of daily drudgery.
It’s only five minutes to stand on my driveway,
eyes fixed on the curve of the road;
squinting to read the black, block numbers in relief on school bus yellow;
the number that will distinguish her bus from all the others that lumber past;
alert for one whose speed slows just a bit more than the bend demands,
for the signal of my relief: the slow, quiet flash of yellow lights.
It’s only five minutes to stand in the cold, or the sunlight
not seeing the evergreen trees that line the drive;
not thanking them for the oxygen they give to fill my lungs;
not noticing how the fresh, clean air has cleared our habitual winter sniffles;
not marveling at the play of light and wind that make
the small ice crystals dance across the white expanse of winter lawn.
It’s only five minutes to shuffle in empty irritation,
without activity to keep me moving,
without tasks to keep accomplishing,
without the comforting jolt of anxiety to keep pushing me to do,
without the distraction of a broom, or a box, or a phone
that can fill any empty space in my soul with the command to attend to outside demands.
But…. I could be five minutes to breathe in the beauty of my surroundings;
eyes stroking the soft and sharp lines of snow on pine;
ears dancing to the rhythm of small animals rustling in the dense brush across the road;
senses drinking in the intoxicating scent of freshness;
skin relishing the chill that very soon will be removed with jackets
as our warm, dry home embraces me and my daughter together.
It could be five minutes to anticipate my daughter’s return;
to savor the sweet curve of her smile in my mind,
to know how it will float down the steep, bumpy steps
propelling her toward me with news of her day,
and also to remember the content of her daily schedule so that,
if her words lull, I can be ready with questions that will speak of my eagerness to know.
It could even be five minutes to commune with my God;
to contemplate the beauty surrounding me, and it’s source;
to appreciate the provision of this space to stand and wait;
to know, to really know, that I am blessed;
and to allow my heart to well and overflow
with thankfulness that changes simple moments into shining drops of time.
But it is only five minutes;
and so, most days, I stand and wait in shuffling impatience,
straining against inactivity,
made jittery by wasted energy that can’t be bothered
to fill up five minutes