My Little Students, My Little Teachers?
The headless six year old kid was becoming annoying.
"Daniel - Why don't you unzip your coat?"
The headless six year old kid was becoming annoying. He would shriek or growl as kids boarded at every bus stop! How one shrieks or growls without a head is, I guess, part of his frightening mystery. But annoying he was because being the school bus driver, I was up front and got to experience every lunge at boarding passengers. Being the headless kid or whatever loud, rambunctious thing he decided to be on just about every morning meant that he was up front too.
As a middle aged, semi-retired adult you'd think I'd have gathered enough experience and wisdom in life to follow the common-sense directions given on every book of matches: "Keep Away From Children!" But no, in my job they surround and confound me every day. Our kids are grown up, or think they are and so trapped in the limbo between being a parent and grandparent, I drive a bus to borrow other people's kids. I never let their chatter affect my driving, but when they talk to me I listen and enjoy passing the time with them. The little ones are without guile and the big ones, trying on new attitudes, are still more transparent than they realize.
Today is Monday, and it had been a rough weekend. My wife's car had broken down again and though I fix most problems myself, the screeches and klunks were increasing in a pricey tempo. I'd told her that I thought the 23rd wedding anniversary was the "Auto Parts Anniversary," and so her gift was definitely covered, but she'd laughed only half-heartedly. A new car was in the offing and that would be expensive.
I had just learned that my son, the adult, had just received yet another speeding ticket. - This one a double fine in a construction zone. You know that nice helicopter the city cops have? Well, I think our son bought that for them. I'm so proud. Our daughter brought home her latest boyfriend. A tall bean pole of a skinny kid, he had enough metal in his face that I thought I was looking at the key-blank spinner display at Wal-Mart. Yikes! I whispered to daughter, don't walk near this one in a lightning storm... Where does she dig these guys up? Our children were more responsible and made better choices when they were ten than they do now.
Between worrying about our kids, expensive cars and college costs, I was doing a fair impression of a grouchy old guy. I was in no mood for the headless kid today. He had grown quiet, thankfully, but I could see in the big mirror that he still had his coat zipped up around the top of his head and the puffy coat arms hung limply at his sides. Geez, he was quiet. Too quiet for this kid.
"Daniel - Why don't you unzip your coat? You've scared everyone on the bus and there are no more stops on our way to school." Silence. "Daniel, it must be hot and stuffy in there. Unzip your coat before you get car sick!" He was silent a moment longer and then began to squirm a bit. I heard quiet words, muffled by the coat. "What did you say?"
"It's stuck, Mr. Preble. The zipper is stuck and I can't get out!"
I heard a little sob, and since we were still on a remote dirt road I pulled the bus over, set the brake and flashers and helped a flush faced - heat or embarrassment? - six year old out of his coat. While down on one knee, I noticed the little girl two seats back was crying.
"What's wrong honey?"
"I'm in so much trouble. I was just reading my library book and you hit a bump and the page ripped! - See?"
She held up a colorful reading primer with a torn page. Her large sad, teary eyes told me that she expected the librarian would do something awful - perhaps take away her birthday this year.
"No worries," I told her, "I keep Scotch tape in the pocket behind my seat. We'll fix that up in a jiffy. The librarian is a very nice lady and I'll just bet that she'll be glad you were reading. Don't worry honey."
Just then a boy further back caught my glance. He was wearing familiar glasses, school glasses that they keep to loan out to kids who forget their own. School glasses are not supposed to leave the building. This little guy, doubly forgetful had forgotten his glasses and then forgotten to leave the school glasses in class. He had the "my goose is cooked" look of worry all over his face too. These kids were having a rough Monday I thought. I explained that I knew his fourth grade teacher very well and she is an understanding mom. No one needed those glasses since he went home before the weekend and since he was returning them safely, I'm sure she'll understand. "A little forgetfulness is not a crime, eh?"
All this took no more than a couple of minutes and we were back on the road and to school on time. As they filed off the bus at the elementary school, there were a couple of shoes that needed to be tied and the gift of some lunch money to a little girl I knew to be very earnest. Seems like little kids go through their day with pieces falling off... As the last ones left, I said that I wanted to hear one new thing that they learned today, when they get on the bus this afternoon! "Okay, Mr. Preble," they said as they skipped away.
The sun, up higher now, sparkled in the dew on the prairie grasses. I wheeled the big bus around and put 'er away till the afternoon. A beautiful morning, I thought and smiled to myself. Ahh, kids. It's so easy to help them solve their little problems. Their troubles, worries and concerns are so small in the great panorama of life.
"Mine too," I thought, walking to my car. "Mine too."