The school bus: Not for the faint of heart

Momonthedge is swamped this week with a group project for a class in which she’s learned nothing except that she’s still got the ability to fake it when the teacher asks who read the material. So here’s something I wrote a couple years ago about the school bus.

Seems timely, considering that current story about the school bus driver going all Jersey Shore on the middle school kiddo…

I’ll be back with new meaningless drivel next week…

Happy Easter and/or Passover!

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We live just around the corner from our elementary school. But the middle school’s clear on the other side of town. So my kids don’t ride the bus until middle school.  

That school starts a good hour before the elementary, and it doesn’t make sense to my small-town-girl mindset to spend 30 minutes or so driving to and from the kids’ school when the bus stop is literally steps from our front door. And at best, that’s a 25 minute ride. What could go wrong, I figured. 

Once again, I figured wrong.  

Two years ago, when Joe was the first to take the bus to school, he and his naïve walker buddies became convinced the bus driver had it out for them.

He seemed like a nice guy to me. He explained how the process worked to my sister and me when he picked up the kids on the first day of school. This guy had a system. Eighth graders sat in the back, seventh graders in the middle, sixth graders in the front. He joked around with the kids but tried to run a tight ship. 

However, he was a little sarcastic. And his sarcasm didn’t go over well with the sixth graders, none of whom had ridden a bus before.

One day, a bunch of them mutinied, and the guy had to pull the bus over to regain control. Some kids were crawling under seats, and others were asserting their rights to be treated with respect by the driver. My sister saw all this on the school bus video a day or so later, when she investigated her own daughter’s involvement. 

Joe called me on a borrowed cell phone during this incident, and I could hear the pandemonium in the background. I’m sure it sounded just like the Bounty. 

I hung up with him, called my sister and asked her to drive toward the bus and then called the transportation department and told them the bus driver needed help. By the time my sister got the six blocks to the bus, it had started again. But my niece and three other kids were walking home. 

My son, however, got off at his regular stop. He would have walked, but he was bringing home his baritone and didn’t want to lug that monster six blocks.  

Later, when the dust cleared, I told Joe that he was going to have to ride the bus to school. For 30 minutes twice a day, I said, you can stick your iPod earbud in your ear, look straight ahead and grin and bear it. 

He did. We’ve had no problems since.  

But now, Maggie’s the newbie. She knew about what happened during Joe’s sixth-grade year. There’s a different driver now, a woman. Maggie likes her, calls her by name, knows some personal details. She doesn’t have any issues with her. 

No, her problems revolve around a boy a year older whom she’s known since she was in kindergarten. If what she tells me is right, this kid should be in the Navy. “Potty mouth” doesn’t even begin to describe what rolls off his tongue.  

I can’t even type here the things that he’s said, mostly about other kids. And Maggie (and Joe verifies this) says he sits at the front of the bus, not the back, where such obscenities were uttered in my day.  

When the boy started picking on Maggie’s friend, whose mother’s reputation was unjustly defiled by this foul-mouthed kid, that was the last straw for my little social-justice activist. She took up for her friend. And now, she’s the mean boy’s target. He’s called her some bad stuff.

Now, I know this kid’s mother. Part of me wants to talk to her about this. But in the past, she’s tended to think he’s been wronged, picked on, misunderstood. She generally believes what he says. I don’t know that speaking with her will do any good. And the kid might just focus even more on Maggie. 

So on Tuesday, after Maggie came home telling me the heinous word he called her, I called the transportation department. I told the discipline officer there my dilemma, and she said she’d review the bus videotapes and see if she could tell what was going on. 

I just hope to heaven that Maggie didn’t say something equally bad or worse back to the kid. That’ll be embarrassing. 

And where was Joe during all this maligning of his sister’s character? Sitting there with his iPod earbud in his ear. He claims obliviousness. 

Maggie and I were talking about it tonight, and I told her she needs to move away from the boy and to tell her friends to do the same. It’s only 30 minutes twice a day, I said. You guys don’t need to prove any points, you just need to make it home. 

And then I told her about my own horrific school bus.

It was the 1980s in a small town in southeast Missouri. My bus driver was about 105 and wore glasses as thick as Coke bottles. He was as sweet as he was blind and deaf. And his bus was a rolling hellhole. 

I went to Catholic school through the fifth grade, so sixth grade was my first year on the bus, too. But in those days in that town, all the routes were kindergarten through 12th grade. The big, bad nasty kids sat in the back of the bus. I tried never to go past the middle to find a seat. 

My older sister was supposed to ride with me, but she always managed to avoid it when her friend Victor, who drove a Chevelle convertible, pulled up to the bus stop and whisked her away from all that.  

In my memory, the back of the bus was a hazy, pot-smoke-filled place. There may have been kids having sex back there for all I know. A few rows in front of Gomorrah sat members of the Murray family, a particularly mean-spirited bunch who would spit in your face if you made eye contact. 

I cowered in fear at the front of the bus from the sixth grade until early high school, when our ancient bus driver retired, only to be replaced by a stone-faced mechanic who demanded silence on the bus so that he could hear the engine at all times. What a relief. 

That was almost 30 years ago, but apparently nothing much has changed on the bus. And you can see I’m no help to my children. At least Maggie has more guts than I ever did. 

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