The bus, the Big Yellow Cheese, has been one of the best things that has happened to our family-especially now that we have a baby at home and we have three kids in three different schools making afternoon pick up challenging, if not impossible. The Mr. still chauffeurs Princess Commando to school in the morning on his way to work. But, the afternoons are free from the unnecessary bedlam I used to subject myself to when picking up the younger kids at dismissal time. If awaiting their arrival at home at three o’clock induces a slight twinge of anxiety, then waiting -at the exact moment the school day ends-at the bottom of the aisle of the school auditorium where the children are dismissed, induces mini strokes. There is a general sense of lawlessness as the back doors to the auditorium are thrust open and tiny lunatics, unattended by school personnel, careen down the aisles toward us with their overstuffed back packs dangerously bumping along behind them. And, we parents, pushing against the tide of children- the mob of rowdy inmates-exercising their outdoor voices- try to make our way to the sign-out sheets which always migrate to the farthest point from where we are standing. It is a miracle that we make it to our cars in one piece.
I always thought I was doing my children a favor by picking them up from school. The Cheese was hot, loud and smelly. And even though we only lived ten minutes from school, the bus ride home takes an hour. But, they were always miserable on the car ride home because I foolishly and selfishly tried to extinguish their energy so that I could focus on getting us home in one piece. And, all they wanted to do was decompress. Of course, they need that. Who wants to go from one set of constraints to another without a moment of reprieve in between? They begged me every day to be allowed to ride the bus, and, finally at the start of the 2008-2009 school year their wish was granted. It was more than they could have ever hoped for. Sure there are rules on the bus. Safety rules. But, as long as you stay seated and don’t use your school supplies as weapons, other minor offenses are overlooked.
The ride home is Happy Hour- time to unwind and socialize without parents or teachers breathing down their necks. There are six kids within five houses of one another on our block who take the same Cheese home. Our stop is the second to last on the route; so, our kids get to party the longest. As parents, we are not privy to the debauchery that occurs on the way back to our quaint, composed homes. Last Thursday Princess Commando got in trouble on The Cheese for standing on the seats and not listening to the aide. This resulted in the cancellation of a play date with our across- the- street neighbors who also happen to ride The Cheese. After I recounted the incident to my neighbor E, she said, a little too excitedly, “ Ooh, I’ll have to get the skinny from Q (her son) about what happened. I never get the skinny from him about the bus.” She paused and I could hear Q’s voice in the background. “Uh, Q’s shaking his head. He’s not going to tell me. Oh, well.”
We catch little bits and pieces that slip out. There are murmurs of bartering and trades; there are hints of forbidden foods told by the colorful candy stains around the lips; and, occasionally caught in the innocent humming of a song, we pick up that there was music played on the bus from a radio station that plays pop music and caters to teenagers. But, the kids will never admit to it- they’ll backpedal and play dumb. You know what they say- what happens on the bus, stays on the bus. The party doesn’t stop until it’s three o’clock. That is when The Cheese- with a hiss and a groan- opens its doors and deposits our kids on the corner. They are shepherded home by the Mommies where they will be interrogated with questions like, "What did you learn today?" They'll answer, "Not, much." And, as they head up to their rooms to do their homework, we'll catch the subtle humming of a tune. Was that Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream"?