As a parent, one tries to prepare her kids for everything. Especially if you have one of those kids for whom spur of the moment adjustments can be earth-shatteringly upsetting. Take the first day of third grade for example. New school. New teacher. New kids. New campus. But the biggest anxiety; taking a bright yellow school bus for the first time ever.
Who knows why certain things are scarier than others. But for my 8 year old son, Eli, his fears seemed to circle around taking that bus. There was the question of which one to get on, which one to take home, who will he sit with, what if he misses it? There were countless worries and fears floating around his new school mode of transport.
So what did I do? I was determined to prepare him accordingly which I knew would allay all of his fears. I checked the written parent packet and it was bus #108 that would daily carry my boy to and from his new school. We drilled the number into his head. We played silly games to test his memory. “Should you get on bus #115?” we’d ask, trying to light-heartedly trick him. “What about #37?” “Let’s say there’s a pink school bus and the number is #138 and the driver, whom you’ve never seen, says, ‘come on the bus, little boy. I have candy.’”
We did a couple of dry runs to school from the bus stop and taught him where to meet the bus after school so he’d have no concerns whatsoever. We even practiced walking to and from the bus stop, even timed it so we’d know what time to depart each morning. I was pretty proud of myself. But as all good mythologists know, it’s always pride that comes before the fall.
First day of school and we wait for nearly a half hour at the bus stop. The bus never arrives. We drive Eli to school and he ends up being tardy on his first day, which freaks him out and raises his anxiety level exponentially. After calming him, straightening out the tardy situation, and getting him situated in class, the day went surprisingly well. That is, of course, until it was time to come home.
They shuttled the bus-riding kids out to the parking lot and guided Eli right to bus #105. That’s when all hell broke loose. “I can not get on bus #105!” he insisted. “I’m supposed to be on bus #108.” Bus number 108, however, had broken down earlier in the day (which was why it didn’t come in the morning) and was in the shop torn up and awaiting repair. Bus #105 was taking its place. Of course that didn’t sway my son who had been practicing this drill for over two weeks. I can only imagine his focused little mind as he walked out to the bus. “Bus #108, bus #108, bus #108,” he likely repeated like a mantra as he headed out of school that first day. It eventually took two drivers, the teacher, the vice principal and finally the kind and compassionate principal himself to convince Eli that it was okay to take bus 105 to get home.
“Why was he so upset?” my 11 year old son, Levi, asked. “Because,” I answered, “He did everything right, just the way we practiced. Only sometimes, life changes the rules on us in the middle of the game. And it just isn’t fair.”
So here’s to a new school year filled with busses that will break down, schedules that will be changed, and routines that will be altered. But hopefully, amidst all the chaos life throws in his path, my youngest will learn to sway in the wind like a sturdy Elm and not snap at every formidable gale.