School buses are lumbering around my neighborhood again, bringing joy to parents. Although my boys are kin college now, I remember summers gone by that started out fresh and shiny, full of book lists and craft projects, unstructured playtime, swimming, staying out until dark, and best of all, no homework!
What started out so great in June generally stayed that way until the first of August. Therein lay the problem. School didn't start for at least three more weeks. I don't know if my kids were lurking around waiting for me to turn the calendar page or what, but right then suddenly summer became "torment mom" time.
"I don't have anything to do!"
"[Insert name] took my [insert item]!"
"How come I can't just watch 15 hours of TV like all my other friends?"
"You said you were going to take us to a movie and we want to go right now!"
"I'm too little/big/tired/bored/mad at you for turning off the TV to do my chores."
And one of my favorites: "Mom, he's throwing cat turds at me again!"
Little of any productive value got done during the first three weeks of August. I shopped for back-to-school things and consoled myself that soon the house would be a Temple of Silence and that I would have Hot Coffee and Write. Yes, I cried when I put my boys on the bus on the first day of school, but my tears were 35% my boys are growing up and will soon be leaving the nest and 45% yay yay yay I finally have some time to myself and 20% teachers are SO underpaid.
On my elder son's first day of kindergarten, he wanted to ride the big bus to school. That wasn't a problem--there were teachers where he was headed, and I knew he'd be fine. (Bless our underpaid teachers.) It was the ride home I was worried about. The kindergarten bus stopped in front of each kid's house, not down the block where a group of older kids got off. Easy, I thought. I reminded him over and over that he shouldn't get off the bus until he sees Mom waiting outside our house.
That afternoon the bus came up the street as I was waiting outside. It went right past me. I panicked. My husband came home from work to drive around the neighborhood. I called the police and tearfully handed them a picture of my little sweetie (notice how that changed from the "wretched nuisance" of the day before school started). The police car went out to drive the bus route from school to home. I sat on the front steps feeling helpless.
Fifteen minutes after this search process got started, a car pulled up in front of our house and out popped Tom, looking as cheerful as can be, with a cookie clutched in his fist. It seems he had gotten off the bus a dozen blocks away from our home by trailing out of the bus after a new friend he'd made that day. The friend went into his house and there was Tom, roaming the sidewalk, looking scared and confused. A neighbor whose children were grown noticed him. She stuffed him with a few cookies and he recited his address, so she drove him home.
Tom broke other rules doing this: going into a stranger's house, taking food from a stranger, and getting into a stranger's car. It turned out okay, but I can't help thinking that it might not have. When I first saw him, my fear was overwhelmed with relief. Then I was angry that the excitement of school had wiped out his safety info, and finally love and relief won out. When my husband got home, he went through the same transformation; I could see it in his face.
I admit I feel a twinge of fear now on the day school starts, even though the things I have to fear now for my kids are adult concerns like driving. (Don't get me started!) I keep an eye out that day. If any young child should get lost on our block, I'll be there with cookies and concern.