Bus Number 16 by Child Grower Annita Woz

firstdayofschoolfeetI haven’t put my kids on a school bus for the past six years.

The bus picks up right next to our house at 8 o’clock. At 8:10 I load my kids in the car and drive them to school. Some mornings we pick up a little friend or two and cart them to the drop off zone at the local elementary and middle schools.  Sometimes we sit in traffic right behind the same bus that picks up the neighbors.  As I send mine with a wave down the sidewalk to their classmates, I see the long line of kids walking from the bus drop off point. 

They all seem to be just fine but I cannot help but wonder about the ride.

I wonder, do they have a guy like Ted riding in the back of their bus? 

Who’s Ted? Let me take you back to 1982. 

Ted sits in the back seat of bus number 16 but he routinely stands up whenever he wants to make some kid feel miserable.  He lobs an insult or a trick question over the rows of seats that lands on the latest passenger and no matter the response, Ted gets in another jab that deflates not only this kid, but the weary rider with the open seat that the ridiculed kid falls into.

The rest of us silently hold our breath so as not to incite some similar wrath. We try to be invisible.  We try to be non-confrontational.  We try to plan ahead so we have a comeback that will save us from the same spot tomorrow. 

The standby seat picking rule is older students claim the back seats and the elementary students get the front.  I believe this unwritten rule still stands today.  The sad truth is, wherever the Teds of today sit they can make a ride to school on the bus one of the worst ways to start the day.

Years ago, the Ted of my bus riding days has a small crowd of jeering supporters who back up his running commentary from adjacent seats and sometimes, this same group of young boys carry the taunting into the school hallways. It is as though the arrival at the school entrance has interrupted them mid-sentence and so they finish their one-sided conversation inside the building and punctuate it with a sneer or an elbow jab. 

The Ted of bus number 16 can swear up a storm, too. The language is foul, the volume just low enough to sting but never loud enough to be detected by the driver.  The intent is to demean and though I don’t know what some of the words mean, I know that if my father heard them he would cringe and then start calling the unlces to plan a hunting trip where Ted doesn’t return from the first drive through the woods and everyone comes back with a really sad story to tell.

Toting a required science project to school via bus brings on a stream of questions and negative commentary. As if an unruly box with a poorly glued constellation display is not enough to juggle, learning to sidestep the crushing insults and dutifully holding up the piece at the request of the bus boss is worse than any science fair demonstration.

On another day, the determining factor for rudeness is some small detail, a bright coat, a bad hair day, a new pair of shoes; something will catch this mouthy young man’s attention and start him off.  Ted has no other purpose for the half hour ride other than to stare out the bus window, ogle the waiting troupe of kids gathered at the neighborhood stop and plan another way to be seen and heard. 

Sometimes after exiting the doors of the bus I find a book is missing from my backpack or I find a spitball in my hair but some of my worst memories are from commentary about budding body parts from boys who had a clear line of sight to every aspect of my adolescent development and people who spotted my fashion faux pas and from the head to toe inspections, handed out five days a week, rain or shine, as I boarded the bus and scurried down the aisle to take shelter in a seat. 

Today I know bullies are bullied, and some do it for attention and some do it because they need to make themselves feel big by making someone feel small. That is little consolation for the singled out kids out who already feel like miniature as they swim upstream against the vast and varied social rules the define ” fitting in.” 

I have little sympathy for a sad bully.

I have none for naughty bus drivers. You don’t want to hear the story about the a little girl and the thirty minutes that passed before she was finally released from the unsupervised and empty bus, as the last rider of the day.  

My family reminds me that sometimes it isn’t the environment that is to blame, but each person who bears his or her own responsibility for how they act in situations.  

Maybe Ted knows who he is, knows who he was. Maybe he has kids of his own.  Do they ride the bus?  I bet they are prepared to handle themselves and oddly, I find that makes me a bit jealous of Ted.

I was a quiet kid and rarely got hassled on the bus but I was afraid of the day when it would be my turn.  Though I know that my kids will fight different battles than I did, like most parents, I seek to save them from the ones that I fought. 

So, I drive my kids to school so they don’t experience the Ted’s on the bus but as my friend’s tell me, this behavior is everywhere.  It is a part of growing up they say. It is a part of developing character, finding inner strength, learning to operate in a world with not-so-nice manners. 

They assure me that I can protect them from a half an hour bus ride but remind me that the same behaviors, bad language, sexual innuendo happen in various places in school, perhaps through the whole day and until they are back home. 

They send their kids on the bus where they defend themselves (or fend for themselves as I say.) They believe their kids are learning good lessons on handling what life throws at them and the bus is actually a pretty safe place to practice.  

I pause at this truth.   

### written for EP, August 23, 2009 by child grower Annita Woz. note: this post is, like all of mine, still a work in progress. Thank you for your patience…

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