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School doesn’t end ’til they get off the bus

It’s not every day that a person is attacked by monkeys. They were everywhere and full of the kind of energy that only monkeys freed from confinement can have. Lucky for me they were generally happy monkeys – kindergarten, first and second grade monkeys mostly.I drive a school bus from time to time and am always outnumbered. Imagine having two younger elementary classrooms of kids sitting right behind you as you drive! Remember the guy that landed a disabled airliner in the Hudson River? He kept his cool and there was no loss of life. That is the kind of cool school bus drivers maintain every afternoon. And “no loss of life” is also a very good thing.My monkeys were happy and loud. I could not get their attention as we waited at the elementary school. I unbuckled and stood up. They became quiet. Eyes were large because I am tall and they thought that they were in trouble. I am tall, you are tall; heck, everyone is tall to a first grader.I explained that no one was in trouble but I needed cooperation because “there are just so MANY of you!” They laughed and settled in and then the questions began: “Where’s Ms. Moss?” “Can I eat on the bus?” “Do you have a pencil?” “Do you like Booger King?,” asked a tiny 5-year-old because she recently had been on an adventure there. Life is wonderful indeed and she sure liked to eat at “Booger King,” her new favorite place.Ms. Moss, a kindly older lady is their regular bus driver. She took the afternoon off to take her husband in for a minor surgery of some kind, so when the kids asked where she was; naturally, I told them that she was auditioning for “American Idol.””No she’s not. Is she? Really? She is not. Wow! Is she gonna sing for them? She isn’t really, is she?””Well, you’ll just have to ask her how her audition went when she comes back.” Ms. Moss will be quite famous on a certain school bus come Monday.Friends wonder how I can drive a bus full of all ages of kids. “It must be awful,” they say to me. “How can you do it? I’d be distracted and have an accident and I’d be yelling at the kids the whole time.” My friends have a point. Bus driving is not rocket science, but it certainly is not for everybody. An abiding love of children is required. And an ability to compartmentalize distractions helps to keep the big yellow fella between the lines. Of course, compartmentalizing distraction is not ignoring the kids. My ears are pricked for certain things. A little one crying because others are teasing him needs my attention. Another tiny one wonders wide eyed if I will be able to find his stop. “Your mom and dad drive a dark blue truck, don’t they? I know where they wait for you,” I reassure him.Another thing I listen for is foul language. The older kids try out some new words, thinking they will be impressive and that maybe they are the first to use such words. There are little ones nearby and so I warn the older ones: “Watch what you say! I have super powers, you know.” The older ones are laughing now, distracted from their exercise in coolness. Disarmed and smiling, they ask what my super powers could be. “Why, besides my super hearing, I have the super ability to run you over with a bus!” Serious laughter now, but no more off-color language is bandied about.We are near the end of our drive in the country and two older boys are arguing with the girls sitting behind them. Things quickly degrade to name calling and they are all about to get off at the last stop. I set the brake, but instead of just opening the door, I walk back there. “They started it! They were saying nasty things to us,” the boys protest. I smile inwardly, remembering being their age and being awkward. And I remember getting personal grooming tips from cruel girls in the back of the bus, too. “How about you try to be the bigger man?” I ask them. I explain that they are allowing the girls to control their attitude and feelings. “Don’t let other people decide for you how you’re going to react. No one can push your buttons unless you allow them to. I don’t know who started it, but I do know that you can rise above allowing people to manipulate your feelings. You decide how your day is going to go, not them!”They file off the bus, the biggest boy last of all, hanging back. “Thanks for the ride, Mr. Tom,” he turns and says with a level and serious tone that I haven’t heard from him before.Another late afternoon, another day done. I think about them all in their homes. The sweet kind girl, 12 going on 25, who helps me with where to stop in regard to who is riding. I think of the boys growing up and now with something new to chew over on the short walk from the bus stop to home. And I think about dinner, my dinner. A hot home-cooked meal is waiting for me in a fragrant warm kitchen, and I am grateful. Grateful indeed that tonight I eat at home and will not be enjoying the wonders of “Booger King.”Tom

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