Saturday, October 9, 2010

School Bus Trauma #2

Some of you may remember the original school bus trauma from about this time, last year. Thinking about it still makes me shudder. Well, if you can believe it, school bus trauma #2 beats that one, by a mile.

You know, you figure that when your second child heads off to kindergarten, things should go more smoothly than the first time around, when you were just a rookie, right?

Not this time.

Yesterday, I did my usual frantic afternoon routine, which consists of me flying out of my office, papers scattering everywhere, my desk a disaster, countless things left unfinished, the very second the clock reaches 3:30, so that I can make the wild trip all the way across town, cutting in and out of traffic, heart pounding, biting my nails at every red light, cursing the slow drivers in front of me, screeching to a halt at the bus stop, and leaping out of the car to stand by the curb, mere moments before the bus arrives with my little darlings aboard.

So, there I am, all excited to see my little guys. Off jumps Spencer. Big smile. Hugs. Kisses. I straighten up from all the loving, watching the other kids getting off the bus, eagerly anticipating seeing Foster's impish grin (and slightly terrified at what he may have done at school, since there's usually some sort of story involving kicking or pushing a classmate, sticking his tongue out at little girls, or saying "You're not the boss of me!" to the teacher or librarian or paraeducator, or ... wait for it ... the principal. Sigh). All the kids jump off, and I'm still standing there, staring stupidly at the bus driver.

"Are we missing one?" he says, jovially, as if it's the most casual question in the world to ask.

"Um, yeah. Foster. Little guy. Superman backpack."

The driver gets on the radio and makes an announcement:  "Foster, please come to the front of the bus!"


Spencer jumps back on the bus and says, "I'll get him, Mom!" I can see him going all the way to the back of the bus. And coming back. Alone.

"Where is he?" I ask the bus driver in a slightly shaky voice, attempting to remain calm.

"I'll call transportation and see what's going on."

He radios transportation, and I hear him talking to the dispatcher, announcing that we have a missing kindergartner. He gets off the radio and hands me a phone number.

"Go home and call this number. That's dispatch. They're radioing all the buses to see if Foster is on board. Don't worry, we'll find him."

Don't worry? Don't friggin' worry?!!! Are you KIDDING me? Have you not heard about kids disappearing? Have you not heard about the little 2nd grader who was last seen at his science fair and then never came home from school? Have you not heard about the local student whose body was just found floating in the bay? DON'T WORRY???!!!

I grabbed Spencer's hand and half-dragged him the 3 blocks home, drilling him for information the whole time.

"Was Fos in line with you? Did he get sent to the office? Did you see him go somewhere with somebody? Did he get off the bus at the wrong stop? He's your little brother! What happened to him?"

Poor Spence, completely shaken by my obvious panic, just kept saying, "It's not my fault, Mommy. I'm not in charge of him. I don't know where he went. I was with my friends. I don't know."

I called transportation dispatch, immediately, and the lady told me they were still looking into it. She put me on hold. I waited all of 3 minutes then hung up and called back. This time, I got a supervisor.

"My son is 5 years old. He's missing. He didn't get on the bus. Where is he?"

"We're looking for him, ma'am. Don't worry. Kids get on the wrong bus all the time. We'll find him and call you back."

There it was again. "Don't worry." As I envision my little boy either being driven away to Canada by some stranger who dangled candy or a kitten or a brightly wrapped present in front of him OR wandering lost and scared somewhere after getting off at the wrong bus stop OR being flattened by a speeding car as he attempts to find his way home...

Then the phone rang.

"We found him! He's on a bus going south around the lake. We'll drop him at his elementary school in about 45 minutes."

Then the tears started. Up until then, I had somehow been holding it together. Once I knew where he was, I completely lost it. Huddled on the kitchen floor with my arms wrapped around my legs, shaking and sobbing. My little boy was safe. Not kidnapped. Not lost. Not flattened by a speeding car. Safe.

I cried the entire 45 minutes.
I cried when I saw the school bus turning in to the parking lot.
I cried the second I saw him.
I'm crying right now, just writing about it.

Then I heard the story of how his teacher had told him that he'd be riding a different bus home, because transportation had changed buses for the afternoon pick-up. The teacher was just doing his job. But, all my little guy heard was "Different bus home". So, when the buses pulled up, instead of following his brother, my adventurous little Fos just picked a different bus and hopped on, happy as a clam. Then, when dispatch was calling around to all of the buses to find out where he was, Foster wouldn't answer. The driver thought he looked new, so she pulled over, went back to him, and asked him his name. He wouldn't answer. She asked him what grade he was in. He wouldn't answer. She asked him what school he went to. He wouldn't answer. Why, you may ask? Well, as he told me later, "You told me not to talk to strangers, Mommy." Thank goodness I wrote his name all over his backpack. That's how the driver figured out he was the missing child.

Motherhood is going to kill me. Seriously. Kill me.



  1. least he listened to you and didn't talk to strangers?

    Beth, I don't even know what to say! My mommy heart was pounding along to every word of this. Thank God, is all I can say. Oh, and thanks to this (and my own husband getting lost on the bus in kindergarten) I think I might never let my girl ride the bus!

  2. I know, Noelle. The bus is just one giant social experiment with a little bit of genuine danger thrown in there.

    But so necessary for so many of us, at the same time.

    Parenthood! What a ride.

  3. Oh Beth - I'm sorry I wasn't there to give you a big hug! As I've said before - I've earned every silver hair on my head! Love you!