Monday, August 29, 2011

The Not-So-Magic School Bus

When Daniel started kindergarten, I signed him up for the school bus and assumed everything would be fine.  After all, I never experienced a single childhood accident or safety issue in 13 years of suburban bus riding. Why was everyone in my Chicago neighborhood so uptight about their kids riding a big happy yellow bus? What could possibly go wrong?

I used to sit in front and get all my homework done.  

By mid-year, the bus already had an accident with the kids on board and I received daily safety reports from Daniel:

"We hit a car parked on the side of the street."

"We ran over the sidewalk."

"The bus driver said 'sh*t' ten times."

"The bus driver screamed at us to 'shut up.'"

"We knocked over a garbage can today."

We went through a series of about 6 different bus drivers over the year, which was never explained to parents.  Yet given Illinois' recent "oops, we accidentally hired sex offenders to babysit low-income kids" scandal, I tend to assume the worst. After Daniel showed me his drawing of a school bus running over some bloodied children, I finally pulled the plug.  No more bus.  Bring on the car pool. It seemed like an obvious choice.  I mean how bad could it be having a few extra kids in the car? 

My minivan would ultimately end up with its seats ripped apart at the seams ($100 to be re-sewn together by the Honda dealership), goo stuck permanently to the carpet, and wrappers stuffed in every corner imaginable. The bus alternative once again started looking better and better.

With 3 kids in 3 different schools this year, I revisited the option. Joey was thrilled at the prospect of riding the big yellow bus. He sleeps with his extensive school bus collection nightly.

Yet after only 5 days (with 3 late pick-ups), the driver failed to show entirely. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, I called the transport company and was told that our bus had been in an accident. Another accident. I know this is Chicago and traffic can be a bear, but it's DAY FLIPPIN' 5!

So now I'm torn.  Do I spend the next 2 years maintaining a frantic pace of stuffing my kids in coats and boots, shoving them in the minivan, and repeatedly loading and unloading them for 3 different start and end times? And let's not even get started on gas prices. After I did the math on gas, I calculated that it would be cheaper to just send them all to Catholic school.

My quandary reminds me of one I faced when Joey was an infant. In the entire history of the world, I can pretty much guarantee I had one of the top 5 bad babies. He screamed all day, every day. I never drank coffee before Joey, but after going 6 weeks with only 20 minutes of combined sleep, I guzzled the stuff.

During that time, the only way I could get my insomniac son to shut his eyes and be quiet was by disobeying the whole anti-SIDS campaign. I can finally admit the truth now: I let my newborn sleep on his stomach and lied about it to the pediatrician. When it came down to brass tacks, I figured I was either going to: (A) lose it and abandon my child or (B) get some sleep by putting Joey on his stomach and risk his succumbing to SIDS. For the sake of sanity and our household's overall well-being, I gambled and let him sleep each night on his tummy. Joey thankfully didn't die and I ultimately never required a psychiatric hold. 

Similarly, I have opted to put my sanity above certain auto-related risk factors this year. Danny and Joey will be riding the big yellow school bus and will undoubtedly be involved in several un-reported accidents. If anyone finds a scrape mark on a peculiarly-high area of their car, feel free to call Chicago Public Schools' Bureau of Student Transportation. Tell them I sent you. That'll get their attention.

The number of decisions we are forced to make as parents that can significantly impact our kids' lives is endless. It leaves me numb. When I can't even process whether to use plain or chunky peanut butter, I once again find my inner Scarlett O'Hara and announce to the family in my best faux-southern accent, "I can't think about this now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about this tomorrow." I then slam down the peanut butter and go in search of a People Magazine.

Which leaves my husband wondering about that psychiatric hold option again.


  1. Never underestimate the importance of Mommy-sanity. Besides, they *like* the bus, right? :) Beege was really disappointed that even though she's in grade one now, she will still not be riding the bus. I never even knew she thought that was an option, considering that we can see the school from our window.

  2. Awesome post Marianne -- Amy in Iowa (college friend of Rada's -- blame her for me reading your blog ;) PS You aren't the only one who broke the back-to-sleep rule. Only my squirrely one had us putting her down on tummy and swaddled. I. Know. She turns 5 soon, whew.

  3. Your driving vs. Chicago school bus - I'd say it's pretty much a wash. In defense of bus drivers everywhere, there should probably be a button the driver can push when necessary that causes speakers all over the bus to blast "SHUT UP!" And as for hitting garbage cans, those things are always in the way. Don't even get me started on the profanity when driving....let's just say people in glass houses...

  4. Skwishee - I agree 100%. I would seriously consider letting Jack walk the mile to his school in a few years if it wasn't for the attempted aduction per month around here. What I wouldn't give to have a school right outside our window!

    Amy - I know there are tons of "don't talk about it" moms who allow for tummy sleep. Here's to bucking the trend to get your kid a few z's. Thanks for reading!!

    Anoonymous (aka Atheist Friend): I am an excellent driver, excellent driver. My dad lets me practice in the driveway on Sundays. On Sundays. And my glass house has enough holes in it for proper ventillation and air flow.

  5. Remember! You do not drive a vehicle in Chicago,
    you aim it. Otherwise, you will collide with everthing in sight.

  6. When you subtract out all the years you didn't drive, college - living downtown, it's not that impressive:)

  7. After Grace was a "non-sleeper" my final two children were put on their bellies and we enjoyed years of peace and quiet and sleep. Our pediatrician was none the wiser and it was best for all of us. Didn't your mom put you on your belly?

  8. Anonymous - I was taught by the best to "aim."

    Anonymous #2 - Atheist-Friend, I'm not going to let you post if you can't find something nice to say. Before you die.

    Sara - We were all belly babies - it's the only way my mom could have done 4 kids! Poor you - Grace owes you BIG.

  9. Nice or funny - you'll have to pick one. I don't do both.