Most mornings I die a little when my baby rides away from me in his big yellow school bus.
It’s never easy–this letting go thing–but I would argue it’s also never as hard as it is with the youngest. I’ve done this three other times, kissed three other foreheads and straightened their shoulders and zipped their backpacks and jackets and waved goodbye, and little parts of me chipped off every time for sure. But this one hits in me in my gut and has every day since the first time in September when that big loud bus pulled around the corner and came to a stop in front of my house to pick up the littlest, not even three yet.
He stood there trying his hardest to not look terrified, and I prayed I was succeeding in doing the same. We had watched hours of every YouTube video on school buses I could find and sang The Wheels On The Bus on loop until the words stopped making sense. We were as ready as we were going to get, but I wasn’t sure that was ready enough. I contemplated just scooping him up and making a run for it, tucking him under my arm and ducking back into the house and locking the door against all of it: the growing up and the leaving me and the never ending greedy procession of time.
But it was too late, the bus doors opened, and his new bus aide stepped down and introduced herself as Ms D. Her eyes were kind and she smiled and opened her arms and said, “Here, let me take him,” and something in me softened and said maybe we were going to be okay after all.
And now it is her–Ms D–who I give my baby to every morning and who returns him to us every afternoon. And I was right about her. She is the kindest, gentlest, most giving woman you could imagine. Every Friday she buys treats for all the kids on the bus, and extras for their brothers and sisters just so they don’t get jealous. She knows birthdays and favorite colors and leads the kids in song so they don’t have a chance to even think about how they are driving away from their mamas in a big yellow box.
Their mamas breathe a little easier for it too.
She gives me hope, not just for my baby and the other kids on the bus, but for humanity. She’s good people.
With her help we got into a groove and I even got a little lazy with it all and the ache started to dull, until one extra cold afternoon in January when something happened. My husband got stuck in traffic and the bus came early for drop off, and we missed it.
The bus came and we weren’t there.
I panicked and cursed myself for ever relaxing, as if the sheer force of my mama worry could have prevented this. I had visions of my baby ending up in some cold dark bus depot at the end of the line, shivering and forgotten.
But that didn’t happen. The bus came back around, my baby none the wiser, and Ms. D walked him off just as she always did, handing him to my husband without ever breaking her trademark smile.
The next morning I just about fell over myself apologizing to her, but she cut me off mid-sentence with a hand on my arm. “Listen to me,” she said, with the kind of gentle firmness that you just know could silence a whole bus full of crazy pre-schoolers. “Don’t you ever worry about your baby. He’s my baby too now. We got him.”
I waited until they turned around before I burst into tears right there on the sidewalk, and for the first time I watched my baby ride away with them and I didn’t die at all, not even a little. I knew he was in good hands.