This article was originally published on January 20, 2016.
“Mom, dad. What is sex?”
Kid #1 is only seven so I didn’t think we’d have to deal with this question for at least another five years. We both spouted something like, “Whoa my god,” and retreated inside our heads for a response.
What felt like minutes passed, and my wife and I both opened our mouths to speak, but my words came out first and in rapid succession: “It means you’re a male or a female. Your sex is male and mom’s sex is female.”
I felt the overwhelming desire to high five myself, and got a “nice save” nod from my wife – who I’m pretty sure was about to regale him with a horrifically accurate description of his conception and birth.
We returned to our bowls of ice cream. Kid #1 stared at the wall over my shoulder and I could tell he only half believed me, which was fine. My parenting style is best described as a series of rolling half truths meant to keep my kids from doing stuff that either I don’t want them to do, things I don’t want them to know, or stuff they could do but I don’t want to do. “We can’t go to the trampoline park this weekend because it’s closed. Yes, all weekend.”
Those of you without children are probably wondering, “Why didn’t you ask him where he learned that word?” Hahahaha. You’re funny. Making the entire thing go away is much more important than getting to the root of the issue. It’s kind of like how you deal with your failed dating life by going shopping, but different.
We got up the next day. My wife went to work and I walked Kid #1 to the bus, gave him a hug and sent him on his way. He actually waved that morning as he entered the bus – a rare occurrence – while Kid #2 waved back at him and yelled, “BYE BYE Butthole Princess Poopy Buttcrack Buttface POOP!” It’s not quite a haiku but she has a way with words that fills me with pride.
I returned to the bus stop at 3:15 later that day. The brakes squealed and the doors opened and Kid #1 emerged with puddles of tears forming in his eyes. The driver beckoned me to the stairs and informed me that an older girl in the back of the bus had been asking him to repeat inappropriate words. She would be moving Kid #1’s seat away from the older kids and closer to the front of the bus. It seemed like a harmless incident so I said thanks and waved goodbye, and turned to my crying kid.
“That mean girl told me to say SEX and SEXY.”
“I’m not even sure those are bad words. Did you repeat them?”
“Big kids are idiots. Don’t sit next to them. And don’t repeat bad words.”
“You said they weren’t bad words?”
“I think they were in the ‘50s. Just don’t repeat anything that anyone ever tells you. Wait, is that why you asked us about sex last night?”
“Why do I have to ride the bus?”
“Because the bus is life.”
The bus is where you learn about all the fascinating things in life: boobs, cigarettes, the ability to light farts, the existence of abandoned sheds and the false existence of Santa Claus. It’s where you learn the good swear words. Not the everyday ones – those come from following your parents around on a Saturday afternoon. I’m talking about the swear words you still won’t say around your wife.
The bus is where you get made fun of and get punched in the face, and learn to have the resilience to pick yourself up, walk through the ridicule, and return the next day with your chin up. And if it happens again, maybe the next time you get on the bus you poke the tip of your house key out of your fist so there won’t be a third.
I don’t remember this, but as a kindergartener my mom said I came off the bus crying because some older girl had stolen my baseball cap. My mom asked if I wanted her to do anything about it. I said no, and days later emerged from the bus wearing my hat. “How did you get your hat back?” she asked.
“I kicked the girl in the shin and took it,” I replied.
“We don’t hit girls, but good job.”
Later, in middle school, I was routinely beat over the head with drumsticks by two eighth grade Irish kids who called themselves Guido and Diego (the names assigned to them in Spanish class). It was terrible, but I got back on the bus every day. And over the course of the year, I learned that there was never any reason to hide from bullies. They were the ones who were scared.
My life education on the bus was often my own doing and not just the poor behavior of others.
In the seventh grade, I was suspended from school for lighting blue tip matches off the bus floor. The bus driver pulled over, looked in her rear view mirror and asked who lit the match. I looked around at the four other kids still on the bus, and each ducked his head and gave the universal shhhh sign. The driver threatened to report everyone if no one came forward, so I stood up and took responsibility, as I should have.
In the eighth grade, while on the way to a field trip at the science museum in downtown Boston, I got detention for hanging my head out of the bus and yelling at random male pedestrians: “Dad! Dad! Why did you leave us dad? We love you so much! Please come home! Daaaaaddd!” Later, in the vice principal’s office, I learned that some people just don’t share my sense of humor.
Kid #1 is in the first grade and attends a great public elementary school. His teachers are great; the administration is great. When he started last year, I attended an orientation for kindergarten parents that included a large segment of time dedicated to parent drop-off and pick-up, which I didn’t even know was a thing.
There are so many car drop-offs, the principal said, that if you’re not in the morning line by 7:30, then it’s unlikely you will make it through the traffic in time to drop off your child for a 7:45 bell. In the afternoon, cars arrive for the pick up line at 2:15 for a 2:45 dismissal, and the line doesn’t typically clear until 3:15.
What? I’m not waiting in those lines. We pay taxes, which pay for buses, which pick up my kid outside of our house, where there is no traffic. And those giant yellow machines teach them life lessons like how to sing dirty versions of Jingle Bells.
Last week I had to drive Kid #1 to school when he missed the bus on the first day back after December break. Kid #2 doesn’t do well in the car, and after 45 minutes of gas, brake, gas, brake … we dropped him off and headed for her daycare. We got two steps inside the door and she puked all over the classroom. And the daycare’s puke policy says I have to take her home, after both kids had already been home for 14 straight days. If the drop-off line was a person I would have kicked it squarely in the groin.
A third of CMS students (that percentage is much larger in some areas) are regularly driven to school each morning for a variety of reasons. Some are driven because school is on the way to work. Others are dropped off because their bus pickup times are too early. Many are driven because the parents believe that riding the bus is going to negatively impact their children.
For certain, Kid #1 has had minor incidents over his first year and a half in school. He got in trouble for not sitting down. Got in trouble for something else I can’t remember. He heard some bad words. He’s exploded in tears as he exited the bus on a few occasions because someone did something to him. The next day I zipped up his jacket, gave him a hug and put him back on the bus. You know what he protests most? The jacket and hug.
On most afternoons, he jumps from the second step with a muffled smile and runs into the house. And sometimes he waits for the bus to drive away before shedding his bag and doing a hybrid Gangnam Style meets Nae Nae dance that’s clearly for the entertainment of the bus riders. The kid’s weird, what can I say.
All of these incidents – good and bad – are why I want him to ride the bus. At some point in the 15 years between my teenage years and when I became a parent, we stopped letting kids experience the everyday ups and downs of life. Our kids are to be protected from anything and everything that could ever make them feel anything less than amazing, which only fails to teach them how to cope with anything that makes them feel anything less than amazing.
Will my kid learn words that we would prefer they not hear until their teenage years? We already know the answer to that question. Might a state college be his only option upon high school graduation? Conceivably. Might he never grow up to achieve his dreams? Perhaps.
But it sure as hell won’t be because he rode the bus to public school.