A Winter Slip

The past few weeks of winter have been brutal.

Icicles hanging from a building, watercolor
Image created via Midjourney

The past few weeks of winter have been brutal.  Illnesses continue to circulate my house, though they leave me untouched.  A snow day, followed by two days where temperatures plunged to -50F left school canceled and us juggling the kids at home.  My only hope at remaining sane as winter stretches on is that the groundhog did not see his shadow, so spring is around the corner, right?

A winter more difficult than we've had in some years has meant a lot of logistics in the morning with preparing my older kids for school.  Hats, gloves, snow pants, and snow boots add time to the morning routine.  Usually Quentin needs help making sure he has everything, including spare shoes in his backpack, and Theo complains loudly that he doesn't want to bring snow pants because he doesn't like playing in the snow at recess anyway.  You would think that I would have learned to start the "get ready for the bus" preparation on these days a few minutes earlier, but I haven't.  I just hustle everyone along.

One morning in particular, everyone was being extra pokey.  We typically are out at our bus stop a good five or seven minutes in advance of its arrival, and I could tell we were behind.  Our bus's route includes rolling past our house, circling the block and picking up other children, then driving past our corner a second time, this time picking up my kids.  From outside, I could hear the bus going by, meaning we only had about two minutes left while the bus made its circle.

"Bus First Time!" I yelled, shoving them out the door, the phrase we always use when we spot the bus, even when we are waiting calmly at the corner.  The bus zoomed past our driveway as we reached the sidewalk, and as I turned my head to follow its route, I saw something strange.  It was slowing to the next corner to retrieve the kids waiting there - something it did on the second time it was circling through our street, not the first.

Could it be that we were so late that we had missed the first time the bus had passed?  The only thing it seemed we could do was run to that corner and try to catch the bus.  "Run!"  Quentin couldn't run - at all.  His boots and snowpants slowed him to a waddle.  Theo took off down the sidewalk, while I tried to pull Quentin along.  The bus was pausing, so I assumed that the driver saw us.

Then Theo fell.  Slipped on ice and fell hard on his bottom.  He started crying.  I told him to pick up and keep going as Quentin continued to plod along.  He stood up, but continued to stand there, bawling.  He wouldn't move, even as I eyed the bus still waiting at the corner, beginning to panic slightly.

The bus pulled away.  Theo was still crying, saying that he had hurt himself when he fell.  Quentin had dropped one of his boots.  I threw my arms in the air and swore audibly.  Mad at the bus for leaving us behind when we were trying so hard to get to the next stop.  Mad at my kids for not trying harder to get to the bus.  I dragged both of them back to the house, one still crying, the other nonplussed by the entire sequence.

Ger arrived home from dropping off Autumn at daycare.  I had a work meeting scheduled so I asked if he could please drive them to school and drop them off.  Theo turned his attention to wondering if we would be late (I assured him that we wouldn't.)

I looked at my watch.  8:32.  Our pickup time is 8:30.  There is no way that the bus had been at our stop at 8:30, proceeded to the next stop, and already left.  I figured that it had been a substitute driver, unfamiliar with the route, which has happened before.  It was both frustrating and a bit comforting to realize that we hadn't been so far behind that we had missed the bus.

After Ger left with the kids, I felt bad.  I had been so frustrated with them for being late and slow, and it turns out the bus had been early, more than likely.  I had yelled at them, and I shouldn't have.  Quentin was unfazed by the entire thing, but Theo had clearly still been upset as they left.  I sent Ger a text that said "Tell Theo I'm sorry for yelling."  He replied back "Ok."

At the end of the day, I stood inside of our doorway, waiting for the bus dropoff.  I was curious to see if I could catch a glimpse of the driver, confirming my suspicion from the morning that it was, in fact, a substitute.  The day had turned colder and icy sleet was falling steadily.

Our 4:00 dropoff time came and went.  4:05.  I didn't think too much of it, assuming that the roads were becoming increasingly slick and slowed the travel time.  4:10 passed.  And then 4:15.

I began to wonder about the bus. The roads were visibly deteriorating.  Much as I always like to think that my kids are safest when I am driving them, protecting them in a way that only a mother can, I also assume that the heavy bus can transport my kids safely to and from school.  My mom used to always pick us up from school when I was a kid, but I remember at times that if the roads were bad in our Wisconsin small town, she would send us home on the bus, thinking that the bus was less likely than her to lose control on slippery roads.  And my childhood home was out in the country, where the roads were far more winding and less frequently plowed than the busy city streets between where I live now and the elementary school.

4:20 and I became a bit concerned.  Usually if the bus is going to be more than 20 minutes late, the school sends out a robocall to parents.  I checked my cell phone, since it is always on silent mode.  No missed calls.  I craned my neck and looked down the street, listening for the sounds of the huge bus pulling up.  Nothing.

My heart began to race in a way that a parent's will when unease sets in.  What could possibly cause the bus to be so late?

What if the bus had gotten into an accident?

What if there had been a shooting at the school?

What if the last time I saw my kids that morning was the last time I would ever see them, and I had been frustrated and angry?

The bus rounded the corner and pulled up to our stop.  I found that I had pricks of tears in my eyes as the kids descended the stairs of the bus and ran to the house.  For that brief moment, wondering if my children were safe and ok, I had allowed my mind to spin into some unfathomable scenarios.

As soon as the kids dropped their backpacks and put away their snow gear, I told both of them that I was sorry.  I said that I was frustrated at the bus that morning, and I took it out on them, and I shouldn't have.  I was wrong.  They both shrugged and moved along with their afternoon.

But later, as I was standing at the kitchen counter making dinner, Theo came over and snuggled against my arm.  I knew he was telling me that he had forgiven me.