I heard the padding feet before I felt her standing beside me. In the darkness, I moved over and made some space, and wordlessly, Pickle climbed in and snuggled under the covers next to me. I peeped at the clock: 4:10AM.
At about 5:30, despite a quiet house (except for the snoring cat and kid beside me) my eyes opened instinctively and strained to look at the door, where I saw a shadow. Little Miss, who’d learned to be quiet around her sleeping little sister stood waiting, probably for an invitation, and I whispered for her to climb in with us.
I was fully awake by then but the alarm would not sound for another 50 minutes for the morning frenzy to begin. My Guy was in Chicago again for work, and Pickle had decided to keep me company in the wee hours of the morning for the past couple of days - something she once rarely did. But it seems that we cycle through a new normal every few weeks, scrambling old routines to fit in that which is novel to our same ole same ole. Like starting Kindergarten, then having both girls in different schools, and ramping up on work travel for My Guy.
Just when I think I have a handle on our situation - whatever that may be at the moment - something throws us off, and we make the necessary changes to adapt. I’d mentioned before that I jumped in with both feet to get involved with the PTA at Little Miss’ school, gleefully volunteering to create and manage their Facebook page, and I’m also happy to report that my first big event that I helped organize, the Annual School Picnic, went without a hitch. It was a beautiful September evening, warm enough to entice a large crowd and cool enough for all of us to stay there comfortably to get to know the school community. There were food trucks galore, a magic show, balloon twisters, and face painters - I don’t know about the kids, but I had a great time!
Little Miss scanned the crowd, found a buddy from her class and ditched us the rest of the evening. Really? Does it start this early? While it should have stung, it didn’t; it was comforting to see my five-year-old already so comfortable in her school and independently navigating her social network with such confidence. She even stood in line and paid for snow cones by herself (well, with a friend); it was the first time she’d ever made a monetary transaction on her own, and she even came back with the change! When I see her forging ahead, completely unabashed and unafraid, I forget that she still needs me sometimes. I forget that girl who would love nothing more than to be able to climb into bed with me on those rare but oh-so-delicious nights.
That’s probably why I find myself surprised when she takes my hand these days as we walk along the sidewalk after I pick her up from the bus. Oh yes, the bus. After weeks of Little Miss asking and asking and asking to be on it, I finally acquiesced once I learned that she will be getting off at a stop with several kids, including a classmate who lives down the street from us. I was adamant in making it through the year without having to worry about her on the bus, but this girl had shown me that she could handle more than I gave her credit for, and when I saw her classmates on there too, I realized it was me who was holding her back.
After a day of fretting the details, walking her to the bus driver to introduce ourselves, talking to the school office and the school teacher, taking her to the stop to make sure she learned her route, writing and placing notes for Little Miss in several places about the bus route, and even following the bus home from school one day to stalk it to make sure it was reliable (oh yes I did), I was finally ready. She was excited; I was nervous.
So on the day she was scheduled to arrive on the bus, I remembered the remark that the school transport admin said over the phone after she told me the time the bus was scheduled to be at the stop, “but they’re never on time.” Because of that, I decided to show up right at the time it’s supposed to be there, so I would catch her for sure since it’s bound to be late anyway.
Except it wasn’t. It arrived three minutes earlier than scheduled (GAH!) and from afar, I saw my daughter climb down the bus looking for me half a block away. The driver spotted me jogging towards them, but I don’t think he saw just how disappointed I was that I missed being right there for her, as I told her I would be. The first day on the bus picture completely foiled by my own idiocy. Why didn’t I think to be there earlier??!
BUT. There’s always the next day, I consoled myself after kicking myself in the butt a few times and apologizing profusely to Little Miss who seemed completely nonplussed. She got to ride the bus - that’s all she cared about. Later, however, I saw a cloud on her face and when prodded, she responded reluctantly, “Well...I didn’t get to sit with my friend from class. We have assigned seats, and I was next to a second grader I didn’t know…And the ride was loud and bumpy, and they didn’t even have seat belts!”
Apparently, it wasn’t all that she had hoped it would be. After weeks of anticipation, she was underwhelmed by her first experience, and who could blame her? Every kid is taught to revere the train and the bus since they were born, with Thomas the Train this, the Wheels on the Bus that. I remember Little Miss going to her first musical “The Emperor’s New Clothes” when she was two at the gorgeous Shakespeare Theater in Chicago and shouting a request at the performers, “Bus! Bus!” that I knew meant, Hey, can you sing the Wheels on the Bus?
It was a big deal, that first time. Instead, I screwed up the Kodak moment (when you’re reading this someday, girls, I wonder if you even know what “Kodak” means) and she didn’t have the kind of fun she imagined she would. It probably felt like the world was conspiring against her - the cheery songs, the smiling grownups who sang them, the appeal of the unknown in the form of a massive, clunky mustard yellow monster of a vehicle. It all sounded so good; it wasn’t supposed to feel that shitty!!!
Needless to say, she wasn’t all that excited to go back the next day, and while I would’ve jumped to keep her safe and close to me, and offer her the ride home again every day, I decided that I wouldn’t really be doing her a favor. It’s one thing to see your happy child go forth and conquer, but it’s quite another to see them figuring things out for themselves when things don’t go their way. Handling disappointments and finding their own silver lining -- those too are an essential part of their growth.
At five, I realized she needed help in the silver lining department, so I sat with her and spoke to her about my own bus experiences. About how I sat among strangers on my first day and by the first month, my bus ride home was one of the things I looked forward to the most because I got to know so many people from so many parts of the school outside of my own class. About how she always got along better with older kids, so the second grader next to her was actually an advantage.
The talking helped, and so did getting her back on it the next day. And the next. Now it’s become a non-issue and a new-new normal for us. I’m still that parent who’s often the last one at the stop, but this big little girl of mine is doing well, as I suspected she would.
And hey, I finally got my picture. Actually, pictures.