In a couple weeks, the intersection of Kirkcaldy Road, Whitley Court and Burnley Drive will be filled with little kids, some no taller than enormous wheels of the soon-to-arrive school bus, all while their older counterparts kick up gravel and scuff up new sneakers in all manner of swagger that can possibly be mustered by a fourth- or fifth-grader.
Moms with coffee cups in hand will keep a respectable distance, unless, of course, one of those kids is a kindergartner, and, in that case, the mom will no doubt board the bus and introduce herself to the bus driver to ensure the driver has a Ph.D. in safety, or better yet, eyes in the back of his or her head.
I know this because that’s exactly what I did some 20 years ago when the first of our three kids boarded the monstrous yellow time machine. I could not fathom how a 5-year-old was going to find her way in the swarming mass of apprehension that is the first day of school to the kindergarten class without me. I did the same thing with her two younger sisters, dutifully humiliating older siblings in the process, but it was my duty to be on a first-name basis with each and every school bus driver.
Years after our kids had graduated from elementary school, a neighborhood mom gave us a photo of one of those first day of school bus stop mornings. There are seven kids in the photo; two are kindergartners. They are shy and excited and scared all at once and the sense that they are on the precipice of a brave new world is frozen in time.
Come the first day of school this year — the Tuesday after Labor Day — I don’t expect to recognize any of kids that will be waiting at the bus stop. New families have moved into subdivision seemingly overnight. A couple of years ago, I was driving through a several-family garage sale in our sub looking for college dorm stuff for our youngest child. But all I saw was baby toys, strollers and pack ‘n’ plays. Nothing like a garage sale to cut through demographic denial. That we are now the seniors in our subdivision is so off-putting, I can’t tell you.
We moved to this subdivision from a small colonial in Royal Oak in March of 1994. Our daughters were then 4 and 2 and I was eight months pregnant with our third daughter. We loved the large lots, the creek in the backyard, a strong school system, and close proximity to family. Shortly after we moved in, the neighbors across the street had a small cocktail party to welcome us. We met Bernie (Bernadette), a widow who lived across the street, and the Woodwards, who were also retired. They gave us insider tips on the elementary school, the local Catholic parish, and the mixed blessing of living less than two miles away from Somerset Mall.
I didn’t realize it then, but they were passing the torch, imparting the rear-view mirror assurance that just as they had loved raising their family here, so would we.
I remember pushing my mother in her wheelchair to the bus stop, second-guessing myself the whole way. Because we have no sidewalks, we strode in the street, all the while I held the leash of a puppy in one hand and 3-year-old Ellie’s hand in another. It was as crazy as it looks, but my mother loved the mini-excursions. Once, a woman driving by slowed down and rolled down her window. I thought was she going to ask if I needed some help, but instead, she congratulated me: “I just love seeing the generations,” she said.
When the school bus doors opened and the kids come barreling down the steep black steps, I knew what the rest of my afternoon and evening was going to be like just by the look on their face. It was either the thrill of victory because a test had been aced or the agony of defeat due to a playground snub. The walk home gave us time to debrief; we assessed the damage or reaped the rewards, as the case may be. The next morning we headed down to the bus stop again utterly unaware of how cherished those seemingly routine and average days would someday become.
The first day of school bus stop photo is about 18 years old now. I can tell you that in that group is an organic farmer and a human resources manager. One is in law school, another is a father serving in the U.S. Army, two are amazing parents and all turned out to be adults that are making the world a better place to live. Not bad odds for a random sampling of kids at a bus stop. Then again, this isn’t just any bus stop. It has deep roots and a solid foundation. It is time-tested and true.