It seems when I come to HP with typing fingers at the ready each month, my mind is always somewhere in the vicinity of Addie’s school. Her school is the kind of suburban public school that college undergrads majoring in early childhood or elementary education envision. This vision gets them through finals and student teaching. It’s in a small, relatively safe, if somewhat slower community, just at the fringe of a metro area with size and pace enough to satisfy the leisure hours spent outside of a classroom.
Many, if not most, neighborhood families stroll there from only blocks away, still wiping toothpaste off chins. The School Choice program has brought yellow school buses from deeper in the city to the morning and afternoon outdoor snapshot, broadening the definition of community indoors.
The few buses that idle in front each morning are an extreme draw for my Addie. Though I’m not certain she could fully articulate with sign or with her communication device, I have pretty substantiated reason to believe I know of at least 3 reasons for this. When the glass bus doors are closed, her own sweet reflection is cut clearly into the door on a sunny day. Nobody loves looking at Addie more than Addie (though many come close). Second, the highlight of any field trip to date has been the bus ride there and back. She has scant opportunity to board the revered transport, but really seems to respect the bus in general. And lastly, one of these buses brings her friend Mike, another brings her friend Nicholas.
There are reasons I love these giant idling sunny colored tubes, too. I love them because of the freedom of choice they represent, because on them, they bring ethnic, cultural, socio-economic diversity to the building that quite frankly, would not be there otherwise. And might not be in the neighborhood schools these kids would attend were there no Choice. A cold truth. I love these buses because they bring some of Addie’s friends, because they bring some of my own friends.
Last fall, Addie picked a favorite bus door to admire herself in every morning. Any given day, a glance to the left of her reflection through the windows reveals three young boys, 6 or 7 years old, as they wait with the driver until school staff comes to get one of Addie's kindergarten classroom pals. The other two young students stay on, attending the other elementary school in our district. I don’t really recall exactly how it began, but as Addie kept herself company standing in front of the closed glass doors, I began to keep company with the fellows on the bus. The windows are closed up – they could not hear me and I could not hear them. To pass the minutes before the bell for all of us, I began counting the little guys in sign language. “1, 2, 3.” They mirrored me. Then I added a few further signs gradually. “1, 2, 3 boys.” They mimicked for a few days. “1,2,3 boys on the yellow bus.” They giggled and held their hands up signing along. This was over time, a single new sign each day. When we reached our final phrase, they no longer mimicked me, but signed in unison, often being the ones patiently waiting for my attention with their signing hands in the air.
“1,2,3 boys on the yellow bus going to school.”
We did not exchange a single verbal word. We just signed the same thing each day. They never doubted their understanding of the meaning. Nor did I. All of us relished this small ritual interaction. One day, Addie tore herself away from her reflection and signed along with us, giggling. I could see one young fellow excitedly mouth “we taught her!” I mouthed back with matched enthusiasm, “No, she taught us!”
The driver of the favored bus forged a liking for Addie, but made the mistake of getting too intimate. She began opening the doors to exchange waves with Addie, not realizing the smiles thus far have been intended for Addie herself all along, and not actually meant to pass through the glass. From then on, each morning doors would open as we sidled up. Addie lost interest. She did not want to twinkle and gleam at the driver; she wanted to twinkle and gleam at herself.
She picked another bus, this one with tinted thick windows and no chance of making a new set of friends for me. Balance issues worsened by inattentiveness and a tendency to bolt make it imperative that I stay within radius enough to afford quick reaction time. Thus, I could not go back to the bus with my chums on it if Addie was to be otherwise engaged. We remained at the new bus for a few weeks.
Winter fringe benefits intervened with distraction for our girl – snow. She loves everything about it, particularly munching on it. My own winter distraction comes from the busy-ness of it, the increased work load and flurry of details. While much of it is happy work, there is an underlying strain of complication and even isolation in the cold season that I must keep at bay. Watching Addie in the snow helps. So the morning buses and their sweet cargo were disregarded all through the frosty months until this week, when most of our snow was relegated to small, dirty, unsatisfying piles. First thing Monday morning, Addie determined she and I would return to the buses.
Still, I didn't dare hope.
She led us directly to the original bus, to our bus. It was still chilly enough that the driver did not want to prop the doors open, so Addie got to enjoy her shiny reflection in the glass of the doors again. To her, all was as it should be.
I stood bouncing on my toes peeking in the windows, waiting for the 3 boys in the bus to disengage from their rowdiness and, what? Come back to me. Yeah, probably that. One fellow looked up and out. The sudden happy rounding of his eyes felt like a strong warm gust ushering me in. I heard my own quiet throaty joyful sound. He quickly rallied the others. Within seconds, there were 3 expectant moon faces mere millimeters from the windows in glad anticipation, 6 poised hands in the air, forming the initial hand shapes of our common mantra.
1, 2, 3 boys on the yellow bus, going to school.
The 3 boys, who had not forgotten even one nuance of our sentence in the 3 month hiatus, led me through the chant.
I was home again. Home in hope and promise and possibility. Home in communicating in alternate ways. Home in the simplicity of relationships across age, cultural background, interest, ability. At home in seeing things for what they are, not for what they are deemed through judgment. At home in the belief that there is a default state of connection between people….
… just because they are people.
Addie and her sister built this home for me. And in times when I wander from it, when I cannot see my return path clearly, they always lead me back.