My favorite part of the day, this time of year, is when E, Z and I walk down the driveway to meet M's bus in the afternoon. Now that he is in third grade, he is probably old enough that the bus driver will let him off the bus without a warm body there waiting, but I'm hesitant to look into it, because I know that without that impetus there are some days that we, or in particular, I, would not get outside at all, like this week when the weather was clear and dry and beautiful, but I sequestered myself indoors cleaning in anticipation of the upcoming Solar Home Tour (yes my grandmother would have a heart attack to know that I started dusting and mopping and vacuuming three weeks before an event, rather than doing all of that, I don't know, every day...but such as it is, it is the one time of year that the walls of our railingless stairwell bear no tell-tale handprints). Last year I began sending M to the bus by himself in the mornings, which deprived us outings that often carried us on walks into the woods and other explores for the whole morning, but saved me a great deal of stress in trying to get four bodies appropriately attired and out the door by 7:25.
Our afternoon walks, if we leave early enough (I have finally learned, after three years, to leave early) are quietly relaxing. E and Z run ahead to hide from M in the tall vegetation along the road. I walk more sedately behind, noting the fading colors in the goldenrod and asters, the slowly changing leaves. In good years (this is not a good year) we browse on ripe blackberries and raspberries as we go.
This time of day has not always been so pleasant. When M started kindergarten, E and Z were 15 months old. The bus came smack dab in the middle of their naptime. I would have to wake them up, nurse them, change them, dress them in clothing appropriate to the season, and load them in whatever conveyance the season dictated (stroller in fall and spring; sled in winter), often to the sounds of loud protest. By then it was usually so late, that I would run down the driveway, pushing or pulling my load.
Our driveway is about 1200 feet long. From our house it goes up a hill, around a corner to the right, up a slight rise, then down and around a corner to the left, from there it is a straightaway to the road, but a long gradual rise blocks the view of the road until you are almost there. Running, which is not part of my genetic makeup, while pushing a stroller or pulling a sled made for a painful, but no doubt amusing spectacle.
On one memorable day, when I put the twins down for a nap, I thought I'd lie down myself, just for a moment. I woke with a start and looked at the clock: 2:40, the exact moment the bus pulls up to our mailbox. With nary a thought to the pair of toddlers asleep on their mattress, I leapt out of bed, ran down the stairs and out the door, pulling my shoes on as I went. I raced down the driveway, waving my hands above my head as I neared the final rise in the driveway. Sure enough, there was the bus, waiting, the bus driver on the radio to the school, no doubt trying to figure out what to do with this abandoned child.
Our bus driver, Ms. Heart, did not live up to her name, but was surly and grouchy. She would lecture out daycare provider about my not informing her in time of changes to M's bus schedule. On days when my schedule changed, I always sent M a note or called the school. Whether the office gave him a bus note or whether he remembered to give it to Ms. Heart was out of my control. And if we were running late one morning and he got on the bus at home, or if I had to work on an off day and he got on at daycare, I really had no way of contacting the bus. In any case, she had to drive by our house either way.
Then there was the day that I towed the twins out to the road in the sled, the temperature near zero degrees Fahrenheit, with a strong brittle wind blowing. We waited, and waited, and waited, till finally I was sure we had missed the bus, and E and Z got up and started walking back toward the house, towing the sled behind them. I decided to abandon my kindergartener in favor of not giving my other two children frost bite, and walked back with them. Not sure what to do, I loaded them in the car and drove to daycare, where I found out that the bus was running half an hour late. The school had called and let me know—a good five minutes after we had already left the house and begun our our trek.
The next year things got a little easier. The twins gave up naps and now they could walk the whole distance, though sometimes they didn't want to. One early spring day, when too much snow had melted to allow for sled travel, but the driveway was too muddy for the stroller, we started walking toward the road. Z didn't want to walk and came along crying. I had to get to the road before the bus and hurried ahead of the twins. E caught up with me, but by the time M got off the bus, still no Z. I couldn't hear him crying anymore, so I figured he'd turned around and went back to the house. As we climbed the hill and came around the corner, though, we found him lying sound asleep in a mud puddle.
I can laugh (sort of) at those bad old days now, but really I am relieved that the minutes from 2:25 to 2:45 are a pleasant and relaxing time out in nature. I'm also glad M has a friendly, mellow bus driver now, and that the route has changed so the bus turns around down the road from our house, giving us two chances to catch it.