M came home last week waving a card on a string and yelling, “I got a bus pass! Now I have to ride the bus!”
We didn’t really want her to. My husband and I had talked about it, an we worried about her. After all, at five, what if something happened between the bus and the school? Would she know where to get off? As a teacher, I had had children randomly decide to ride a bus and get lost; though we always found them, it was heart stopping to think of what would become of them if we didn’t. I remembered that terror clearly. How could I ever risk it with my own child?
M continued to carry on about the bus, how her friends rode the bus and how she should too. I called the transportation office to confirm the route, and reluctantly decided she could give it a try. The night before the first bus ride, I asked her if she knew how to find her class. She replied, “No.”
I asked, “Well, do you want me to–”
She cut me off. “I’ll figure it out,” she said, quietly but firmly, leaving no room for discussion.
I let it go. Something in her tone reminded me of myself as a young adult. Failing to get into graduate school, I had gone online and got a job in Japan on the internet. As I walked down the hall at the airport, clutching my carry-on and laptop, I told myself I could do it if I just kept walking and didn’t look back. I had to do it. I had to prove to myself that I could survive on my own. I remember nearly choking on terror when the plane took off (deep apologies to the person I sobbed next to for half an hour) but I clung to it, too. If I could overcome that, I would be okay. I could handle anything life threw at me if I made it through that first month, all alone in a little apartment in a rural farming town.
I made it for three years.
I heard that in M’s voice that evening. That need to just be allowed to be afraid, to risk failure, to prove to herself she was strong enough to go it alone.
Her face lit up the next morning when she saw the bus coming. Two of her friends were there waiting, and they promised they would help her to her class. They giggled, ran in circles, climbed a tree, petted a dog. And when the bus arrived, they linked arms together and ran to the line.
“You okay?” I asked as she hugged me.
“Yeah,” she said. “We got this.” She got on the bus, blew kisses from the window, and was gone.
The morning passed slowly, and my stomach twisted. I wanted to call the school office and just check. Did she arrive? Was she safe?
I didn’t. I owed her that.
I do admit that when I saw her come out of the room at the end of the day, I was overwhelmed with relief. I asked how it went, and she said, “It was so fun! I got a little lost at first, but I figured it out. I’m awesome.”
Yes, she is.