It was a beautiful day. Unusually warm, with a cool spring breeze. The hyacinth and narcissus began to bloom around the house and Baby A played in the grass, pulling off her shoes and stomping around barefoot.
My daughter M had a late start day, so instead of riding the bus to school, she rode it home. This has gone off without a hitch all year. So yesterday, I make my way through the crowd of children milling about, looking for a little girl with yellow striped shirt and flowered jeans, and…she’s not there. The bus is gone and my daughter is, too. I search every pod of children, then start asking the lingering bus moms if they’ve seen M. None have. I see one of her kindergarten friends, T, and ask him in M was on the bus. He says yes, but that she didn’t get off.
I go into my crisis mode, which is remarkably calm, until the crisis is over and I panic. I feel my pulse slow slightly, but I’m swallowing terror. I was a teacher, I tell myself. I’ve seen kids get on the wrong bus, get on a bus when they don’t ride one, walk instead of ride, go home with a friend, any number of things. They always came back safely. I tell myself she’s okay. She’ll be back safe. Her bus driver is watching her. Her teacher has her at school. But in the back of my mind, that little voice is crying Where’s my baby?
T’s mom says she’ll drive up to the next stop and see if she’s there. I call the school and they give me the number for the bus. Another boy’s mom reassures me that her son is some sort of bus ninja who is constantly on the wrong bus or stop, and they always find him. Yet another mom reassures me that the bus driver is careful and will find her. Our neighbor’s son runs down the block to look for her.
As I’m dialing the bus number, I see the school bus coming back, lights flashing. The other moms wave and call out, and the bus slows. I see a set of little fingers merrily wiggling from the window, the yellow striped cuff clearly visible. I see her little head poke up over the edge, fluttering hair and big brown eyes. The other moms wave and I pocket my phone. The bus driver smiles and says gently, “She and her friend A were busy talking, and she tried to get off at the next stop, but I stopped her. Don’t worry, Mama, I got her.”
M jumps cheerfully off the bus, flings her arms up in the air, and cries, “I don’t know what just happened there!”
I hugged M hard, and then let her roll in the grass while I waited for T’s mom to come back. She and Baby A ran barefoot and I stood nearby, finally able to breathe again. T’s mom eventually drove back, and told me she’s driven to A’s house and talked to her mom to make sure M wasn’t there. T yelled from the backseat, “M, get off at the right stop next time! I can hold your hand or something if you don’t know, you silly bugface head!”
Well said, T.
His mother said, “So glad we found her! See you tomorrow M!” and drove away.
Taking time to reflect, I was so grateful to everyone in the neighborhood who was willing to drop everything and help find M. Of course I would for another child, too, but in this age when people seem so afraid of their communities, I’m so glad we found one where everyone looks out for all the kids. It’ll be a safe place for M and T to grow up.
We rolled in the grass, picked dandelions, fed squirrels, and then went inside and danced. Many hugs were had by all. It’s these moments that make us remember how lucky we are for the simplest things, like watching your little girl come safely home.