Monday, January 28, 2008

School Bus Scandals

Remember the good ole days, when you used to worry because maybe the kids weren’t eating enough vegetables, or they filled up on milk and didn’t eat dinner, which couldn’t be healthy, or they were late to talk or early to climb or didn’t want to fingerpaint or some such thing?

The reason you get small babies, aside from the physical impossibility of actually giving birth to a 7-year-old, is because you get to practice on small problems before graduating to big ones. The teenage years seem very far away when you’re holding a teensy grasping little baby whose biggest issue is that she hasn’t pooped in 24 hours, so you might need to call the doctor but you’re not sure and what does the baby book say?

So I’m standing in the juice aisle at Jenny Lou’s, trying to decide which is a healthier lunchbox drink, peach juice or orange juice, when my cell phone rings. It’s Cindy the Head Bus Monitor, calling about Shay. It turns out Shay has been written up by the bus monitors on his school bus, who spotted him Hitting a Kindergarten Girl In the Face. Seriously. You can cut the crusts off of their sandwiches til you’re blue in the face, but all that love can’t stop them from beating up small girls. So now I’m feeling slightly sick as I listen to Cindy giving the details, which include “You’re going to need to ride the bus with your son next week.”

This happened last week.

Ironically, I couldn’t get in touch with Bart because he was at the school, giving a speech to the PTA about “How To Keep Your Kids Safe.” I didn’t ask if this talk was to include a section on “School Bus Bullies.”

Bart got home from his speech just a few minutes before Shay returned from school himself, and we spent the few minutes before Shay’s return discussing our options (No birthday party! Grounded for a year! Apologize to the girl’s family! Pay for mom’s taxi rides to/from school bus! Go to your room forever! That kind of thing). But Bart had zillions of questions about the incident, so he called Cindy the Head Bus Monitor himself and went all federal agent on her: “Were there any witnesses to the attack?” “Can you tell me what provoked the aforementioned attack?” “Spell that name for me please.” After getting the details, he called the girl’s dad at work – the family lives across the street from us, and the dad works at the Embassy with Bart, so he wanted to let the dad know what was going on.

By this time Shay was home, happily munching his snack. He had neglected to mention his run-in with the girl, but he was starting to get suspicious of the fact that his dad was home, mid-day, dressed in a suit, talking on the phone with a notepad and pen in front of him.

So Bart summoned Shay in for his version of events, and that’s when things got very federal agent-y. Shay, of course, denied the whole thing ever happened: “They’re lying! They just want to get me in trouble.”

Bart: I don’t believe they’re lying.
Shay: Well, they are.
Bart: I think you’re lying.
Shay: Well I’m not.
Bart: I know you’re lying. When you lie, you cross your arms and look to the left. It’s a classic sign. It’s tough having a dad who’s been trained to interrogate people, but there it is. So tell me what happened, because you’re already in enough trouble.

At this point, I was waiting for Lenny from Law and Order to come in and play the good cop. Shay was flummoxed. He didn’t quite know what else to do, so he finally gave his version of events, which was basically that the girl was tormenting him, hitting him with her shoes and teasing him, until he finally threw her shoes up in the luggage rack and knocked her down, at which point her brother told on Shay, and the bus monitors wrote him up.

Meanwhile, in neighbor dad’s house, poor little Rebecca was undergoing an interrogation of her own. The doorbell rang, and it was Rebecca’s mom. We dismissed Shay, who ran crying to his room (“Everybody hates me. I’m going to lose my Nintendo forever. I’m never going to see my friends again.” Etc, etc.).

Turns out Rebecca’s mom got pretty much the same story from Rebecca: she was hitting Shay with her shoes until he finally got fed up and pushed her. So the mom thought Shay got all the blame because Rebecca is a cute little girl and Shay’s a big 2nd grader. But she thought her daughter started it and also needed to get in trouble.

We talked for awhile, then summoned the two kids to apologize to each other. Truly, they are friends, and they play together all the time on the street, so it was probably just a sibling-type of fight. But both kids were mortified to have to apologize. The next day, Rebecca’s mom marched her to the principal’s office, where Rebecca was told to explain that she had started the fight that got Shay in trouble. That is one tough mom, I tell you. And the next day I reported to the school for bus riding duty. Shay was mortified when I got on the bus with him, and when I started chatting with his busmates, he tried his best to disappear beneath the floorboards. “Mom,” he hissed, “stop talking to them.” He was appalled when I wouldn’t stop.

Thankfully, because it turned out that the little girl was also partially at fault, they aren’t going make me ride the school bus forever. Just a couple more times. Still. I’m thinking this will all seem a lot funnier after Shay has graduated from college and gone on to become the U.S. Ambassador to France or something like that.

I have this friend Laura who is married to a guy, David. David is one of the smartest people you could ever meet: a diplomat with a PhD who speaks, like, 5 different languages. But once, when his mom came to visit overseas and Shay was still in diapers, Laura and I were sitting around talking about the travails of potty-training. “Oh, don’t worry,” David’s mom piped up, “David was still wetting his pants when he was four, and look at him now!” I think about that comment, probably more often than David himself would like. The things we worry about now, the things that seem so monumental, like wetting yourself or getting in fights on the school bus, will seem small some day.

Some day. In the mean time, I’ll be riding the bus.


Please. Write your own stuff.