Sitting Close to the Driver.

October 9, 2013

Image by basheertome on Flickr
As I prepared my kindergartner for school this fall, I tried to pass on some wisdom for navigating elementary school. 

Of all the topics we discussed, the "rules" of riding the school bus topped my list. And, although she rides the bus for a grand total of five minutes, my own childhood bus rides through winding country roads for 45 minutes made me an expert on what happens in the dark neither regions of the school bus known as "the back of the bus." 

I remember the bus bully, the teasing, the language not appropriate for little ears. I remember the mini-community with its own hierarchy and its own way for handling disagreements. I remember poor "Earl the Squirrel" (as we all called him) -- my own bus driver who was woefully unprepared to deal with the Lord of the Flies scenario unfolding on my childhood bus trips home. 
And, given my expertise, I told my sweet daughter the cardinal rule of all bus riding:  SIT AS CLOSE TO THE DRIVER AS POSSIBLE.

As September loomed, I would periodically slip The Rule into random conversations in the grocery store, while driving to the park, as she got her jammies on at night: "Honey, do you remember The School Bus Rule?" And she did. She knew The Rule by heart.

When the first day of school came, I watched her climb onto the bus. I checked out her driver and was pleased -- he looked like the perfect mix of "stern grandpa." Kind-hearted and yet confident and in control of those whipper-snappers. I wiped a stray tear or three, waved, and watched until the bus disappeared around the corner. 

As the week wore on, I started to realize that The Rule was not being obeyed. I heard about exploration trips down the bus aisle to check out the back. I saw her little head bobbing past window after window after she wove her way off the bus in the afternoons -- obviously coming from a seat at the very back of the section she was allowed to sit in. 

I knew, and yet I kept my big mouth shut.

About the third day in, I started to hear about trouble. A first-grade boy would sit next to her or nearby while chanting "Kindergartner, kindergartner, kindergartner..."

As my daughter told me about this "naughty" (her words) boy for the second day in a row, I suggested we come up with a plan to stop the teasing. 

Together we brainstormed and decided two things would help: 1) she would always sit next to her classmate and friend who also rides the bus, and 2) she would sit as close to the driver as possible.  

[For those gentle readers who realize this is exactly what I drilled into my beloved daughter for weeks before school started, thank you for recognizing that I was right. I've refrained from sharing that particular insight with my daughter.]

When the bus pulled to a stop the following afternoon, I smiled secretly as I saw two little girls seated immediately behind the bus driver. As my girl bounded off the bus, she exclaimed: "It worked! That naughty boy tried to tease me and the bus driver told him to leave us alone!"

Three weeks into the school year, I watch every afternoon as the bus pulls up with two familiar little heads bobbing just behind the bus driver -- without any further encouraging (or nagging) by me.

I was reflecting on this experience during a quiet moment this past week when I realized I am no different than my daughter. We know that we ought to stay close to God -- that we need to spend time in his presence, in the Bible, to pray first before reacting to difficult circumstances and situations -- and yet we so often dive headlong into sticky situations without first taking a moment to pray, to seek guidance.  

It is only after we've gotten into a jam, until we've stuck a foot in our mouth, until we've mucked everything up that we ruefully remember that, just maybe, God had a better plan -- had only we checked in, first.

And, so, just as my daughter learned that it really is best to sit as close to the driver as possible, I've been reminded that I need to do the same thing, too.

9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. 11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
John 15:9-15  



  1. As I come to the close of my bus driving career I look back on the shorties who have sat near me and depended on me to keep them safe and I know that a heavenly hand has always kept us all safe!

  2. Thank you, Aunt Tina! As a parent, I don't have words to express the gratitude I feel toward all the people who care for my children on the bus and during the school day. What a job -- and I know all of you don't hear "thank you" often enough. :)