Communicating with Your Passengers
(and their parents) continued
A bus driver sometimes finds that the failure to communicate does not originate on your end of the conversation, or to be more accurate, the failure to communicate appropriately and clearly does not originate on your end.
Considering how much time some parents spend with their children, they seem to know precious little about them. Many parents appear not to understand that every word, deed and spoken thought that occurs behind their curtained windows will be recorded by that remarkable audio/video recording device known as a child. The balance in your checking account, the word-for-word transcript of the fight you had with your husband last night, the name of the guy who often visits in the afternoon while your husband is at work - all part of the public record, once your kid knows about it.
I implore you, parents, keep your secrets privy. Exercise discretion in your personal life. I so don't want to know, but I assure you, your kid will tell me. When you give your child a message to convey to me, for both our sakes, choose your phrasing carefully. I'll know what you meant and can add expletives and obscenities where appropriate.
Failure to do this results in situations like the following examples:
A blonde cherub kindergartner, Daisy, waist-length ponytail swinging, stops at the driver's seat to confide, "My mom and dad had a fight last night. He said he had two beers, she said he had twelve. He has to sleep in the camper until I get married."
The same little girl on another day points out the bus window at a young teenage boy standing on the sagging porch of a ramshackle house, staring as the bus goes by. She says, "See that kid? He's my half-brother. He's my cousin, too." (I spent the rest of the bus run and much of the evening puzzling about that one - all I could come up with was either mom was friendly with dad's brother, dad was friendly with mom's sister, or mom and dad were cousins to start with. Can you think of other options?) She goes on to confide that her mom ran over the brother/cousin on accident and hurt his leg pretty bad, and mom cried and cried while dad yelled and called 911.
Katrina, seven, second grade, leans forward to tell the bus driver, "I had a bad dream last night. Skeered me. I ran into mama's room and her friend Joe was there looking for his clothes."
Stevie, 3rd grade, looks worried when he mounts the bus steps one winter morning. Sitting in the front seat, he says, "Boy. They're sure mad at my house." When the bus driver doesn't prompt him (see 'so don't want to know' above), he continues anyway. "Mommy bought a new jacket. And a skirt. And shoes. And a pocketbook. Daddy threw her credit cards on the floor and jumped up 'n' down on 'em." Stevie, even in his worry, giggles. "He looked CRAZY - like 'Zilla or the Credible Hulk or somethin'." He stops giggling. "Daddy sez we won't have nothin' to eat and we'll have to live in the bus shanty. Mommy sez he never wants her to have anything nice."
And now, regarding the messages you send to me, your humble bus driver, through your child.
The Kiddlish language (see Chapter Two) does not have discretionary filters. You may think that your child will edit your message and present to me only the informational parts that I need to know. You are so very wrong. Your child will repeat your message to me verbatim, complete with arm-waving and sharp 'K' consonants. This tosses me onto the horns of a dilemma. When you give your child an obscene and abusive message, and your child repeats it to me, because you told him/her to do so, who gets punished?
I present an illustration.
One spring morning, all of the stars were in alignment and no parents had been out partying the night before, and everybody's alarm clock went off at the proper hour, and every child on the bus run was spit-shined and standing at the correct spot for the bus pickup. No diving back into houses for forgotten lunches or homework, no pauses while Kenny scraped the dog doo-doo off his shoe on the bus step, no gasps of alarm when Jolene started up the steps and slipped on the dog doo-doo and needed a bandaid. We were not only on time, a goal to be striven for, we were EARLY. Unheard of.
It was a lovely soft day, with the world renewing herself as she does in spring. Daffodils bloomed sunnily beside mailboxes, pale tender leaves frosted the trees. The designer duck at the mouth of Creek Road, with her stark black-and-white plumage with the Nike swoosh, led her dozen fluffy fat ducklings tumbling across the road and the bus paused until they all made it safely to the other side.
Bus Dwivah and passengers were in fine fettle.
At the other end of Creek Road, the dairy farmer kept his maternity ward in the pasture along the road. Black and white Guernseys, their bellies swollen, cropped the fresh new grass and waited for motherhood. As I paused at the stop sign, I noticed one Guernsey right beside the fence, her muscular tail raised high and her back humped. She seemed to be straining, and I realized she was about to drop her calf. I thought what a neat thing for my kids to see! And we HAD time…
I pulled up beside the cow, checked for traffic (there was none, rural doesn't quite explain my bus route) and called to my charges. "Hey, kids, look! A calf's about to be born."
Delightedly, the kids crowded to the cow-ward side of the bus and stared intently as the cow's back humped higher, she lowed a couple of times, and her calf appeared at the appropriate end, dropping gently to the ground while the kids gasped. "Is it hurt?"
I explained it was fine, that was the birthing style of cows and calves expected it. The calf was encased in a glistening transparent sac, and there were loud cries of "Ewww!" as the cow licked her baby free of the sac, and dried it with her tongue. She nudged it a few times with her soft wet nose and the baby began its attempts at standing, shaking and slumping back in a few false starts until at last it stood on those long trembling knobby-kneed legs, black-and-white hide shining and a cheer went up from the bus. Mikie, a freckle-faced boy with a short haircut that attempted to subdue his spiky cowlicks said, "THAT'S why they call it a cowlick!" in a tone of discovery.
At my order, the kids went back to their seats, and I drove first to the school, then home to my own house with a feeling of satisfaction. That had been a great experience we had shared, one they would remember long.
On the afternoon run, the bus was still a-buzz with the excitement of watching the 'cow getting borned.' When we passed the farmer's pasture, the kids tried to figure out which of a dozen nearly identical black-and-white calves was their calf. It was a fun trip.
My home phone was ringing when I hit the door, and my boss was inside it. "After the fourth phone call from a parent," he said flatly, without preamble, "I gave them your phone number. YOU explain the cow thing." And he hung up.
It rang again. And again. To my surprise, some parents didn't find my kids' educational foray into animal husbandry nearly as charming I had. One mother complained, "She keeps asking questions." In all fairness to the mother in question, after a few minutes' conversation with her, I came to the conclusion that she might well not know the answers to her daughter's questions.
Another mom said, "She wants to know if I licked her clean. Ewwww…" she added in a voice eerily like the bus kids'. And a third said, "Did you tell them that people stand up and drop their kids on the ground?"
"I didn't tell them ANYTHING," I protested. "We just watched the calf being born."
Fortunately for me we live in a busy world and eventually parents had to concentrate on things like supper and fights about credit cards and my phone fell silent.
The next morning, though, a kindergarten girl, built like a sumo wrestler, with beefy arms and a mop of shiny black curls, stopped beside me on her way back to her seat. "My mom said to tell you," she began and I winced in anticipation. "She said, 'Tell that dizzy f***** b**** that if I want you to know about the birds and the bees, I'll f****** tell you MYSELF."
No hidden context there.