For two and a half years, I have have made this trek.
Mornings are not my favorite unless I make the concerted effort to make them so, and that is apparent as I started each day bleary-eyed and bedheaded, guiding equally bleary-eyed but hopefully less bedheaded toddlers-into-preschoolers through a quick routine and to this place at the threshold of the front door, waiting.
I have done it in the peak of the humidity that is August in Ohio, wondering exactly how little clothing would be considered still appropriate to pass beyond the shaded front porch. I have done it in the throes of winter, when shoveled drifts higher than the curly peak of tiny heads and vague footprints the only clue that someone rose earlier and cleared this path for us before they departed. I have done it in the pouring rain while praying not to slip and fall and I have done it while a gentle breeze blew the scents of freshly-blossomed lilac across the stoop stairs my brother rebuilt for me, for this purpose.
I have walked this path in the blistering brightness of a summer morning and I have done it in the pitch black of a winter pre-dawn, all the while holding on to tiny hands, ushering them along.
After twelve years of being on the opposite side of this walk, the anxiety has only subdued slightly, while I try to shield them from the same fate. I am fully grown now, but I still get butterflies in my stomach at the thought of missing the school bus.
I can still remember how the vinyl seats felt on the back of my bare thighs, huge in comparison to my classmates' and for a while why I began to wear boy's shorts and then no shorts at all, ever, never wanting again to feel the sweaty imprint of the textured surface redden the fleshy backside of what much later would become my greatest physical asset. I can smell the mustiness of constant use and the industrial cleaners used to try and mask that very fact along with the scent of ruddy children hurtling head first into adolescence. I remember the sound of the windows opening, that slide-and-clunk of victory against enclosure, even when the driver yelled at you to close it right back up again. I remember the triumph of claiming the back-most seat and the urgency of taking the front one so no one would bother you, today.
And now, I walk to the curb in front of our house, holding hands so much tinier than mine when I began this journey, this childhood rite of passage, and I sit on stoop stairs or stand on the sidewalk and I wait with my children for their buses to arrive, to take them places I will never actually know the ways that they do.
In the moment between the bus doors opening and walking the maybe eight feet from the curb to that spot, I make them hold my hand because we don't go into the street without holding a grown-up's hand and I help lift them up onto that first step, just the slightest bit too tall for their still so tiny bodies. I kiss them and tell them to have a good day, listen to your teachers, I love you and I pretend not to notice that they wipe the kisses off as they round the corner to the aisle where the assistant is waiting to show them to their seats and buckle them in -- because they are still small enough that they need special seats that have buckles to hold them in.
And I wait for the bus doors to close and step backwards back up onto the curb in the space between the light pole and the bumper of my car and I watch as they sit down, adjusting into their school personas, making their first transitions of the day.
When I hear the sound of the brakes releasing and engine revving just the slightest, I smile the biggest, realest smile I have, full of teeth and widened eyes, and I wave as the bus passes me, only stopping once it reaches the corner five houses up.
I want the last thing they see in the morning as they leave to be me happy and proud of them.
And sometimes, if I'm lucky, they have a window seat where I can see them, and on the best days, they smile and wave back.
Next year, for the first time, they will go to the same school and ride the same bus. And my trek will become shorter, less frequent, as our schedules and somewhat our lives are streamlined.
So now, I'm holding on to the rare individual moments I spend with each child while we wait for flashing yellow lights to appear and carry them into their own experiences, their own lives, their own memories in the making, hopefully bolstered full each day with the knowledge that no matter how their days go, I will be just as happily waiting in the same spot for them when they return.