I am not usually the weepy type, but the other day, all it took was a small moment at a school bus.
It was around 8:45 a.m. and I was driving to the grocery store, taking the “back way” to avoid traffic. As luck would have it, I ended up behind a school bus. I groaned inwardly as I realized I was now the second vehicle in a slow-moving convoy that would be making frequent stops.
As I pulled up behind the motionless bus, I looked over and saw a dad dressed in work boots waving dutifully. As the wheels began slowly rolling forward, the dad blew a kiss toward one of the bus’s windows. Once it had moved on, he shyly turned and walked back to the house.
Around the corner, we paused at another house, where a mom in slip-on sandals ushered her energetic child toward the bus. He clambered up the steps as the mom smiled widely and shared a laugh with the driver. She also waved and blew kisses as the bus departed.
As a witness with an unexpected front-row seat to these parent-child exchanges, I felt my eyes well up. I pulled over and started to cry.
The space between the bus window and the parent was filled with the purest love. No one was afraid or embarrassed to show how much they cared, no matter who was watching. I was suddenly glad that I had come upon the bus, even though a few short minutes ago I had considered it an annoying delay. Instead, it reaffirmed to me what parenting is all about: the unconditional love and support of our kids.
During a regular day, it is easy to get bogged down in the mundane details of school, work, meals, chores, activities, and so on. But when your child is getting on the bus or stepping away from you in the schoolyard, all you care about is that they see you waving and smiling and blowing them a kiss. For a few ticks of the clock, that is the most important thing. Everything else could be in a shambles, but that moment holds strong.
The daily scene with the school bus puts a spotlight on another inherent challenge of being a parent: saying goodbye and letting go. Although you know they’re boarding a safe vehicle and will be greeted by wonderful, caring educators, you are still sending your child out into the world for a short time without you. This is bittersweet for any parent, because you know you won’t be there to protect them all day. It is one of the must-have skills of parenting: putting on a brave face even as your child steps away from you and tries to discover their independence.
The bus is also symbolic as we approach the end of another challenging school year (or maybe a roller coaster would be more appropriate). We’ve had to steer our families through tough times and support our kids in ways we never could have anticipated. Of course, the ultimate goal of parenting is to raise our kids to be self-sufficient individuals who can cope with the ups and downs of life. As much as we’d like to, we can’t hold their hand the whole time. As toddlers transform into tweens and teens, the gap gradually widens. We understand that they need to separate from us, even if it makes us feel wistful and left out. It’s the logical next step, but it still stings.
I wish there was a way to communicate to the two bus-waving parents how much I appreciate their parenting choices that day. I wish I could convey the emotions that bubbled up in me as I watched them have this very simple daily interaction with their child. I wish I could tell them how much they lifted my spirits on a day where I really needed it. For that one small moment, they embodied the true meaning of being a parent.
Although I can’t thank them directly, I can pass along what I saw, and remind us all that we’re tackling one of the hardest jobs there is. It’s a job where you have to invest your entire self, and then let it be taken away from you little by little. In fact, in those small moments, you have to smile and wave even as a piece of your heart is being carried away from you.
To be a parent is to live in constant self-doubt. Are we giving the right answers, and asking the right questions? Are we giving them the correct amount of space and freedom? Are we doing a good job? If we continue to follow the instincts that inspire us to wave and blow kisses at a giant yellow bus, I think we’ll be okay.