Last winter, we had some treacherous driving situations during the snow season. One early snowfall took the Metro area by surprise. One December Tuesday morning, we woke up to a heavy icy snow that had stuck immediately to every paved surface in the metro. I got up a little early, and got to the bus garage in time to leave 15 minutes ahead of time. It wasn't enough.
I spent the first 40 minutes of my drive time on the bus going a total of 4 miles. My first stop requires me to cross the Wakota Bridge, a main link for all the east side metro commuters (and Wisconsin) to get to the south metro strip and downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis. That wasn't going to happen. (Turns out, it was still backed up hours later, solid “red” on Google Maps all day).
After a call in to the administrators at our transportation hub, I bailed at the last opportunity, just in time to make it to my second stop; which I was already eight minutes late to. Nobody there, the student had bailed too soon. At the third stop, I hit pay dirt, and by the time I was up the hill and approaching my fourth stop, I was only four minutes behind schedule. (No, I'm not going to tell you how I did that.)
The next week, knowing we would have an inch of fresh snow to start the day and more during the commute, I left 30 minutes ahead of time. Made it across the bridge, secured my first student (he was happy to see me) and everything was moving right along. Until my second route, the elementary school run, began.
All fall, there had been one little girl at the second stop, who really didn't want to go to school. Her mom is there many of the days, and a couple of times has had to give me the 'no go' sign as they turned back towards home. This morning, while the kids were boarding (around 15 at this stop) and getting settled in, I looked up in the mirror.
"Everybody all set?"
"My sister is coming..." said a boy from halfway back.
It was then that I looked across the cross street, and there with only her eyes and stocking cap visible above the hood of the car, was Suzie. Her eyes were down cast below the ever present furrowed brow, and only lifted briefly to catch my long armed “come across” motion indicating it was safe for her to advance. She quickly looked down, and then, head bowed, trudged through the new fallen snow in the direction of the bus door.
She never looked up, her red cowboy boots guiding her up the steps as they had done every single day this year. She settled in about three seats back, and we were on our way.
As we were unloading at the school, it became apparent that she was not intending to move out of that seat. This had happened before, and at times one or two of the older kids had been able to encourage her and get her to exit. Sometimes it had been me, after all had passed, that was able to say, "Suzie, it's time to go," and she had grudgingly left the bus.
Not today. Today, when I looked back, there were actually tears glimmering through those angry eyes.
"Suzie, it's time to go to school now."
"I want to go home," she said, half madly and half sadly.
"But we're here now, and I can't take you back to home," I said half truthfully and half made up. "I'm not allowed to."
There it was. A rule. A steadfast reason that she would have to go to school. There was no other way.
"C'mon. I'll walk you in."
She got up, looked at me again, this time no tears and the anger had left those still sad eyes, and followed me out. As we walked down the sidewalk I asked her if she liked snow. She shook her head, "No." Okay.
"I see you've got your cowboy boots on today."
She looked up sideways at me, her eyes a mix of quizzical and surprised. Then she nodded “yes” a couple of times, and we proceeded to the doors of the school.
As we entered, with staff members holding the doors open and greeting the students, I addressed the first staffer.
"She's not real excited to be here," I half whispered as I lagged a step behind Suzie and leaned to the side so as not for her to hear. I got a very knowing nod and roll of the eyes from the woman. At the second set of doors inside the breezeway, I made sure Suzie was all the way inside, and now out of my jurisdiction before I tilted my head towards the guy holding that door.
"Not a big fan of school," I said out of the corner of my mouth, like I was stating an unfortunate, but accurate fact.
"Who is?" he responded, with a wry smile.