Saturday, September 9, 2006

The School Bus Shift

The School Bus Shift
Meagan Francis

Every morning when the alarm goes off, my husband and I begin a quiet battle. One of us has to get up right away to get the two oldest kids off to school, while the other gets to sleep for another half-hour or so, and we’ll do anything in our limited early-morning power to avoid being the one who gets up. His weapon in the war against early rising is usually just ignoring the alarm entirely—snoring right through it, in fact—while I hit snooze the customary four times. Then, when I try to nudge him awake, he only snorts in response. About half the time his strategy works and I just resign myself to what I think of as The School Bus Shift.

It’s not so much the earlier rising that kills me, though I am no morning person. It’s more that trying to get my kids out the door in the morning is a little like trying to herd turtles on psychedelic drugs: not only do they move at a crawling pace, but they seem to find the most ordinary objects so mesmerizing that they must stop and stare at everything, wasting precious getting-ready moments.

Instead of washing themselves in the bath, they swirl the water around with a limp hand and stare at the wall. Instead of getting dressed, they gaze at their pile of clothes as though they see little dancing gnomes in them. Instead of eating their oatmeal, they dip the spoon repeatedly into the bowl and watch the dents fill back in with milk. This morning, I sent my eight-year-old son from the table to the bathroom with the instructions to brush his teeth. When I checked on him a minute later, he was stalled in front of the closed door, looking confused. Apparently he’d forgotten how to use doorknobs during the night. Later, I found him staring intently at the stripe of toothpaste on his toothbrush, transfixed. By that point I was ready to just hold him down and brush his teeth myself the way I did when he was a toddler.

Forget the dinner rush or the half-hour before bed: when it comes to sheer pressure, mornings are a mother’s most stressful time. The scene for the kids’ entire day is set: If their clothes are rumpled, if their socks are holey, if I let them get jacked up on Lucky Charms instead eating a sensible breakfast, if their packed lunch isn’t balanced, if they forget their homework—all of it reflects poorly on me, even if I’m not the one actually getting them ready that morning. Somehow my husband never experiences the same level of AM angst: he’ll do a sloppy job of the school bus shuffle without stressing out about it, while I’ll worry the whole day about whether the boys went to school with bed head.

This morning’s rush turned out to be one of those rare golden occasions where I managed, through careful planning (clothes laid out the night before, lunches and snacks ready to go), micromanaging everything from shoe-tying to breakfast BPM (that’s bites per minute. Oatmeal, requiring little chewing, allows for a particularly efficient BPM), and barking out a constant stream of phrases like “What are you doing!?” and “Move it!” and “So help me, if you miss the bus, I don’t know what I’ll do!”, I managed to get the kids dressed, scrubbed, fed, brushed, and buffed to a glossy shine—three minutes before the bus was supposed to arrive. Satisfied and proud, I sent them outside to wait.

And wait. And wait. The bus didn’t come. Had we missed it after all? Unable to give up on the dream, I kept calling out the front door to the kids: “It’ll be any minute now!” They looked skeptical as sleet bounced off their heads and froze to the cement.

Finally, twenty minutes later, I sent Jacob across the street to ask the neighbor if we’d missed the bus. He came running back with a whoop.

“Mom! It’s a snow day!” he yelled.

I guess I’ve got one more thing to add to my morning to-do list: next time, check the news. Oh well, at least their lunches are already packed and ready for tomorrow.

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