Mr. John – What the Bus Driver Taught Me

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Yet another school year behind us and two more school supply lists already in front of me. (No lie.)

Summer is here!

This past school year, the girls got a new bus driver and although we have liked them all, this year’s was our favorite. I think he reminded the girls of their grandpa. He makes them laugh, sings songs, tells stories, and makes the boys let the girls get on and off the bus first, reminding them daily that they should be gentlemen. He always has a smile for us, no matter how crazy the day may be. Every holiday or school break, the girls get excited about what we can give Mr. John, but I wish I could let him know the full impact his positive spirit has made on our family. As it goes with the teachers and school staff, I wish we could give much more than gift cards and candy to show our appreciation for all their hard work.

To give an example of why Mr. John is not just your average bus driver… he has actually turned the bus around and come back to our house after being a few blocks away, because Chloe left her retainer at home. I’m sure she was panicking since this was right after she had gotten it and she was told she had to wear it at all times. When I saw it on the kitchen table I was grabbing my keys to take it to her, when in she runs, grabs it, and is back on the bus within seconds. I heard Mr. John talking to Chloe about it and instead of making her feel bad for leaving it, he encouraged her on the importance of remembering for her own well being. He focused on the positive. Chloe didn’t forget it again the rest of the year!

Mornings are very hard for us during the school year and they don’t agree with my youngest (or me, for that matter!). She tends to dawdle and not do what she is told to do. Instead of brushing her teeth she will find more interesting (?!) things to do like braid grass, count stains on the carpet, and see how angry she can make the cat. So when the bus pulls up, she is usually still eating breakfast with only one shoe on, so I have a tendency to get a teensy weensy bit frustrated.  When she comes running out of the house – arms flailing, homework being stuffed inside the backpack, food being stuffed inside her face – Mr. John calmly calls out of the bus to SLOW DOWN. The first time he did this it took me off guard. I half expected him to tell her to hurry up because she was running late already. But instead of rushing her, he tells her to slow down and stop running so she won’t fall down and get hurt. He is more worried about her well being than being on time. I feel a twinge of truth landing softly on my mama heart. Yes. I needed a good dose of perspective.

Mr. John is patient and understanding. He always asks the kids how they are doing and if they had a good day at school. He finds their forgotten gloves, scarves, mittens, hats, and toys and brings them back the next day. He even knows which ones belong to whom. I don’t know how he does it. He knows every child by name, and which sibling belongs to which one. Mr. John can tell when my Chloe is having a bad day and he can make her smile by telling her a silly joke. When Cammie misses a lot of school, he asks about her and seems genuinely concerned about her health. He gets so happy to see her when she comes back, which makes her light up. His enthusiasm is contagious.

Cammie cried (more like threw a temper tantrum, but I won’t go into detail) when I “surprised” her and decided to do “parent pick up” one day instead of having her ride the bus. She was so upset with me because she wouldn’t get to say goodbye to Mr. John before Christmas break, so we had to catch the bus before it left campus so she could ride it home. It’s crazy, but that’s how much they enjoy these bus rides with Mr. John! I’m starting to worry that I’ve been replaced.

School bus drivers are awesome because they are always thinking about how to streamline the route – for us and for them. A couple years ago, the bus driver suggested to the transportation department that they move our stop to be at our mailbox (as in 3 ft from my door) instead of down the street, since no one was at that stop except for us. She had been concerned that we had to walk the half block when it was snowing. Because you know, that is a very long way to walk in the snow.

I had no idea just how amazing “bus drop off and pick up at my door” service would be! It came in handy when I had my port. For almost a year, I was hooked up to a power port implanted in my chest that was attached to a needle with a line that went directly to my heart. I carried around a pole to do my meds, with my line dangling that got caught on everything. It was almost impossible to get the girls ready for school while not letting two dogs out, all while not being able to move more than 1 ft without worrying about popping my needle out of my chest and bleeding to death. (Not really, but kind of really.)

So, all that to say this… a bus driver basically saved my life that year. I cannot tell you how life altering it has been to just open the door and let my lovelies walk on the bus and close the door and that’s it. It’s maybe the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in motherhood in years. I’m not even kidding. It’s more than a huge blessing to someone with a chronic illness. I (double heart) my own personal bus stop and now I heart Mr. John, too. They are my favorites.

My girls came home recently and told me that a 5th grade boy was being mean to Mr. John, yelling obscenities at him, and showing him the “middle finger” (said in a low whisper, as if they might get in trouble for even talking about the mysterious body part.) “He does it all the time and it makes us very sad for Mr. John.” I asked why this boy doesn’t like Mr. John and they said because Mr. John sings, “The Wheels on the Bus” song. I smiled at the image of Mr. John singing the song loudly while driving his bus full of Kindergarteners through 5th graders through the neighborhood. I was instantly wanting to throat punch a 10 year old kid that I didn’t even know. Is that wrong? I felt terrible that Mr. John has to endure this kind of ridicule from adolescent boys that just don’t know any better.

I asked if Mr. John had given out a bus ticket and reported the boy to the school. They told me Mr. John never gives out bus tickets. He doesn’t tell on anyone. Instead, he teaches the kids to do better. He gives second, third, and fourth chances. He simply gives out grace like it’s candy. On the last day of school this year, my girls told me that when saying goodbyes to his bus full of kiddos and telling them how much he would miss them, he smiled, winked and jokingly told this particular “bad” boy that he would miss “even” him as he patted his shoulder. I hope that years from now, this memory of a loving man not turning him in for his misbehavior and instead, treating him as his equal will come back to him, and will remind him of the perfect example of what grace and love in the real world look like.

I have so much to learn from this Vietnam veteran who takes special care of the kids on a big yellow bus in a quaint little suburb of St. Louis, Missouri.

He makes sure they get to school happy and clean with all their gear and that they get home safe and sound every single day. But it is much more than that. He sees past his “job description” and he is doing the even more important work. He doesn’t see his job as “just” a bus driver. Mr. John knows he has the opportunity to make a difference in children’s lives and he is doing that, every day. He is kind, he is patient, he is forgiving, and he loves well. There isn’t a greater example for my girls to see. Mr. John has taught me how to be a more patient mother. To slow down, even when I wish their feet would speed up. To stop and pause in the hurried moments and care more about my girls hearts and well being, than the ticking of a clock. I think we could all learn a lot from Mr. John.

Tears will be shed on the first day of school next year if a bus turns the corner of our street and his smiling face isn’t the first one they see. Cammie’s first prayer of the summer included, “and please make sure that we get Mr. John as our bus driver next year, not someone we don’t want to know.” Amen. Well, I guess that works, too.

Amen.

 

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