79. Big Yellow

79. Big Yellow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

Big Yellow

A child is a curly dimpled lunatic.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The discussions began during the heat of the Arizona summer, months before our only child was scheduled to leave the nest for the first time and head off to kindergarten. The controversial topic? The big yellow school bus.

Cody and I thought school buses were pretty cool. My wife, however, felt that school buses were The Great Satan. I argued that the familiar vehicles were an important part of the school experience, and were critical to our son’s social development. She countered that they’re hot, dangerous, driven by ex-cons, and are always being buried underground by terrorists.

I countered that they’re bigger and safer than cars, the school board doesn’t specifically seek to hire dangerous criminals, and reminded her that the terrorist thing only happened once a long time ago.

After weeks of the verbal equivalent of a Texas Death Cage match, Cody and I won the day.

At 11:45 a.m. on the fateful first morning, we all gathered at the designated pickup spot a block away, snapping photos while waiting for the historic arrival of the big yellow bus. Among the children buzzing around was Nikki, a tiny neighborhood girl also starting kindergarten. I told Nikki that she and Cody were now bus buddies, and to make sure they came home together. Nikki agreed and made a pinky promise.

We continued to mill about and wait. And wait. A half hour passed and no bus. It was closing in on 110 degrees outside in our Phoenix suburb. Cody and Nikki were wilting like daisies. The only thing hotter was Cody’s mother.

The bus finally arrived. It was being driven by—SANTA CLAUS! No kidding, the driver was the same guy who played Santa Claus in all the area festivals because he has the real hair, girth and beard. Cody and Nikki were thrilled. I shot my wife a classic, smug, know-it-all-grin.

That afternoon, Cody’s still-anxious mother and I took our place on the corner waiting for the equally historic first trip home. The bus arrived only fifteen minutes late. The kids piled out. No Cody. I hopped on the bus. No Cody. No Santa. Different driver. A scruffy-looking guy.

Cody’s mother was starting to go into cardiac arrest. I cautioned her to stay cool. I spotted Nikki still sitting passively on the bus, clueless as to where she was supposed to get off.

“Nikki, where’s Cody?”

“I dunno.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know? I told you that you were bus buddies! We made a pinky promise! Did he make it to school?”

“I dunno.”

“Did you see him in class?”

“I dunno.”

My wife was now frantic. “But I told Nikki to watch him,” I lamely pointed out.

“Nikki’s got the brain of a gnat!!” she screamed as she ran home for the phone.

I remained on the bus, convinced I could solve the mystery of our missing son. I heard over the radio that the dispatcher was looking for a lost girl name Katie. Katie? Cody? Cody? Katie? Maybe a switch? “Is there anybody here named Katie?” I asked a sea of children. There was no answer. The driver radioed back that he didn’t have Katie. I heard the dispatcher give a description of Katie. Blond hair, freckles, white dress with red roses. I spotted the exact munchkin sitting two feet in front of me.

“Are you Katie?” I asked.


“Is your name Katie?”

The little girl finally nodded.

“Get up here, you little knucklehead!” I said, a bit too forcefully due to my exasperation. The petite child walked forward and stood wide-eyed at my side. Meanwhile, the driver continued to radio that we didn’t have Katie.

By that point, my wife had determined that Cody was still at school in the office. In the confusion of all our previous discussions, he thought his mom was going to pick him up. In a flash, she was in her SUV and on her way.

Meanwhile, I grabbed the radio from the driver and announced to Katie’s hyperventilating mother that Katie was indeed here and was fine and dandy.

Katie giggled at the commotion. The two of us exited the bus. I got into my car and drove Katie back to the school. I was a big time hero with Katie’s relieved mother. Unfortunately, my own wife didn’t remotely share that view. That evening more fights ensued. I argue that it was “just a tiny little snafu.” She called me an “insensitive oaf,” which further deflated my hero status. “Try it one more day,” I pleaded. “What can go wrong?”

The next morning, all went well—until the phone rang. Cody never arrived at school!

More panic set in. My wife was now making yesterday’s hysteria seem like a trial run. “He’s got to be somewhere,” I assured. “I mean, aliens couldn’t have abducted him from the bus.” After a few more scorching glares, off she went in the car again.

I began pacing the house, feeling like the world’s worst dad. The phone rang again. Bingo! Cody was now at school. Seems he was so mellow about the whole ordeal that he promptly fell asleep on the ride over. Nikki strolled off without bothering to wake him. Santa drove to a holding terminal five miles from the school. As he was about to depart the oven-baked vehicle, he heard a whimper. Searching the seats, he came across Cody snoozing away. He cranked up the banana-colored machine and drove Cody back to school.

A half hour later, my wife returned. She was, suffice it to say, ballistic. She was ready to kill Nikki. She was ready to kill me. She lowered Nikki’s brain capacity to that of a one-celled animal. She lowered mine even more.

The following afternoon, the bus was nearly forty-five minutes late. Apparently, Santa’s long hair and beard got in his eyes and he couldn’t clearly see the dashboard gauges. The bus—a vehicle that only had to travel two miles!—ran out of gas halfway home. The kids had to sit in the 110-degree heat and wait for a second bus to pick them up and finish the journey.

Eleven years have since passed. My son, a high school junior, is nearly six feet tall and holds a black belt in Tae Kwan Do and martial arts weapons.

His mother still drives him to and from school every day.

~Dary Matera

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