On the first day of first grade, my mom waited at the bus stop with my twin sister and me, took pictures, saw us onto the bus, and waved us off with a very big smile on her face (she already had her tennis skirt on). My sister and I climbed on the bus and sat together, which is what twins do. There was no one else on the bus, as we were the first stop. A little ways down the road some older girls—third graders!—got on, and immediately started to make fun of us for sitting together! Apparently this was not at all cool! Unbeknownst to us bus rookies, apparently, siblings were not supposed to acknowledge each other on the bus, unless by throwing things.
To our great shock and horror, our very first bus ride to school turned into 45 minutes of unrelenting hair pulling, poking, pinching, insults to our lunch boxes —“Holly Hobbie stinks!” —and, despite the fact that we were huddled miserably in the seat, just trying to be invisible, and not exhibiting, either of us, any signs of an inflated ego—we got hit with the ultimate insult among grade school girls: “You think you’re so great!”
After a few weeks of this, Mantha and I stood dejectedly at the bus stop, considering our options. The torture showed no signs of slowing. Sitting apart wouldn’t help—we were already pegged as fair game on the bus. (After the first morning, Mom did not even walk up the driveway with us—she had no idea we how much we hated the bus. We both knew what she would say if we told her—“Oh girls, for pete’s sake, you’ll be fine!”)
Manth said, “We could walk.”
I said, “Mom would be mad.”
Manth said, “She won’t find out.”
(We definitely weren’t worried about Dad finding out—Dad was at work, commuting 40 miles each way, and this being the 70’s, probably never set foot in the school until the Christmas concert.)
It was decided. Giddy with relief, we picked up our hand-sewn book bags and our Holly Hobbie lunch boxes, and we headed down the road toward the school, about 3/4 of a mile away. When the bus came roaring up the hill a few minutes later, we darted nimbly into the woods and hid under the stone wall until the coast was clear (much like the four hobbits in the beginning of the first Lord of Rings movie.) Maybe the bus driver would think we moved away! At any rate, he never said anything.
Although we had just started first grade, we have an October birthday-- we were, at that time, five years old.
Our totally awesome dog, April —who apparently had somewhat stronger maternal instincts than our mom—was none too pleased with the change of plans. She jumped up and started following us down the hill. We tried to get her to go home, but she was not having it. She knew her job. She came with us all the way to school, looked both ways crossing the road, and waited outside the school with us until the bell rang. Then she turned around and came straight home.
At the end of that day, Mantha and I—having plotted together at lunch (and where, despite occasional teasing, we also sat together, and continued to do so for the next 12 years) lined up with the walkers instead of getting in the bus line. No one noticed. We strolled, triumphant, back out to the road, and walked home in the golden autumn air. No more pinching! No gratuitous abuse heaped on poor Holly Hobbie! No more being constantly informed that we thought we were so great! I still dream about that walk—every house, every stone wall, every patch of poison ivy turning red in the fall, every tangle of Concord grapes. It was heaven.
A few weeks later, one of the neighbors said disapprovingly to my mom,
“Don’t you think your girls are a little young to be walking to school all alone?”
My mom said, startled, “My girls don’t walk to school! They take the bus!”
The neighbor shook her head and said, “No, they don’t, Sara—I see Samantha and Jesseca walking by my house every morning, and back in the afternoon. In the morning your dog goes too!”
My mom said, “I wondered where the dog was!”
Mom and Dad said we had better be careful when it was dark, or snowing, or both. They also must have talked to us about not getting in strangers’ cars under any circumstances, because the day I fell off my bike in 4th grade and skinned my whole face, our neighbor ,Mr. Skilling tried to bring me home, but I refused, because a) I didn't recognize him in a suit and tie, and b) had a lot of blood running into my eyes. (My mom patched me up and made me go to school anyway—“Just think of all the fun attention you’ll get today!”)
Today I know five year olds, and I am not making this up, who are not even potty trained. Their parents feel an “adult-centered” potty training schedule will cause them too much anxiety. This when, my sister and singlehandedly figure out to ditch mean girls and get ourselves to school with no help at the same age.