Safety Dance

I drive my kids to and from school. Every day. They could take the bus. It would pick them up 3 houses away, right at the end of our street. Still…I drive them.

I have eight child-free daylight hours a week. That’s not a lot. Because I’ve been doing this stay-at-home Mom thing for a decade. I’d like some more child-free time than that.  Still…I drive them.

The Kenyan asks regularly to ride the bus. The Interrogator begs frequently to ride the bus. Still…I drive them.

Sometimes their behavior during those car rides to and from school threatens my sanity. And this is a dangerous thing.

For everyone in my house.

Me: Frustrated, venting to Mom, “The kids are making me nuts on the drive to and from school. I mean really nuts. I had to change their seats around in the car like their teachers do in school.”

Mom: Frowning, “I don’t know why you don’t put those boys on the bus. The cost of gas alone should make you put them on the bus.”

Me: “I like to have that time with them. I always hope to connect with them. And, I don’t know if my sweet Interrogator is ready for the bus. Waldorf and the Kenyan may not realize they need to protect him if one of the other kids teases him. And, Mom, there are high school kids on the bus! I don’t want my five year old on the bus with kids who may expose him to things I’m not ready for him to hear yet.”

Mom: “They’ll be fine. It’s not that far a bus ride. I put you kids on the bus.”

Me: Now it’s my turn to frown, “Oh, I remember. And we hated it.”

Mom: “Well, the bunch of you drove me crazy in the car.”

Try four boys in your car instead of one boy. It puts the C in crazy.

Me: Quietly, “At least I can control them in the car. On the bus, I lose all control.”

Mom: Finally agreeing, “Hmm…you make a good point.”

We look at each other and, without a word, understand perfectly what the other is thinking.

The real reason I’m not putting my kids on the bus isn’t because I want more time with them. Christ, I am looking for time away from them. And it isn’t because I am afraid for the Interrogator. He charms everyone he meets. The real reason is the last I mentioned. The control issue.

The real reason I won’t put my kids on the bus?

Derek Bennis.

That’s right. Derek. Bennis.

Growing up, Derek Bennis was my next door neighbor. He and I were in the same class at the same elementary school. They don’t come any cuter than Derek. He was the baby to two older sisters.  A smart kid. A great hockey player. A shameless flirt.

Derek and I. Circa 7th grade. I appear to be mauling him, but I assure you we were only friends.

And when we stepped onto the bus every day, he was a complete madman.

Derek was the embodiment of fun on the bus. A bus driver’s worst nightmare. He headed straight for the back seat. Especially on the big bus. The farthest possible spot from the driver. A bus veteran, he prepared everyone around him for the upcoming hills so that we could catch air. And the bumps? Derek created a signature bounce/jump combo so that his blond hair would brush the ceiling of the bus upon contact with the bump. His seat choice positioned him perfectly to signal the truck drivers behind our bus to blow their horns…and they delivered every time.

On this bus, my brother was the male antithesis of Derek. He was all business. He chose a seat in the middle of the bus. Proudly donning his flourescent orange safety badge over his Member’s Only jacket. Unrolling his aluminum foil pouch with care and precision to extract a cinnamon stick on which to chew. Scanning his head from left to right for any violation of bus safety code. Rising from his seat only to call others on their violations. Using a stern voice and an effective point of his finger to remind them they were under his supervision. The bus cop.


*As an aside, I must call the reader’s attention to the importance of birth order at this point. My brother is the only boy in our family. And he is the first born. Derek is also the only boy in his family. But he is the last born. Their behaviors on the bus are, in my opinion, very tied into their places in their nuclear families.

Deep thoughts…from a Food Marketing major.

One day on the bus, I sit close to my sister, discussing pressing topics for 8 and 10 year old girls…

Me: Excited,“I really hope I get a Barbie convertible for my birthday.”

Little Sister: Animated, “Oh, that would be perfect! Then we could drive both our Barbie’s to my Barbie McDonald’s in your Barbie convertible!”

Me: Nodding, “I know. It would be excellent. Please tell Mom I really really want a Barbie convertible.”

Our conversation is interrupted by my older brother’s running past us toward the back of the bus.

Oh dear. He never runs on the bus.

Little Sister: Worried, “Uh oh. He never runs on the bus. That’s a violation of bus safety.”

Me: Nodding, “I know. I wonder what’s going on.”

We turn our heads to see the catalyst for his swift passing…

Older Brother: Pointing his finger furiously and using his sternest voice, “Hey…HEY! What the heck?! Pull your pants up! Right now! Pull your pants up and sit down in your seat!”

Little Sister and I look at each other, eyes wide. We both know immediately.

We whisper in unison: “Derek Bennis.”

The mischievous young Derek had gotten carried away with his back of the bus audience. And he had dropped trough and mooned the car behind our bus.

Harmless. Hilarious. Intended to be funny. In no way intended to hurt or offend anyone else.

But, that’s a big no-no on the bus, even 25 years ago. OK, fine, 28 years ago. So, Derek got into a little bit of trouble with the school, the bus driver, and his parents. I believe there were even some apology letters written to the car behind us included in his punishment.

When I think about putting my kids on the bus for the ride to and from school, I don’t worry about their exposure to a Derek Bennis. No, no, no, it’s much worse than that.

I worry that each and every one of my sons IS Derek Bennis. Which is a wonderful thing. Except when it comes to the school bus.

A little cajoling from the kids in the seats surrounding them, and BOOM, off come the pants. Times four.

My hands are full enough. I don’t need that shit on top of everything else I’m juggling.

So, I drive them to and from school. Every day.

Some days are fun…

Me: Glancing in the rearview mirror, “Waldorf, we need to discuss a solution to a problem I am having.”

Waldorf: “What’s that?”

Me: “Severus Snape is playing with the cords by the computer.”

*Severus Snape is one of our two cats. Fawkes is the other cat. Yes, both names are an ode to the Harry Potter characters.*

Waldorf: “Uh huh. So?”

Me: “So, that’s not good.”

Waldorf: “OK, we’ll figure something out.”

Interrogator: Brow furrowed, “Mom, why’s that not good, Mom?”

Me: “Well, Interrogator, if Severus bites through the cords we could lose all of our important information on our computer. Emails, pictures, everything.”

Kenyan: Eyes wide, “Or, worse, Severus could get electrocuted!”

Me: “That’s right. And I have enough to do already. I don’t really want to clean up fried cat off the carpet.”


Waldorf: Shocked, “Mommy! That’s terrible! Don’t ever speak that way about Severus!”

Kenyan:  Horrified, “Mommy, how could you?! He’s our cat! That’s just mean!”

Verb: Confused, “Huh? Fried what?”

Me: “Fried cat, Verb. An electrocuted cat is a fried cat.”

I know I shouldn’t tease them, but sometimes it’s so fun. 

Interrogator: Worried, “Oh no, Mom! Mom? Is there an…an ELECTRICAL EEL by our computer, Mom? Is he going to electrocute Severus, our cat? Aw, I don’t want an eel to electrocute Severus! I love Severus! I don’t want him to die, Mom!”

Straight face, Bethany.

Me: “No, buddy. No electrical eels are living by the computer wires. Just the computer wires themselves.”

Interrogator: Looking at the Verb, “Phew, that’s a relief. I don’t like electrical eels, Verb. They scare me.”

Verb: Heroically, to the Interrogator: “Don’t worry, I’ll get that bad guy electrical eel in our computer!”

Interrogator: To the Verb, “Thanks, Verb. You’re my best friend.” Then to me, “Mom, when Severus gets electrocuted, I want a hamster. OK, Mom?”

This is a good day to drive my kids home from school.

And, some days are not so fun…

On the drive to school, we listen to Kenny Curtis and Animal Farm on Kids’ Place Live Satellite Radio. It’s palatable for a children’s station. Meaning it doesn’t make my ears bleed.

We are almost at school one morning, and Kenny Curtis is rattling off the birthdays.

Kenny: “And, happy birthday to Martin, who’ll be 4 years old today!”

Verb: “Huh? Martin? I have a Martin at mine school!”

Me: “You do?”

He’s so smart, this little man. He doesn’t miss a trick.

Verb: “Mm hmm. And, Interrogator, sometimes I call Martin…Tartin!”

Oh, that’s not nice.

Me: “Verb, I don’t think you should call Martin Tartin. That’s teasing. You don’t like it when your brothers tease you. Don’t tease Martin please.”

He’s not listening. He and the Interrogator are laughing at Martin Tartin.

Martin, tartin, sartin, lartin, cartin, dartin….uh oh. I know what Martin rhymes with…

I look in the rear view mirror, making eye contact with Waldorf. I make my eyes very wide and begin shaking my head, almost imperceptibly, but enough for him to notice.

Message received.

I look at the Kenyan. I see only the top of his winter hat. He is engrossed in a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. Which means he’s completely cut off from the conversation, the car ride, and the entire world in general.

Phew. Bullet dodged.

We pull into the school driveway.

Me: “Gentlemen, have a great day! Interrogator, please remember to take your library books out of your back pack and into your classroom, it’s Day 5, so you have library today. Kenyan, good luck on your spelling test. Waldorf, nice work on your science invention. Give me a quick kiss before you get out, guys…”

Kiss from Waldorf and he jumps out. Kiss from the Kenyan and he jumps out. Kiss from the Interrogator and, right before he jumps out, he turns to the Verb.

OMG that sweet boy is going to tell the Verb “I love you.” I love him so much I want to eat him.

Interrogator: Smiling, “Verb, you know what else rhymes with Martin?”

Verb: Smiling back, “What, Interrogator? What rhymes with Martin?”

Oh, crap.

Interrogator: Laughing, “Fartin rhymes with Martin!”

Out he jumps, and off he runs, hysterical laughter trailing behind him.

Verb: “Fartin? Fartin! Ha-ha!! Mommy, Martin Fartin! Martin Fartin! Martin Tartin Fartin!”

Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Now I’m going to have to talk to the Verb’s pre-school teacher. Give her a head’s up about this new nickname for poor, unsuspecting, 3 year old Martin.

So, for the foreseeable future, I will drive my boys to and from school. Every day. And my four little Derek Bennis’ will be stuck with me. And I will be stuck with Kenny Curtis and the Animal Farm.

With some luck, we’ll all stay sane enough to keep our pants on.


*A special thank you to my old neighbor, Derek Bennis, for allowing me to use his name and picture in this post. My bus rides home would have been so boring without you, old friend.