Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Waiting for the School Bus
My morning walk takes me past a street junction where a half-dozen cars stop for a few minutes at a No-Parking sign at the same time every day. This not unusual in the city I live in -where it is perfectly acceptable to ignore traffic signs. But what struck me as odd was that it was the same set of cars that appeared there at the same time every morning; and also why they should stop there when there was enough parking space a few metres down the street. It was only 6.45 am and the scramble for parking would begin only a couple of hours later.
I got my answer one day.
I was late that morning and as I reached the place, a yellow coloured bus drew up. The doors of all the cars opened together with almost military precision, and out stepped smartly dressed school students to board the bus which would take them to their school. The students, who belonged to different ages, were sitting in their respective cars, perhaps chatting with their parents( or playing with their mobile phones) as they waited for the bus. I did not notice any interaction amongst the children and the parents preferred to keep to themselves. When the bus arrived, they would leave one cocoon to enter another and spend the rest of the day with their preferred mates. The cars would drive off as soon as the bus left.
This seemingly mundane ritual took me back about forty years as I recalled my waits for the school bus.
We were a group of six or seven boys studying in different classes who boarded our bus from the same stop. The age difference between the oldest amongst us and the youngest was about six years. We walked to our bus stop. Except for the youngest who was accompanied by a parent -who left after dropping him off-we were unescorted. We shared an easy, informal relationship that was carried to school and back to our homes.
We would chat during those few minutes of waiting and everyone participated. On those cold winter mornings we would throw cricket or hockey balls into one another’s hands to drive away the numbness. There were also days when the bus stop became the venue for a cooperative and frenzied effort at completing our homework.
I also remember the time when I had to undergo minor surgery to remove painful corns from my feet. I limped badly for several days after the procedure. Abraham John, who was four years my senior, would leave his home early so that he could fetch and walk me to the bus stop- carrying my bag and offering his shoulder for support. The memory is still vivid in my mind and will remain so till the end.
That was then and this is now. It is not fair to make a comparison, much less a value judgement. Today’s children have to cope with a different set of pressures which can be intolerably intense. But I wonder if, by keeping them in their cars, the parents were not denying them an opportunity to socialize informally. A few minutes of small talk at a bus stop is not likely to lead to an enduring friendship(Would it have mattered if it did?). Yet, in an important and intangible way, the interaction would have improved their confidence and capability to handle non-peer relationships.
Much of interpersonal interactions these days are formal and confined to peer groups-classes, tutorials, coaching for games and so on. There is the constant pressure to perform and to belong. Our anxiety to provide the best for our children often blinds us to the wisdom that most of life’s best lessons are learnt outside the classroom, without our realizing it, and in the unlikeliest situations.
But I must end it here. As I said earlier, I do not want to be seen as too critical or judgemental. If I continue, I may become exactly that.