Out Of Focus

A couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call from my boss, asking me to participate in a, back to school segment with one of the local television stations, in Dayton, Ohio. Since I had done one a few years back, I assumed that it would be similar to the one I had done before, which was on school bus safety. The piece was done well, but my part in the piece bordered on being comedic. The majority of the piece was shot on the school bus with the camera capturing my image through the student mirror on the bus, while I was driving.

Throughout much of the piece, all you saw were my eyes and forehead. It reminded me of the television show, Home Improvement. There was a character on the show called Wilson. Wilson lived next door to the Taylor’s, though you never actually saw Wilson’s face. Any time there was any interaction between Tim and Wilson, or for that matter, any of the other characters and Wilson, the only portion of Wilson you would see, were his eyes and forehead. When I initially viewed the, back to school, clip, I thought they were going to, Wilson me. As it turned out, I was only partially Wilsoned. Eventually, my entire face was exposed and my Wilson impersonation was short lived. Needless to say, that was what came to mind when my boss asked if I would do the, back to school piece.

George gave me the name of the reporter, a date and time. I showed up on the scheduled day and time and met up with Natalie and her camera crew. I was all prepared to talk, bus safety and do my, Wilson, impersonation again. It only took a moment to realize that school bus safety was not the topic of the day. The piece turned out to be one that focused on support staff, like food service, custodial, secretarial, and transportation. Hmm…would have been nice to know that little tidbit of information. I would have come better prepared to be interviewed. Yikes!

For the next hour…HOUR, I was bombarded with questions. Most of them were typical interview questions,the hows’ the when’s and why’s, but there was one question that was more challenging to answer and, has since,  weighed heavily on my mind.  It is also a question I would have liked to have had more time to answer. It came as the second half of a two part question, which was, “How do you handle when your kids are having a particularly bad day, and more importantly, what happens when you are having a bad day.”

Terrific question and I was actually glad they had asked it. The first part of that question, for me, was relatively easy. I find it fairly easy to tell when a child is having a rough day. It usually shows on their face and in how they are carrying themselves. When time permits, I ask the child what is going on and usually, they will share, with me,  what is that is bothering them. Most kids just want someone to listen to them. If I can offer up an ear to listen or a word of encouragement, it is the least I can do.

The answer to the second portion of that question caught me off guard and I felt very unprepared to answer it. I know I have had bad days before. Shoot, we are human and certainly are not immune to physical and emotional trials of every day life. I answered the question in vague terms. We are  professionals and we are the adults.  It is what we have to do. I think in general  we push aside our physical or emotional issues and focus on keeping our kids safe, regardless of how we feel. Most days, I can do this with relative ease. I pick up my keys and I immediately go into my, bus mode. This is something we, as school bus drivers, must do. The reality is, if I have a bad day at work, a child could get hurt, or worse.  Driving a school bus, is not physically demanding, nor is it overly challenging, but few jobs, bear the responsibility than that of a school bus driver.

My ability to effectively demonstrate a high level of focus, safety, and composure was tested to its very limits recently. This incident brought Natalie’s question to mind and also inspired me to put my thoughts into words.

The clock said 3:30a.m. I groaned audibly, then looked and saw that I had received a text message. It was short, it simply said, “Hey momma…” I did not think much of it at first, until, I saw the time stamp, almost midnight. My son knows how early I go to bed and how early I get up in the morning, so it is quite rare when I hear from him after nine. Something about the text prompted me to ask if he was ok. I was not expecting a response back at that hour in the morning, but I sent the short reply and knew he would see it when he woke up.

I’m not sure what compelled me to look at my Facebook account at 3:30 a.m., but for whatever reason, I did. The first thing I saw, was an old picture of my son and three of his childhood friends.  It was a photo that had been taken at a local amusement park. At first, I thought it was one of those TBT(throw back Thursday) photos until I saw the status accompanying the photo. In short, it was stating that one of the boys in the photo, Joe, had died. It was a moment that sucked the air from my lungs. It was a moment of disbelief and shock.

The short text now made sense and I felt miserable knowing I had not been there for my son. It was more than that though. I had far more questions than answers, and at 3:30 in the morning, I knew I was not going to get them. Tears came fast and furious.

13 years ago, we moved from Cleveland to the Dayton area, Joe and his mother JoAnne were the first people to welcome us to the neighborhood. As it turned out, Joe was also in Dominic’s fourth grade class. We could not have asked for two nicer people to welcome us into our new community. Two friendships were formed that day.  Joe and Dominic had a number of things in common, one of those things, is music, Dominic plays viola, Joe, cello.  And though the two boys friendships had changed, as life often takes us in different directions,  that initial olive branch of friendship was never forgotten and  JoAnne and I remain good friends to this day.

I left for work that morning desperate for answers and haunted by the memory of the photo and the words accompanying the photograph. I still had no answers and went through my morning route trying to remain focused on the task at hand.  I completed my routes, thankful for an uneventful morning. I parked and checked my bus, grabbed my bag and  was about to leave when I felt my phone vibrate. I pulled the phone out of my bag and read the text that just came through. It was from my friend JoAnne. “Call me as soon as you finish your route.” I was relieved and terrified hearing from her. I was about to get answers to my questions and terrified to get them.

JoAnne answered the phone and asked me if I knew what was going on. I said that I had read something had happened to Joe, but I did not know what had happened. Tearfully, she told me that Joe had died and that it had been a terrible accident. The confirmation of the news and the grief that came through the phone was heartbreaking. There are no words for a parent who loses their child, particularly when it is unexpected and sudden. There are no words of comfort, there are no words to console, there are no words adequately express the sorrow and pain that a parent must feel when something like this happens. As a mother, I could only try to grasp the depth of despair and sadness of my friend, another mother, was experiencing in that very moment, and I know it was beyond my comprehension, though my heart ached for her all the same.

This was the event that took place,causing me to contemplate the question, Natalie posed to me weeks prior. How do you handle a bad day? I’m not entirely sure how I made it through that afternoon. I was weepy, upset, short tempered, and not focused. School bus drivers have bad days.  We are, after all, human and that was, by far, one of the worst, bad days.  I think the kids can sense it, though I am not certain they recognize what exactly  it is they are sensing. Nothing to see here, just life happening.  We push aside and suppress how we feel.  It is almost like having emotions and feelings, are a luxury for school bus drivers.  A luxury we cannot often afforded to have.  The safety and well being of our children depend on it.

So, how do I handle having a bad day? I handle them as best as I can. It is my hope that days like these are few and far between. Sometimes I handle bad days with grace and ease, while other times, it is accomplished on a wing and a prayer.


How do you handle bad days?


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