Also deserving of kudos are various people in the Northport-East Northport School District. Initially I thought I was going to live in this crappy duplex on this hilly, crumbling dead-end street. With this in mind I contacted the people at nearby Norwood Elementary to let them know I would be registering my oldest son for kindergarten there – while simultaneously apologizing for doing so at such a late date. ‘Oh, no problem at all,’ sang Ms. Esposito, the school nurse. Of course she wasn’t the one to have to now prepare extra name plates for the coat hanger, cubby hole, chair, shelf, gold star chart, homework bag, art shelf and whatever else my son would need to be an official member of the class. After forty minutes of pleasant conversation and loads of information regarding the immunization policies of the school district, the good nurse sent me a prepared registration packet in the mail along with a note saying she was setting aside a supply kit for my son to make sure he had what he needed from Day One. Two days later I found a mildly less crappy duplex in the zone of another of the town’s schools.
‘Hi, excuse me, I’m really sorry but I just moved to town (actually I hadn’t yet but there wasn’t time for such boring technicalities) and my son is going to be entering kindergarten…’They were great, all three women in the office at Bellerose Elementary, welcoming me and explaining in the course of our conversation that my son would put the number of kindergarteners over the limit for two classes so they would have to split the kids up into three classes now (assuming they could scrape up the required additional teachers). ‘Oh, it happens every year,’ one of them said, a hint of homicide in her voice. Two days later I called to say my son would actually be attending a different school.
The staff at Pulaski were as pleasantly resigned to late-comers as the others – even though the new school year was now less than twenty-four hours away. Administrative head Mrs. Gardner was visibly relieved I’d already handed my paperwork to the district office, and was able to pass us right on down the hall to Mrs. Menzel, who couldn’t have been more pleased to see she had another student to prepare for. Principal Haubrich tagged along behind us; he grinned and said little and made us feel we already truly belonged there. He also looked closer in age to the student population than any of the faculty walking around in a contained day-before panic but who was I to judge.
My son seemed more or less at ease with the idea of a brand new school, but the next day the strange surroundings and strange faces and all the noise from all the people set his young wheels spinning and he started crying and pleading with us to take him home. We walked with him – or rather prodded and pulled him along as far as we could, trying to convince our shuffling, hesitant, impending catastrophe of a son that everyone was nice and very excited to have him in class and would likely not bite his head off. By the time we got to the no-parents-beyond-this-point point there were four people from the school there with us; each finally had to grab a limb and gently separate him from us. He let out an impressive and rather inhuman shriek when he finally lost his grip on my pinkie finger. I thought they were going to need an exorcist. It was so cute. He actually showed signs of calming down when he heard one of his tormentors say that mommy and daddy would be right there waiting for him after school. He looked at the man, tears falling onto his shirt. ‘They’re not going to leave? They’re gonna wait in the car?’ He was absolutely terrified that he was never going to see us again.
Half an hour later I got a call from the school psychologist (property taxes at work, not bad) who just wanted to let me know my kid was fine and was hanging out in the library with the rest of his class. Still, his eyes were wide open, searching for mom or dad as he walked into the front lobby at the end of his first school day. The school system, so far, got passing grades in my book.
Unlike the transportation department.
‘Your son’s stop is at Sixth Street & Christine Lane,’ I was told. ‘Pickup time is 7:47am.’ Well-accustomed to getting up around 7:47, I didn’t think this was very cool. But we got out there Monday morning, a few minutes early. And we waited. And watched a half dozen other busses criss-cross the neighborhood – through the intersection up there, around the corner down there – and kept waiting for the Q Bus to come by. It was almost 8:00 when we finally gave up and headed for home and our car and school. ‘I don’t know what happened,’ said Mrs. Gardner. ‘Let me check with Transportation.’ (…dial …wait …speak …get transferred …wait …speak …ask …nod …repeat …hang up.) ‘Okay, your bus actually gets to your stop at about 7:40. You might want to get out there by 7:30 to be safe.’
Very, very uncool.
But not nearly as very very uncool as my son’s first bus ride later that morning.
More buses were coming and going up and down the streets of our neighborhood as I rolled down 4th Avenue toward home. Not knowing when I’d get back from my administrative errands, my wife said she’d take our other two kids with her down to meet our little scholar as he got off the bus. A block away from our house I noticed one of those short school buses turn a corner, back up and start back down the street. I checked the dash; it was fifteen minutes past my son’s drop-off time. But when the bus stopped right in front of our place something clicked. I jumped out, jogged up to the open folding doors and found my son standing in the aisle, looking all over outside the bus, about to lose his wits.
‘Hey buddy!’ I called out. He climbed down and put his shoulder into my gut, his version of a hug. Not a word came out of his mouth. I, on the other hand, had a mouthful of daggers ready to fly. ‘He was still on the bus after I made my last stop,’ the woman told me. ‘I didn’t know where to take him, I was going to bring him back to school until he told me where he lived.’
We’d practiced saying our new address once, the previous Friday after school while playing soccer out in our big new yard. Next Monday, under a fair bit of duress, the kid remembered it.
Down at Sixth & Christine my wife was still waiting, barely able to keep her shit together. The guy who lived on the corner had lent my wife his cell phone (we were going to go get her one that afternoon); she was on hold with the school, the person on the other end of the line apparently trying to find out just exactly where our son was.
Later on the guy at Transportation offered no apology as he said he wasn’t sure what happened. (He must have gotten on the wrong bus was his single idiotic conclusion.) I asked him to find out and call me back to explain. He never did.
Understandably, my son didn’t want to take the bus the next day. But he did, as he does every day when we manage to catch it.
He likes the bus now, actually. And he really likes school. Almost as much as playing soccer in our big new yard.