If you were a kid at some time during your life, you likely experienced at least one harrowing experience in a grocery store.
Remember? You were picking up and eating pieces of candy that had fallen from the various self-scoop bins when Mom wasn’t looking. After grabbing the last floor morsel, you looked up, suddenly realizing that she was gone. You looked one way down the endless aisle, then the other, and she was nowhere in sight.
You panicked. Did she forget you and go home? If she was still somewhere in the store, how would you find her among all these tall strangers pushing big, cold shopping carts, among so many shelves stuffed with boxes and cans? Would you ever see your family again?
You dashed toward the front of the store, praying that you could somehow spot Mom if she hadn’t already left. You could stand by the door until ... no, wait — there must be five doors in the place. It was hopeless.
Now take that lost-forever feeling and multiply it by, say, five. Although I was never left alone on a school bus, I imagine that to be the approximate degree of anxiety for those unfortunate boys and girls who find themselves in that scary situation.
I imagine waking up on a warm, brown seat, looking out the window and seeing another bus with no one in it. Then I’d look across the aisle and see that my pal Pete was gone. And out that window, another empty bus. I’d run down the aisle toward the front, praying that someone was still there.
Then I imagine being one of the unlucky parents who gets a shocking call one weekday morning.
“Mrs. Henderson? This is Rosemary from Sagebrush Elementary. Teddy is absent from class this morning. Is he home sick?”
As I’ve worked on my “Bus Empty?” article, I’ve often imagined these scenarios. They’re not pleasant thoughts, certainly, but I believe that they’ve only added to the urgency of my task and compelled me all the more to dig deep for solutions to the stranded-student problem.
The pupil transportation professionals I spoke with were insightful and, in some cases, forthcoming in describing their own brushes with children being left on their buses. My thanks to them for lending their hands.
Perhaps the most intriguing interview I conducted was with Maggie Jamison, whose 7-year-old daughter, Joanne, fell asleep on the bus and was left stranded. I empathized with Joanne and her family as Maggie described her timid youngster waking up alone and confused.
Fortunately, Joanne made it through the incident unscathed, and she was brave enough to begin riding the bus again the following week.
Back to the past
And fortunately for you, that time when you were lost in the supermarket, as you ran to the end of the aisle and rounded the corner, you flew into a pair of long, soft legs — it was Mom!
You held her tightly until your heartbeat slowed and you caught your breath. Mom, smiling, picked you up and set you in the cart. Total time alone: about 45 seconds (though it seemed much longer).
Unfortunately, when children are left on the school bus, it’s often a matter of hours before they’re found. And they’re much farther away from Mom or Dad during the ordeal.
As an industry, we need to keep this topic on drivers’ minds and employ additional safeguards to prevent such incidents from occurring on our buses.
No child should be stuck with such a troubling memory for the rest of her life.