Monday, September 11, 2006

The Power of a Bus

My kids are big fans of the bus. Eleanor (4 years, 10 months) knows exactly which buses I ride to work, and points them out to me excitedly whenever she spots one. "There's your bus 16 Mama! It's going downtown!" "There's your bus 44! It's going to the bread store!" As far as she is concerned, I not only ride those buses, I own them as well. (This makes sense, since, in her brain, I also own most of the buildings downtown by virtue of working in one of them. Whenever she sees them, she exclaims, "Mama! There's your tall buildings!") She knows the difference between a school bus, a city bus, and a long-distance city-to-city bus. And she is indignant when Sylvia (3 years) confuses the two. "Nooooo Sylvia, (big, disappointed sigh) that's not a CITY bus, it's just an ordinary SCHOOL bus!"

But hands-down the coolest, most exciting bus on the face of the planet is The Tumblebus. ( Imaginative Coach Tom took a regular school bus, removed all of the seats, padded everything, filled it with fun tumbling equipment, and painted the bus fire-engine red. Inside, there's a slide, a balance beam, a trampoline, and amazingly, a zip-line. Fitting all of this into one school bus seems like a circus trick until you remember that only miniature tumblers are invited to play on the bus. Coach Tom parks his bus in front of daycare centers, schools, and birthday party houses, and children instictively find it like spit-up finds a freshly bathed baby.

Eleanor has had many turns on the Tumblebus. She used to attend preschool half-days on Mondays, the lucky day when the Tumblebus visited her school. Sylvia and I would drop off Eleanor at school, and Sylvia would see the bus and pine after it. "I go on Tumblebus too," she would say, hoping to generate enough enthusiasm to convince me it was true. "That would be fun, wouldn't it, Sylvia," I'd say, and then, "maybe someday soon." Then after a few months I decided that whatever the cost, The Tumblebus would come to Sylvia's third birthday party. And this promise sustained Sylvia and I through many a morning when she was feeling small and excluded.

Saturday was the long-awaited Promised Day. Before the various 3-year-old friends arrived, my girls established a look-out post on the sofa, hoping to hasten the arrival of the bus. They manned the post with the nervous excitement of a groom waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle, and the intense vigilance of a mother watching for her son returning from war. Like a dream, The Tumblebus appeared suddenly from behind a low, foggy mist, amid the raucous cheers of my girls. Once the friends arrived, the bus magically accomodated 12 children and half a dozen parents. The bus appeared to grow in capacity each time a child boarded, like the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes combined with the marvel of a Narnian Wardrobe.

On the bus, I could tell you about all of the fun Sylvia had: how her eyes sparkled as she went down the slide, how she bravely conquered the balance beam-- her sweet, soft arms like airplane wings at her sides and her lips pursed in concentration-- and how, with wonderful Coach Tom holding on to her torso, and announcing "here comes Elmo," Sylvia zzzzzzzziipped across the ceiling of the bus, holding on to the handles of the zipline.

Or I could tell you about the hilarious, confused little boy, holding his mother's hand, walking to the Tilth Festival (taking place in a nearby park), who popped his head into The Tumblebus, asking with wide, dream-like eyes, "is THIS entertainment for the FESTIVAL?"

But what I want to share, and what I will remember about this birthday party, is something much more miraculous: the blooming of a boy. My friend, the mother of one of Sylvia's friends, is worried about her son's development. His difficulties are very subtle, the kind of thing you might not notice but you'd verify if you heard his mother's concerns. The beautiful and gentle brown-eyed boy misses some social cues, doesn't cope well with change, and doesn't like too much stimulous. Even though he's three, he has never gone down a slide by himself.

Tentative at first, the little guy soon fell under the spell of The Tumblebus. In one hour's time, he found the courage to do things that he hadn't done in three years. He ran around, exuding joy, despite the presence of 11 other children and the stimulating "celebrate good times C' MON" playing in the background. He interacted with other children. He went down the slide, by himself, without any coaxing from his mom. If you didn't know this little boy, you would have missed the miracle. But if you looked at his mom, you'd know that something amazing had happened. There, in her eyes, the spark of joy was reignited by the hope of what she observed in her son.

I never knew that a bus could be so powerful. But my girls did. I guess they've known it all along.


bridg said...

I'm so glad you are in my life fellow mama. I couldn't quit crying -- tears of joy and angst. Thank you for not only seeing what I see, but for commemorating it....."celebrate good times...c'mon!"

Alicia said...

Wow, sister, that's an amazing story! You had me laughing and then crying, both at the realization of Sylvia's joy, the miracle of this little boy and the wonder of life through a child's eye.