There is no step quite as big as that very first one on to a school bus. In the 1960s, many of my classmates were lucky as I was, with several older siblings to travel that first journey together.
Two of my nephews, married and raising their families within just a few farm fields from one another, had enjoyed having boy cousins with whom to share their childhood. Now their own children are proving again just what a blessing cousins can be, if a family is fortunate enough to live in close proximity.
Oliver, who turned five earlier this year, had a big summer. He learned to swim completely on his own, he learned to ride his bike without training wheels, and he grew more and more independent.
First bus ride
Still, there was understandably a bit of apprehension about heading off to school for his first day of kindergarten on that enormous bus. When I asked him if he was excited to ride the bus to school, Oliver somberly answered, “It’s tall.”
Thinking of taking that first step from the road up into that big bus must seem like climbing a mountain to a little one.
Cousins Tanner, Makenna and Gavin all sweetly picked up on that ambivalence. My sister’s oldest grandchild, Tanner, sensible and sweet, has an enormously empathetic heart.
He promised Oliver he and his sister would be looking out for him. Makenna stepped in to the role of big cousin and protector, assuring him the bus driver is a very nice lady.
On the day the big bus stopped at the family dairy farm, Oliver seemed to sense the enormity of it. He was solemn, and tears spilled over.
Once he saw the school, he wiped his tears away and was ready for the adventure.
Oliver’s little brother, Johnny, who just turned 3, started pre-school the same day. Cousin Gavin quietly said, “Don’t worry. I will be in the room right beside yours.”
Johnny was hesitant, not wanting to let a stranger take his hand.
He turned to his aunt who delivered him to school, saying, “But I want you to hold my hand.”
At the end of pre-school, Johnny jumped in his aunt’s car to head for home, an enormous smile on his face.
“I’z had a great day!” he said. His cousin, Gavin, smiled as if to say, “I knew you would.”
Oliver had a much longer day, but felt reassured by the words Tanner had said to him early that morning, “We won’t let bus No. 7 leave until you are on it, buddy.”
Cousins, like siblings, play a big role in a childhood.
The same evening I learned of their big day from my sister — I had a reminder of my own. We stopped in to a small restaurant, and I ran into a dear cousin I haven’t seen for far too long, though he hasn’t changed a bit.
“It’s my birthday,” Joel said. “I’m telling everybody I’m 39, but out of everyone here, you probably know exactly how old I am today.”
I had to check and re-check my math. Impossible. Joel turned 60 that day.
The sweet cousin who had once looked after me, who helped me learn to swim in his family’s farm pond, how to best bait a hook, taught me how to spike a volleyball and how to catch a fly ball, was celebrating 60 birthdays.
In the blink of an eye, the little ones on that school bus will know this same feeling. Hang on tight, it really does fly right on by.
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