What do they want?
That question continues to vex me. As the father of three, the stepfather of one, and the bus driver of 60 urchins, I’m still no closer to an answer than I was when I was a kid who thought he knew what he wanted.
What do they want?
(This blog is based on actual events, though names, places and some personal details have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty and avoid libel suits.)
I know why kids are on my bus.
I also know this much: Many want to sit in the back of the bus where they have a better chance of getting away with all kinds of ungodly mischief. Some want to stick their arms and heads out the windows and hoot at the people on the street. They all probably want me to stop at McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts. I get asked to do it quite often.
But there are other things that have me scratching my addled head:
Kids will drive you to wild-eyed exasperation, then ask you for a favor.
One prime example: Brutus, a fourth-grader with a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore, is constantly moving about the bus without asking and getting into scrapes with other kids, particularly his adversary, Rollo. Their school told me to separate their assigned seats by a minimum of three rows if three miles are not feasible.
No matter how many times I sternly tell Brutus to sit down or stop baiting Rollo or leave someone else alone; no matter how many times I yell or write him up, he just keeps doing what he has seemingly been born to do.
Many more than once I’ve had to pull over, secure the bus, scold Brutus and order him up to the “Honored Student Seat” in the front row. I can set my clock by him pleasantly asking within five minutes, “Hey Mr. John, can I sit in the back? I’m being good.”
My now-standard reply: “You’re going to have to be good for longer than that … how about the rest of your life?”
Nevertheless, I can count on him doing it all again the next day. But Brutus is not the only one. Researchers say young, developing brains lack the circuit that connects the bus driver you’ve just infuriated to the unlikelihood of him or her doing something nice for you.
Evidence suggests the researchers may be right.
Kids hate assigned seats but get very protective of them.
Behold Beetlebomb, who always wanders from any seat you give him (I wrote “in theory” on the name tag above his seat), but God save anyone who sits there while he’s gone.
Volatile, roaming frenemies, Beetlebomb and Brutus were feeling unusually mellow one morning when they told me they wanted to sit together. Silly me for letting them. They were at each other’s throats by that afternoon.
The next morning, I moved Beetlebomb, who was furious that I’d given his old seat to Oswald because Oswald asked to sit there.
“Get out of my seat!” Beetlebomb kept demanding, getting in Oswald’s grill while refusing to heed my commands to take his new perch so we could all proceed to school and arrive before sundown.
“What difference does it make?” I kept asking. “You wouldn’t stay in that seat when you had it!”
“But it’s still mine!” he cried, tempting me to ask him for the deed to it.
Alas, he’s not the only one who has felt that way.
“Hey, Mr. John! Satch (or Hogshead or Hortense Prunella or whoever) is in my seat!” is something I often hear from an assortment of kids after I’ve allowed them to move during a trip.
“That’s OK. You’re not in it and I said they could sit there” is clearly not an acceptable reply.
Kids won’t stop moving … until they should move.
Jehosaphat and Lucille are two of the most migratory creatures on my bus. Lucille, who is well-behaved, has earned permission to switch seats (just not while we’re in motion) whenever she likes. Jehosaphat has not, but he will defy even a court order to stay put.
Both can reliably be counted on to be heading somewhere … except when we reach their stops. Then they are frozen in place and need to be told over the P.A. that it might be a good idea to get up and leave.
“How come you’re always moving except when it’s time to get off?” I’ve asked many, many, many times while a long line of clearly aggravated traffic forms behind the bus as Lucille and Jehosaphat search up and down the aisle for their scattered jackets, backpacks, lunch boxes, bassoons and other gear.
Two years on, I’m still waiting for an explanation.
Kids demand things they don’t want.
Sixth-grader Sassafrass constantly complains about having to sit in the front four rows while Ethel, a seventh-grader she despises, “always” gets everything she wants. “Everything” is keeping rowdy sixth-graders like Sassafrass out of the middle four rows where the more sedate seventh-graders are deposited … by order of me for the sake of some semblance of peace.
Unfortunately for Sassafrass, she doesn’t grasp that whenever she and her minions — Wisenheimer, Lulubelle and Zoothorn — get anywhere near Ethel, highly distracting unpleasantries ensue.
One day, to my surprise, they all said they wanted to switch seating areas … only to have Sassafrass and Co. return to the front near Ethel the next day.
The ensuing highly distracting unpleasantries forced me to call a summit meeting at their school and include a guidance counselor in the festivities.
So, as near as I can reckon, kids want what they want when they want it … until they don’t want it no more. Which is usually a few minutes later.
Maybe you’ve got them figured out a little better. If so, I salute you.