Clara hefted her tiny backpack higher up on her shoulders and giggled anxiously. She was the perfect model of an excited kindergartner waiting for a school bus, but the little homeschooler was simply playing out the illusion she has watched out the front window so many times. She has often gazed in wonder at the shadowy figures waiting in the cold air with their books and paper, leaving a trail of breath as they board the noisy yellow machine every morning. She has struggled to understand this bizarre and arcane ritual which is always separated from her by a pane of glass. Now, as she left for her grandmother’s house with a loaded backpack, she happily explored this mysterious activity in the realm of her imagination.
She and her sister were waiting on a bus, she announced.
“Cool. That’s great. Just go get in the car.” I rushed past searching for coats and boots and other essentials. I didn’t find them again till I arrived at the car carrying their little brother. As I buckled him into his seat next to hers I realized she was struggling to get the straps fastened.
“You know what you should do?” I told her as I finished with Gideon. “You should take your backpack off before your put your seat belt on.” I winked at her and moved to the front seat of the car.
“Yeah, okay,” she said. “But if I were on a real bus I would have to put my seat belt on like this with my backpack.”
I turned and stuck my head in the backseat again. “You know, school buses don’t have seat belts in them.”
She paused, with her backpack halfway removed. “Yeah, I know.” She said under her breathe, but I could tell by the blank way she was staring at the seat in front of her that she hadn’t actually known this.
I smiled and pulled her backpack free from her arm and placed it in her lap.
As I closed the car door and headed back inside she suddenly snapped back into reality for a moment and called after me, “Wait, Dad! What about the bus driver? Does the bus driver have a seat belt?”
“Yes!” I yelled to her over my shoulder.
As I headed into the house I heard her continuing to question from inside the car, “I don’t understand! Why does the driver get a seat belt, but the kids don’t?”
I laughed and left her to ponder her unanswerable questions. By the time I returned she was no longer pretending to be riding a bus. She was content in the backseat of a car, surrounded by family, on the way to her Gran’s house, safely nestled in a world where things made sense, and everyone is important enough to wear seat belts.