What feels like a million years ago, I had a super special friend in my class. He was sweet, shy and very smart. After a few months together I was convinced that my friend was probably somewhere on the spectrum, but at that point, his mother was unwilling/unable/un-something to look into that. But that is not the point of this post. Regardless, he was well cared for, held his own in school and seemed happy. We’ll call him The Bus Driver. (Very long explanation made somewhat shorter – on career day, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, “I’m going to be a vegetarian bus driver.”
Of course you are, friend.
I was infamous for having lunch dates for good behavior. I was a teacher who hearts a good sticker chart. A teacher who never shied away from randomly giving out my stash of smelly erasers in those moments when I was blown away by their hard work. A teacher who gave out stickers like candy. Basically, I was a teacher unafraid of bribery. It was pretty simple in my
kingdom class. You get yourself ten stickers, you get a chance at the prize box. And among all those folded pieces of paper which held a myriad of exciting rewards, there were four slips of paper coveted more than any other. They said simply,
“You have worked so hard and Mrs. Mimi is so proud of you. Friend, it’s pizza time.”
There was usually some squealing, maybe a spontaneous happy dance and/or the optional high-fiving of children in the vicinity. And of course, I had the required look on my face that said, “Be happy for your friend. This is their moment and is not a reason to be upset. Nor is it a reflection on your behavior, your turn at the prize box or you in any way. And yes, this IS totally fair.” It’s amazing how much teachers can say with just one look. Inevitably, the lucky winner would turn and grab me in a bear hug before going back to their seat with the cherished piece of paper.
If only Mr. Mimi would react like that when I say, “Honey, I’d rather poke myself in the eye than make dinner. How about a pizza?”
Anyhow, one day, The Bus Driver pulled the precious lunch date slip out of my old pretzel jar turned Fabulous Jar O’ Prizes. He seemed pretty nonchalant about it in the moment. I remember being a bit disappointed in his reaction. No smile, no high five, no hugs, no nothing. I mean, we’re talking $20 out of Mrs. Mimi’s pocket here and at least 30 extra minutes on the treadmill because of course I HAVE TO eat the pizza too. However, in the chaos that is dismissal, all of this was quickly forgotten.
The next day, he showed up in a full suit. Jacket, tie, pressed pants, and pocket square. My first thought was, “Crap! Is it picture day? I am not wearing my ideal Picture Day outfit…”
My second thought was, “What AM I going to wear on Picture Day this year anyway…”
And my third thought was, “Why the heck is this kid wearing a suit?”
Me: Bus Driver, you look so handsome! Why are you so dressed up today?
Him: (looking at me like I was an idiot) For our lunch date, of course, Mrs. Mimi. It’s a special day.
And I die.
We had a lovely lunch date that day. The rest of the year passed fairly uneventfully for the two of us, although I kept a close eye on The Bus Driver to make sure he was still doing well, had friends, etc. As he got older, The Bus Driver would pop in to see me from time to time, wave and quickly walk out of the room. Still though, no hugs.
Fast forward six years. On my last day, The Bus Driver passed by my room to say goodbye. Without looking me in the eye, he gave me a huge hug and said he would missed me. I was too taken aback to really say anything coherent. I think I managed a “I’ll miss you too, honey” before he walked out of the room and my eyes filled with tears. (You may be surprised to hear this from moi, but I am quite the crier.)
Later that day, the kids presented me with an album. One of my Super Colleagues had gone around to every single child I had ever taught, asking them to write a note or draw a picture on a 4 x 6 card. All these cards were put into a beautiful album that I refer to as “Sob Fest 2009”. I have yet to read all the way through each and every card without crying.
I found The Bus Driver’s:
I am sad that you are leaving us, but I will always remember you in my prayers. You are a very special teacher to me. I’ve known that ever since our first date all those years ago.
The Bus Driver”
All that for a pizza.