It felt like it would go on forever, the weekday ritual of walking hand in hand with my children to the school bus stop. Talking about the day ahead, the waiting, the goodbye hugs. The hands waving from the bus window, the backward glances, the coffee spilling over the edge of my mug because I never could learn the value of a travel lid.
Six hours later, waiting for the bus to return, the chats with other moms, the kids’ careful descent down the bus stairs built for longer legs, the reunion hugs, stories from the day, the latest art projects and papers pulled from backpacks too big for their bodies.
On their birthdays, I met them balloon bouquets. They met me with huge smiles and not a hint of the embarrassment that would come years later. On rainy days, I met them with umbrellas. And every day after we adopted our dog, Bella, we met them together. She would excitedly herd all the kids off the bus and bask in the attention.
As their independence grew, I started meeting my daughters halfway between home and the bus. One day, my youngest daughter, still a block away, held out her hand to signal me to stop – as in “Stop, In the Name of Love,” the dance move made famous by the song of the same name by The Supremes. I followed her direction, she picked up speed, running as fast as she could toward me and launching herself wide-armed into an enormous hug. “Mommy!” she’d exclaim like she hadn’t seen me for days rather than hours. And this spontaneous act became our new bus stop ritual for a while.
The years started to fall away. We held hands less and less, the space between us on the sidewalk grew, the running-leap hugs slowed to an “we’re-too-cool-to-run” saunter. I began to trail behind or to meet them at the front door so they could walk home alone and feel more independence.
When the last day of my last daughter’s elementary school years arrived. I walked with her that morning, made her hold my hand and she let me take our picture. We talked about the middle school bus she’d be riding soon. “Don’t worry, I’ll let you walk me one or two times next year,” she said. And then, she let go of my hand and ran off down the street toward her friends, in the same exuberant way she used to bound off the bus and into my arms.