I drive a school bus, and, yes, I know a lot about driving. But it’s not all about steering 40 feet of yellow around tight corners and along rutted and icy back roads. It’s about the little and not-so-little people that I see in my passenger mirror every day. It’s about their open and easy lives and about their secret and complicated existences.
To the untrained eye, my passengers are the sweet, cute little girls and boys who like pink and camo. They are the defiant teenagers who wear black and listen to angry tunes on their iPods. Sometimes it’s just that simple. Other times, a life story will twist your heart and make you want to adopt someone else’s child because you think you can do a better job. But in reality, that’s not how it goes. Sometimes it’s just enough to welcome them to your space every day with a smile and an acknowledgment of their presence.
When people ask a school bus driver, “Why would you want to do that job?” many drivers reply, “Because I like kids.” I even use that answer occasionally. But truth be told, it’s more complicated than that. I find I need the interaction that only emerging souls and personalities can offer. Because I’m in a nonjudgmental position—one that doesn’t dispense grades and unwanted advice—I’m often on the receiving end of not only little nuggets of giggling charm but also smoldering angst. I have discovered that how I choose to react to the day’s offerings directly affects how I am developing me. Little do my passengers, my charges, my potential friends realize they are forcing me to grow as well.
At the end of my bus-driving days, I intend to leave with a feeling of a job well done. I hope for a new career that will bring me just as much pleasure with much less weather-induced stress. But most of all, I wish for continuous successful lifelong driving plans that I, and the many faces in my mirror, will use to keep all of us in the middle of the road and out of the ditches.
The AARP Bulletin’s "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and publish some of our favorites in print and online. Pamela Peel is a reader from North Branch, Mich.