We were spoiled in Seattle. The boys commute to school was a half block. This meant that they could leave the house at 8:45 and make the 8:50 first bell. It also meant that I could say goodbye in my pajamas from the front door. This was a beautiful thing for everyone without a view of my front door.
Here, the first bell is earlier (8:25), the commute is 4.6km through more traffic than I thought possible in a village of 100k people, and I have to get dressed. Every day.
At first, I was driving the kids to school. The list of reasons for this was long: it was dark, it was cold, circadian rhythms were not having it, and I had a special parking pass. Special parking passes make even the most rational people get behind the wheel of a car when it is not advised. With a single point of entry and exit for cars/buses/drop offs/parking around the fortress that is the International School of Luxembourg, the special parking pass is really just an identification card that says “I made it in (and might just consider staying until pick up).” I don’t care how not in a hurry you are to get on with your day -- a round trip morning commute of one hour for 9.2km is not advisable.
So, we went to plan B. Plan B is a three step process:
Step 1: a 10 minute walk to a metro bus (*with dressed parent)
Step 2: a 5 minute metro bus ride (*with legal bus riding parent )
Step 3: a 15 minute school bus ride (*without parent, yes!)
As with any process, the steps must be followed in order and therefore the margin for error is high. To make this work requires that all parties be putting on (warm) coats/hats/gloves by 7:25am and that by 7:30am there is ambulation, at various paces, towards the Michel Lucius bus stop. (Note: I was going to write about this on Monday, but we had an unforeseen hiccup in Step 1 – pounding rain, and so Step 1 and Step 2 were combined into a car step. The steps leading up to Step 1 were also a small disaster – young people still claiming circadian rhythm troubles.)
But when it works, it’s a beautiful process. Not because it’s easy, but because it takes a little effort. Effort I no longer have to nag about every day. How come I know that for myself (most times), but I often forget that when it comes to my kids. It is still dark, and cold, but the fresh air wakes up the groggy soul – at various paces. On this snowy morning, from behind, I hear one of them say under their breath: “Wow, this is so pretty.” There are clouds of cigarette smoke as we pass the local high school on our way to the bus stop. But with smoke comes learning opportunities, and soon a warm bus. “Mom, do you know why we go to school?” This is a rhetorical question I can tell. “Mom, you know … it’s not really about math and reading. It’s to learn about how to get along with people.”
On the comfortably half full bus, the kids practice their best French accent as they call out the stops along the way. The volume of their voices modulating down every day as they take closer notice of their surroundings. Standing at the ready for the Glacis stop, the boys take one last unprompted look around to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything and we jump off the bus together. To the crosswalk they go, hand in hand, with the ISL bus idling in the distance waiting for them to board. A hug and an almost kiss, and they board together. They smile and wave to me from the back of the bus – a wave I never seem to get when they slam a car door. Soon the bus is off, on its way to that single school entry point – with the very important right of way – carrying two kids with more exposed skin in the game.
And then, I walk the twenty five minutes home through a cemetery (pictured above), a park, and a French elementary school. I think about how in some parts of the world, Mothers aren’t taking their children to school. They are dodging shells, looking for heat, water, and food. They pray not for a good day, but for a protected day. I don’t think about those things in the car, but I do walking through a cemetery. Perspective comes with a price. The price of leaving your front door.