Most middle school students are determined to take the bus to school. It is on this vehicle that your new sixth grader can show you that he or she is very ready to grow up. Each passenger has a role to play, which is assigned within the first three weeks of the school year. From that point on, they work hard to learn their lines, and pick up the rhythm of an intricate dance. Your benign little fifth grade child has abruptly been morphed into a highly observant and cynical preteen. The focus of this twenty-five minute ride is to learn what is needed to survive the next three years.
Your child is focussed on this lesson far more intently than the math or Spanish class that will challenge them later in the day. It is here that they will learn from the masters - the seventh grade students who are now flush with confidence, having moved up from the humiliation of being at the bottom of the social ladder.
A few lucky sixth grade girls and boys are elevated to apprenticeship positions, where they lead the social symphony for their year. Eighth grade students are more likely to have positioned themselves as benign grandparents, on their way out to the ‘real world’ of high school.
This is a performance that is often far too subtle and intricate to be captured on archaic bus cameras. These artists are sophisticated in positioning and cues. They know where and to what extent the lens can pick up their moves. The radio played by the driver protects them further. Inappropriate remarks are drowned by the sounds of traffic, music, engines and the voices of around forty kids.
Your child is closely scrutinized before they even get on the bus, and so are you. You are given a terse set of instructions for behaviors that you simply cannot exhibit anymore, unless you want to deliberately ruin your son or daughter’s life. Amongst these:
“Please do not stand with me at the bus stop. I am old enough to wait there by myself.”
“Also, please do not wave to me, or add a ‘-y’ to my name.” [Georgey, Mikey, etc]
Mothers are provided with a dress code, so as not to embarrass or humiliate their daughters. They are advised on which lipstick colors are acceptable. You are expected to join the sorority of ‘Mothers Who Are Tolerated.’
What is even more alarming than the content of such a command is the tone used to deliver the message. Your sweet, naive daughter is, for some inexplicable reason, annoyed and tense. Constantly. She says goodbye to you behind closed doors, and hurriedly scurries out, down the driveway and to the corner. You are truly out.
Once on the bus, mirroring sets into motion. Your child keenly scrutinizes his or her peers and learns how to appear fashionably tired, and sufficiently disinterested. It is not hip to be enthusiastic about school any more. This is also where they practice the burgeoning art of flirtation. This is defined largely by swearing, double entendres, ignoring the object of interest, and moody silences.
As the shuttle pulls into the school parking lot and students pile out, associations with fellow passengers are quickly dismissed. Your child is about to enter the private world of middle school cliques. His or her bond with family is by now a distant memory.