When you walk into my house you will see a small table on your left and on that table are three picture frames in the shape of school buses, one pushed to the fore and two flanking it. When we moved eight years ago, everything went in the moving truck, but my buses came with me, carefully bubble wrapped and carried by hand to their coveted new spot.
Each of the three school bus frames has one of my children’s name engraved on it and thirteen small window openings labeled K-12 for wallet-size school pictures. Even though we have other lovely things in our home, those buses are the item that people comment upon the most. They say, “What a great idea. My kids school pictures are still in the envelope in a drawer somewhere.” Or they’ll compare my boys at various ages and comment about how much alike they looked when they were in 5th or 6th or 7th grade.
I don’t own many knickknacks that I couldn’t part with. I’m not terribly materialistic or nostalgic, but I treasure those buses. And last week as I put my youngest son’s 11th grade school photo in his bus, I noted that out of the thirty-nine available spots, only one remains.
The faces that look out at you from those frames reveal three boys with beautiful smiles and teeth that are perfectly straight. To achieve those smiles there were countless visits to the orthodontist, some to the dentist and some to an oral surgeon. There were palate expanders with a key that had to be painfully twisted every night, and there were teeth that curiously had to be coaxed with hook and chain from a mouth that would not give them up easily.
There were orthodontic elastic bands with names like Bummer and Bill and Elliot, among others. There were broken springs, wax for mouth abrasions and lost or cracked retainers, lots of them.
There was the child who even as a teen insisted that he could only use Crest Sparkle Fun Flavor toothpaste and there were hundreds of reminders to brush well and use toothpaste, rather than eat it.
Thirty-eight years of school
The frames hold a picture of each child in each grade and for every grade they completed, I completed it as well. Three first grades, and second grades, and third grades and on and on. And for each child, in each grade, there were the struggles, the triumphs, the milestone ceremonies, the progress reports, the report cards, the parent/teacher conferences and the “All About Me” poster that they excitedly ran out of school with and that needed to be completed THAT NIGHT!!!
There were uncountable school pick-ups, drop-offs and always, always the carline. There were lunches prepared, forgotten, dropped off at school or left in the backpack to rot. There were the growing pains, the friends that were besties and then not so much. There were proms, and promposals, tuxedo rentals and returns that were not always timely. There were the end of the year awards won and those not won.
Thirty-eight picture days
There were thirty-eight picture days, some of which I volunteered to staff, combing other children’s stubborn cowlicks down and encouraging them to smile. Thirty-eight outfits were chosen, in the early years with tremendous care but more recently, my only instruction was, “Wear whatever you want, just make sure they take your picture.”
There was the child who was scared of the photographer, who for many of his early years wore an expression that we fondly came to call his, “being a little brave smile.” And, then there were the photo packages that seemed to get increasingly elaborate (retouching, choice of background, school year added). “No thanks, we don’t need a mousepad, a Christmas ornament or a mug with our child’s face on it, but we appreciate the offer.”
Thirty-eight times I struggled to remember to get the wallet size to fit into the bus, not the next size up, and many of those times I got it wrong. But I made it fit, just like parenting; so many times you struggle to get it right and fail but despite that you make it work. And one day you wonder if perhaps the beauty of the final product lies in its imperfection.
There will be one more smiling face, one more picture day, one more year of school, one more chance to get the photo size and the parenting just right. I used to say that when the school bus frames were complete, I would put them in a drawer somewhere less conspicuous. But, even as I said the words, I knew them to be false. Someday we may downsize and there are many things that I gleefully anticipate purging, but not my buses.
My children will grow up and leave; their buses will remain. And wherever I go those bus frames will come with me, lovingly bubble wrapped and hand-transported because, in the end, they are everything.