Thursday, January 31, 2008


Yesterday, my son was missing was 15 minutes. For Mr. T. who had called to ask me if I had him, it had been a little longer. For my mother-in-law who had been at home waiting for Son to arrive, it was even longer. For my 7-year-old who had gotten off at the wrong bus stop, it was probably an eternity.

I had a doctor's appointment and afterward went home to wait for a meeting I had to go to at Daughter's school. As I drove down the street headed to our street, Mr. T's ring sounded in my pocket.

"You got Son?"

"What? No. Why would I have him?" I looked at the clock. It was 4 and he should have been at my ML's about 3:20.

"My mother said he didn't get off the school bus."

"What? I'm near the house, maybe he forgot he was going to her house and he's there."

I turned down our street as I said this, hoping to see him standing outside our door.

"My mother just left our house. She drove over here when he didn't show."

All I could do was listen to him as I pushed all desires to panic aside.

"Did you try your sister's house? Maybe he went there."

As I pulled up to her house, which is around the corner from us, I saw Mr. T driving up behind me. I rang her bell.

"B. Have you seen Son?"

"No, I was over at mommy's house waiting with her. He didn't get off the bus."

Mr. T sat in his car. I could see him thinking.

"OK. Where would he be," I asked out loud. I called his school hoping someone was still there. "He's not the wandering kind. At least not outside of our presence." The phone kept ringing at the school.

"No answer," I said to no one in particular. Then I remembered the little girl who lives across the street from MIL and takes the same bus as Son. She's a 6th-grader now, always protective of Son when he's on the bus and she would have made sure he was with her.

"Did you talk to S," I asked Mr. T. He perked up at the idea.

"No, I'll go see if she's home."

"OK, and I'll go to the school."

He drove off and before I could get to the end of the block he called.

"My mother has him. The police brought him home."

"The police? How did they get him?"

"He got off at the wrong stop and there was a woman who saw him and called the police."

Oh thank God, I thought, hanging up the phone and heading toward my MIL's house.

I've read this crap enough times. Kids smaller than mine have been let off at the wrong stop. It's always a miracle a person gets their child back safely. I mean, when they don't go where they are supposed to, then how in the world do you begin to look for a needle in a haystack? We don't know every stop that bus makes so there was no way to trace the route ourselves. We would have had to call the police but thankfully someone else beat us to it.

I got to the house and saw the police car still out front. Running in the back door, there he was eating a cookie, his signature silly grin nowhere on his tearstreaked face. He looked composed but clearly wasn't just a short while before then.

"What happened? Are you alright?"

"He was brave," the officer told me. "Knew his address and was able to tell me where to go."

There had been confusion about why he got off where he did and as we explained to the officer that Son was getting off this stop all this month, I clutched my son and stroked his face, my hands constantly reassuring me that he was really there. I'm looking down at him and thinking how big he feels to me now yet his face betrays his age and while he's tall, he's always been slight. His jacket may be bulky but clearly he's still a baby. So how did this bus driver let him get off at the wrong stop?

"You know, I want to give this guy the benefit of the doubt but Son has been getting off here all month. The school knows about it and they are supposed to tell the bus drivers too. It makes no sense. Was he a new driver, Son?"


Everyone just shook their heads.

"I am going to make a report and give it to the school and the bus company."

"Good," I replied. "I will be fussing them out tomorrow."

All this went down in the space of one hour. I had Son take us back to the house of the woman who called about him so I could thank her in person as well as see the street where he got off so I could figure out how this mixup happened. I saw the street. It still makes no sense.

"We could have been childless," Mr. T said later that night.

"Not childless. We still have Daughter. But there's no need to think that way now."

But how do you not? If we had needed them, we have his latest pictures and we have his fingerprints. We would have called the cops the moment Mr. T found out that S had not seen him either. Actually she hadn't been on the bus that day and that was part of the issue for Son. If she's not there, the bus driver doesn't stop at the street he needs to get off on so he thought he'd get off down the street instead. But he misjudged and found himself someplace he didn't recognize. A dead end street. Two other kids got off there too - they were all the last kids off the bus, he said. When Son realized he was lost, he started to cry and the kids took him to the house of woman they knew who used to babysit them. She had been calling our house while we were out looking. When we didn't answer, she asked her husband what they should do and that is when they looked out and saw a cop outside dealing with another situation. That cop called another whose job is dealing with children and that is the officer who brought him home.

As I thought about that I realized that there was no point in imagining the worse because it was clear that when Son got off at the wrong stop, he got off in the hands of God who steered him not only to a woman with a 7-year-old of her own but he sent a cop down her dead end street as well. It was under control all along. That may have been why panic never got a chance to settle in.

Son knows home numbers but he hasn't memorized our cell phone numbers yet. He will now. Mr. T and I went to bed thinking that things could have been very different. I have chosen to not dwell on it nor to imagine how lost my son may have felt because that stuff only breaks your heart. He's safe. That's what matters and the bus driver's company has lots of explaining to do to me. Today I'm just thanking God for helping me to remember that He sees in low places and in high; He is the ultimate protector of children even though things don't always turn out as we pray they will. We can't explain all the evil that happens to children and we'd just pull our hair out trying to understand the seeming inequity of it all. I can't go there. I can only focus on the 2 He's given me and thank Him that I still have 2 to continue caring for.


Theresa said...

Oh Monica, what a horrible ordeal. I can't even imagine how scared you must have felt. I'm glad it all worked out.

Anonymous said...

and the many prayers that are answered when uncles don't have to get bad phone calls-- I'm sure it is nothing that anyone up there wants to experience again but in the longrun it was something to learn from and although my baby boy was probably crying his eyes out he'll definitely be stronger for it in the end.. thank God he's home.

DaveM said...

I'm so glad your son made it safely. We weren't so fortunate. Our 10-year-old got off the bus 5 and an half miles from home, and tried to walk it. He made 3 and a quarter miles then was struck and killed. We couldn't find him for almost 2 hours before the police came and told us. We went through all the fearful things you described and more.
I made 3 trips to the school, which was only 4 miles from our house. Drove up and down multiple roads, every road in our neighborhood, and every road between us and the school. My wife was calling everyone connected with the school we could think of, but could find no one.
It's an extremely long and complicated story, too much for this forum. But I can tell you that if any one of close to a dozen adults, including the bus driver had done their jobs properly, he would not have been killed. That includes two of his teachers, the principal, the asst. principal, the guidance counselor, and several transportation officials. Then the county officials lied about what really happened. Other parents in the system, other bus drivers and other teachers in the school slipped us documents, notes and other information that led to the truth.
It happened 8 years and 4 months ago this Thursday, and our family will suffer from this the rest of our lives.
Do not think what happened with your son was a chance occurrance. Many of the people responsible for the safety of our children do not have a clue how important their jobs are.
Show your children how to contact you if they get lost out in public. Let them know that not all adults know what to do to keep kids safe. If something does go wrong, they shouldn't try to take care of it themselves, but find a responsible adult to help as soon as possible.
We feel like our boy recognized the bus driver made a mistake, but he was too shy to speak up. So he just tried to "fix it" and walk home on his own.
Sorry this was so long, but it is almost impossible to condense it. Again, I'm so glad your boy is safe. Our best to you.

Monica said...

Dave, I thank you for your comment and I'm really glad you took the time to write it. My daughter will be on that bus with him next year and I am making it a priority to drill my cell phone number into both of their heads. The school already has tags on their backpacks with their phone number and address on it but I know that's really not enough.

I am extremely sorry for your loss and of course can't begin to imagine what it must be like to lose such a big piece of you. This is an important issue and I thank you for pointing it out as such.