Natalie asked me whether she and her husband ought to send son Cody, 5, to his first day of kindergarten via the school bus or take him to the school themselves.
“Well,” I began, flattered to be asked for for another magnificent display of wisdom accumulated during 74 years of living, 12 years of being educated myself, parenting of six children and, from a distance, enjoying the excitement and emotion while most of my other 17 grandchildren made that transition from “little boy/girl” to “boy/girl.”
“Well, I ...”
“I got nothing!” I realized.
Despite all those decades of experiences, I know almost nothing about what it is like to ride a school bus, or, as a parent, to wave goodbye to a child whose face and hands are nose-mushed against a bus window.
I never rode a bus to school. None of our children rode a bus to kindergarten or first grade.
Greg, our son with Down syndrome, had ridden buses from the age of 4 or so. But these were special-purpose vans, hauling other special needs children, staffed and managed far differently than regular school buses.
So I knew nothing.
I answered her question, of course.
Lack of knowledge has never stopped me from offering opinions. I have excellent opinions about what President Trump should do to keep North Korea from launching a war against us. I keep those opinions secret in case the President wants to consult me in confidence, but rest assured, my opinions are excellent.
As a reporter, I always had to restrain my writing to stick within the limits of what the facts of the matter allowed.
Not now. I have retired. I am now no longer a journalist, a reporter.
Instead, I am now a writer, a columnist, a “talking head,” a purveyor of ... opinions! Mark Twain, America’s greatest writer, began his literary career as a journalist in post-Civil War America. He quickly discovered that his writings would be more widely read, and his profits would increase, if he did not let the facts stand in the way of his superb ability to tell good stories.
An example, recently re-read, is “On Raising Poultry,” one of Twain’s letters. Ostensibly thanking a group of poultry raisers for honoring Twain with an award, Twain launched into a side-splitting reverie of his own experiences at “raising” poultry — other people’s poultry, taken from their roosts in the dark of the moon as justifiable larceny.
“Raising Poultry” remains as a magnificent example of Twain’s literary talent, and an encouragement to me to humbly imitate him.
So I launched into answering Natalie’s question authoritatively, falling back onto the tactics of another legend in entertainment, Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Tevye famously ended many statements of opinion with, “On the other hand....” thereby providing lots of hot air without really risking being wrong by sticking to one side of an issue.
“I think Cody should ride the bus from day one, because he needs to get used to doing that,” I said, or words to that effect.
“On the other hand,” I pronounced, “you and his Dad taking him to school will ease the transition and make you both feel less anxious, because you will see him settled into the classroom.
At age 36, with a master’s degree, as a former teacher herself, Natalie has more than enough experience and wisdom to make such decisions together with her husband without Grandpa muddying the waters.
So I knew my role was to reassure my daughter that her own grasp of the situation is better than that of long-winded Grandpa Denny.
In truth, there is no “right” answer to the school bus question. It depends on the child, the parents, the length of the bus ride ... a bunch of stuff.
I was reminded of the emotional tugs during a drive on Tuesday, the first day of school here in Brookville, as I stopped to wait behind a school bus. The dad was striding toward the bus. Leaning back over his shoulder, the crying child was reaching both arms out, pleading with his mother. The mom stepped up, took the child from the dad, and started for the bus, then turned back. This was repeated once or twice before the parents turned and walked homeward to retrieve their car and drive the child to school.
I was left to realize how lucky I had been to have always been within walking distances of kindergartens and first grade classes for our children.
And I also realized that grandparents can offer experience, assurance and confidence in their children’s abilities to make parental decisions, but, unless we are custodial, not much else.
I think most adult children know that. Occasionally, they do start down the wrong path and a grandparent has to be able to say that, firmly but kindly. Mostly, however, the grown children get it right. They only need reassurance from their own parents to have faith in their own judgments.
As for what to actually do on the first day of kindergarten, as always, it seems, “It depends....”
[Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren, and former publisher of The Leader-Vindicator.]