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Are Your Kids Driving You Mad Yet? A School Bus Driver’s Advice

By John Rolfe

For those of you trapped at home with children and bravely trying to further their education while limiting the carnage they wreak, all I can do is quote Science Officer Ash from the sci-fi horror movie Alien: “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathy.”

You see, I am an angel of mercy sidelined by the pandemic lockdown and sadly unable to save you. I drive a school bus — that sweet yellow chariot that cometh forth each morn to carry your urchins away and restore peace to your domicile. I'm also the father of three and stepfather of one, though my offspring are grown and on their own (save one), so a certain amount of amnesia has set in.

My wife reminded me of what life could be like when she mused one recent morning, “I am soooo glad I don’t have school-age kids I’m stuck in the house with indefinitely … forever … trying to make them pay attention and do their homework and chores and clean up their messes. I remember those days of praying for the bus to arrive. This is one for the Gratitude Journal!”

For sure. However, I must confess that I was usually ensconced in an office in Manhattan during those trying times, leaving my gallant, suffering spouse to deal with all the horror. Now that I’m piloting a 40-foot madhouse for a local school district, I am more keenly aware of what she was — and you are — up against. I can’t help noticing the look of gratitude in parents’ eyes whenever I arrive at their child’s stop.

So what can you do, short of resorting to strong drink, to preserve your sanity until the lockdown ends? If you’re trying to teach kids yourself, received wisdom suggests making the first lesson of the day fun, so they have a reason involve themselves in activities they regard as a waste of their precious time. Schedule the most challenging material for about 10:30 a.m. when they are most engaged.

As for their domestic duties, my wife suggests tying treasured possessions and privileges like video games, online time and cane sugar ingestion to the completion of assignments, chores, and cleanup. “Whenever they ask you for something, always be thinking, ‘What can I get out of this?’” she says.

If that doesn’t help, you can try some of the containment methods I employ on my bus:

Assign seats. Kids hate them, especially when they can’t sit with their friends or partners in crime. Separate troublemakers. The “Honored Student” seat on my bus is right behind me where I can better keep a jaundiced eye on those who chronically misbehave. They may not stop, but at least I have the satisfaction of highly annoying them.

Read them The Riot Act. I have what I call my Roadside Lecture Series where I pull a particularly fractious bus over, turn off the engine, slowly rise as the roiling masses grow quiet, and deliver a thunderous address on why mixed martial arts matches in the aisle, doing headers over seatbacks, or distracting me with constant complaints and requests are not in their best interests ... or mine for that matter.

Write them up. We drivers use a form that cites infractions such as fighting, pushing, tripping, littering, unacceptable language, destroying or defacing property, smoking, rudeness, excessive mischief, menacing, domestic terrorism, high treason, and violations of the Emoluments Clause. It is basically a ticket to the principal’s office for a stern reprimand. If you don’t have an office handy, a sizable closet can be a suitable site for a frank discussion.

If all else fails, try shrieking. Then again, I suspect you are already doing plenty of that.

Good luck and Godspeed! I hope to see you again soon, at which time I’m sure we shall share a tearful hug.

John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website

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