What I Do Have To Give

On the (early) magic school bus...

“How many more days until Christmas break?”

“It just can’t get here soon enough…”

“I’m not sure if I’m going to make it.”

These are the stock phrases this time of year, and most of the time they’re spoken in the staff lounge. It might be unanimous among teachers that the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is always preceded by “The Most Wearisome” – 

            “…with papers for grading
            and students for chasing
            just to get them – sitting still;

            November was chock-full
            of too much and then more,
            my brain is just melting like snooooooow!

            It’s the most wear-i-some time…of the year!”

So, when it’s November 29th, “BUS DRIVER SUBS NEEDED: PLEASE SIGN UP” is the worst email subject line to land in your box.  One of our veteran drivers found work elsewhere, vacating nine school days of morning, afternoon and evening routes.

I’m juggling too many hats as it is. I have my Monday and Tuesday routes already. I have to coordinate Mass on Thursday followed by security duty at the girls’ basketball game. Friday it’s senior movie night. Sorry, Transportation Department. I just can’t. That would be my expected response.

So imagine my surprise when instead, I instantly opened the email, exploring the gaps in the sign-up sheet with wide eyes.

***

I wish I could do it all, but it’s two weeks to go before Christmas break and I don’t have much to give anymore. But I also don’t have that much to do. I know –  I made a list.

Here are my goals for the next two weeks: Category 1. Class (Senior Faith, Service and Justice): finish the fourth unit, vocabulary quiz, poster contest. I can do that. But just that. Category 2. Campus Ministry: Advent Mass, Chief Red Cloud Day celebration, immersion trip applications. I can do that. But just that. Category 3. Miscellaneous: Secret Santa Gift, Volunteer Retreat, Birthday celebration for James? I can do that. But just that.

It’s not that I’m tired; I’m averaging eight hours a night with yoga, running and workouts in full-swing. I feel great physically. Long bus runs? No problem. It’s just that my brain feels like mush, my every last bit of mental energy cashed in during a marathon October and November: class retreats, prayer services, blood drives, Mass, an all-school panel and a student advocacy trip to Washington, DC. Back to back to back to back. I’m sleeping again, but thinking is a no-go. Creativity is normally my wheelhouse, but my brainstorming process right now looks more like a cartoon character trying to run on ice, feet fluttering before an epic fall, dramatically, flat on my back.

It’s a season of giving. We don’t always get what we hope for, and sometimes we can’t give as we’d like to. If my students are hoping for the same excited, creative and animated teacher these next two weeks, they can cross their fingers, but I’d advise them not to hold their breath. If they’re looking for November’s trend to continue with two Campus Ministry programs a week, breaking new ground and reviving old traditions, all I can say is sorry. But I’ll be back, full-swing in 2017. I promise.

***

Scanning the driver sign-up list I saw that Porcupine, Sharps Corner and Rockyford were the main stops; doing the math quickly in my head, I figured the bus run was about two hours round trip. Living in rural South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, it goes without saying that our bus runs are long, but this is the big daddy, or as the students like to say in Lakota, the Até Tȟáŋka, the one reserved for the veteran driver – who just quit. All the morning routes were open on the sign-up sheet. Compose message: “Hey, I think I’m game- but I need to learn the route. Can I ride along tomorrow afternoon?” Reply: “That would be great! Thank you!!!”

Friday morning at 4:45 AM, under the clear sky and cold stars, I turned the ignition on bus #2.

As I pulled off campus, I visualized the route before me. Badlands Visitor Center near Rockyford at 5:55. Sharp’s Corner at 6:10. Gooseneck at 6:15, and Evergreen at 6:25. I’ll make sure the bus is warm for you, I won’t miss your stop, I’ll slow for the bumps on Highway 18 so as not to wake you, and I’ll announce the spectacular sunrise at the Wounded Knee junction. I can do that. And come by my office later, where I won’t be working up a storm. You can have some popcorn, we can listen to the Vince Guaraldi Peanuts Christmas album, laugh about how I almost missed your bus stop this morning and glow in in my Christmas lights thrown beautifully over the bookshelf. I can do that.

And I did. We made it. Just in time for school breakfast at 7:32, beaming.

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The cover image cam be found at pexels.

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