He#039;s my child, not my echo

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 18, 2002

"What time should I set the alarm for, Mom?"

I dragged my attention away from the computer long enough to stare at the tall, gangly 10-year-old. Who was he, and what had he done with my child?

"I set it for 5:30 – will that give me enough time to meet the bus? If it's too early, maybe I can clean up the yard while I'm waiting." I looked around him, trying to see where the ventriloquist was hiding…

or the cameraman for Candid Camera.

"And if I do a

good job, maybe you can pay me $5 and I'll have enough money to buy that Star Wars Lego set I want."

Ahhhh, now the personality transplant makes sense. Never underestimate the profit motive for a


But I've underestimated Ben before. Worse, I've transferred my own opinions, fears and hopes to him, only to be startled when he pipes up with opinions of his own. It is a common mistake parents make and I try to overcome it.

Scott, the oldest, has his father's personality – inquisitive, analytical and phlegmatic. He is 12 going on 45.

Ben is my child, temperamental, moody. impulsive, droll, and a bit too inclined to live in a fantasy world (some day I'll share the trauma of the triceratops at Islands of Adventure). So it is easy to think that he is going to act as I would, think as I do… and when he doesn't, it is an abrupt reminder that he is, in fact, his own person.

The bus is a prime example of this. My own bus-riding experiences are not my favorite memories. We had private buses, converted vans with benches instead of seats, packing 20 children of all ages and sizes in until they overflowed like overstuffed backpacks. No air conditioning. By the time we'd bounced and thumped over twenty miles of road, tempers were shorter than the last week of summer, and just about as hot.

My bus driver was a cross between Flo from the old sitcom Alice – and Mimi from the Drew Carey Show. Her platinum hair was teased

into a beehive that had the consistency of cement. She chainsmoked and drove like a trucker on the last leg of a thousand-mile trip. She cursed like one too, and I can safely say that she increased my vocabulary far more than my poor English teacher ever did.

Ever time she hit the brakes, which, admittedly, wasn't nearly often enough, empty vodka battles would come rolling out from under her seat and go clinking down the aisles.

They outlawed those private buses, thank goodness, but my experiences with the high school buses weren't much better. I only rode them at night, to and from basketball games in the winter – no heat. We always rode in the back of the bus, where every bump in the road did its best to separate every vertebrae in my spine while my teeth chattered

in a counter rhythm.

In Tennessee, we lived within walking distance of the boys' schools, and buses were never an issue. Moving here, however, was a different matter. Getting Ben to AES in the morning was no problem, but after a week of trying to make the 45-minute afternoon run to the school, to home and back to work again, with another jaunt two hours later to get Buzz from preschool was making it harder and harder to meet deadline. I had to concede defeat and place my child on the Dreaded Bus.

"Ben," I said, my voice filled with guilt and regret, "I'm afraid you're going to have to ride the bus."

I was expecting a protest, or a gentle pat on my shoulder with a huge sigh and "That's all right, Mom, I understand…"

(Scott may be phlegmatic, but Ben is the most sincerely condescending child I've ever met.)

Instead, I got "Cool!"

After he rode the bus, he still thought it was cool, and I realized the mistake I had made, expecting my bad memories to transfer to his experience. Now, we get up and I drink my hot tea while watching him dash to the door when the big yellow bus comes by the house. And dash. And dash, And dash. We live right on the bus route away from the high school so almost all of them pass our door on their way to other stops, and by the time Ben's Purple Dot bus finally arrives, he's wiped out and I'm on the third cup of tea.

Stuck in the middle of his brothers, Ben has sometimes "disappeared" as an individual. While I know he misses his big brother, his stay down here and his brief stint as the oldest have allowed his personality to emerge.

No, I take that back. His brief stay down here has allowed me to see the wonderful personality that was always there but now, with new responsibilities and opportunities, I have seen him grow into his own person – one that shares some of my interests and hopes and fears – but, thankfully, not all of them.

The nicest thing about putting aside all of my preconceived notions about what Ben should be feeling or thinking is discovering what really is going on behind those big brown eyes, and getting to know my son all over again.