The small yellow bus pulled up in Dakota's driveway. His legs trembled and butterflies flew around in his tummy. Daddy looked so tall as Dakota squinted to see his face. There it was, that smile. Daddy's eyes twinkled as he took Dakota's hand.

The bus rolled to a slow stop and the doors opened. Dakota stretched his neck for a better view of the bus.

His mama told him that his teacher would be riding the bus too. At first, he saw only the bus driver. She reminded him of his grandma the way her eyes seemed to dance when she smiled at him. "Are you ready for school, Dakota?" she asked. Dakota couldn't answer. He tried to swallow but it felt as if the pop-tart he had for breakfast was still in his throat. He just stared at her, wishing it were his grandma driving the bus.

Then he saw his teacher getting off the bus to meet him. When he had met her at the school before, she seemed nice enough. Still, his mind kept racing back to mama. What would she do when he was gone? She looked like she was going to cry as she hugged Dakota goodbye before he left to meet the bus. He wanted to cry too. Her voice didn't even sound like mama as she hoarsely whispered, "Chin up, little man."

Dakota had looked back over his shoulder as he and daddy began walking to the bus, but mama had her back to them. Then daddy said something Dakota couldn't understand: "This will be an adventure, buddy.

" Adventure? Wasn't that what daddy said when they went hiking? This was not hiking and it wasn't going to be just him and daddy. It definitely would not be an adventure; he was sure of that!

Suddenly he felt his daddy gently guiding him towards the steps of the bus. Dakota felt the butterflies again, only this time they were dancing in his tummy so much he was sure he would be sick. He swallowed hard again and walked over to the teacher waiting for him by the bus.

Ms Joni was smiling as she asked him if he was ready to go to school. Dakota was not ready and he knew at that moment he could never leave his daddy.

Wait! Was daddy really going to make him get on the bus? He slowly climbed the steps before making his way to the top. The bus looked larger inside than he imagined it would. His nose burned as the images of mama cleaning house raced through his mind. The bus smelled like the stuff mama used to clean the kitchen.

"Daddy?" Dakota checked to see if his daddy was still behind him. He always felt safe when Daddy was next to him. Once when they were hiking and Dakota got tired, daddy let him stand on the top of his boots and hold on tight to his belt buckle so he wouldn't fall. When Dakota closed his eyes, it was almost like watching a movie of their hiking trip. He liked what he saw and stood quietly with his eyes closed soaking up all the good feelings that came when he watched movies behind his eyes.

Daddy lifted him up and gently placed him in the booster seat, buckling him up before time to go.

The teacher was talking to Dakota, but he wasn't really listening. He couldn't take his eyes away from Daddy. Daddy suddenly looked very sad too as he winked and said, "I love you, little man.”

" Daddy walked two or three steps when Dakota called out, "Daddy?"
"Yes, Dakota?" Daddy asked.

"I love you, Daddy," Dakota said as his eyes begin to fill with tears.
Daddy looked so sad too and said, "I love you, buddy."
Daddy took another step as Dakota's shaky voice called out, "Daddy?"

"Yes, Dakota?" Daddy asked again.

Dakota replied, "I love you, daddy."

As daddy was starting to walk down the steps of the bus he looked back and said, "I love you too, Dakota."

"Daddy!!!" Dakota almost screamed.

"Yes, Dakota?" Daddy answered once more.

Dakota's tears covered his face. His lip trembled as he asked, "Daddy, am I ever coming home again?"

Daddy eyes looked watery and he looked like he just might cry too. He walked slowly back to where Dakota was sitting. He kneeled down and looked him in the eye. "Yes, Dakota, you'll be coming home after lunch, just like we talked about.”

Dakota felt a little better because he knew Daddy always told him the truth. Still, how long would it be until lunch? He felt so sad.

The bus doors closed and the bus slowly pulled away from Dakota's driveway. Daddy was waving. Dakota wanted to wave back, but he needed to hold in his tears and he couldn't do both.

The bus rolled to several more stops as they picked up more boys and girls on the way to school. Dakota couldn't help but notice they were excited.

Ms Joni was talking to them about school and how much fun they would have. He had to admit the stuff she was talking about sounded like fun. He loved painting. He would sit at the kitchen table and paint pictures for Mama while she cleaned. Her favorite picture was one he had painted of her cleaning the kitchen with the bottle of the green stuff in her hand. Dakota painted himself in that picture holding his nose. Mama laughed and said she was putting it on the refrigerator so when she needed to smile she could look at it. He liked the way his paintings made Mama laugh.

Once when he got in trouble for bringing the neighbor's chicken in the house, Dakota asked Mama if she wanted to look at his picture on the refrigerator. He couldn't figure out why it didn't make her smile that time. Still, he loved painting pictures for Mama.

The bus slowed down and came to a stop in front of a place that sort of looked like a school. Then he heard Ms Joni say, "Unbuckle your seat belts if you can, and if you can't I will help you." She smiled at Dakota when she helped him unbuckle. He didn't feel like smiling back so he just stared at her. She was telling the boys and girls how to line up, put one hand on the rail and to let her have the other hand before they came down the steps to get off the bus. She said something about being safe. Dakota was not sure he could remember everything she was telling them to do. She kept reminding everyone though and by the time she got to Dakota he knew what to do. He placed one hand firmly on the rail as Ms Joni reached out for his other hand. She smiled as she helped him off the bus. "We're going to have a good day," she told him. He wondered if she ever got tired of smiling.

As they walked through the big door of the school and into the hallway, Dakota could hear other children laughing and playing. He peered in the first room they passed. There was so much going on that he couldn't possibly take it all in. He wanted to ask the teacher if they could stop and watch, but they were at their room already.

Ms Joni was letting them meet Ms Sarah, the other teacher in the room. Dakota thought she seemed nice enough, but he wanted a better look at the room.

Dakota had never seen a room like this! He spied a large shelf with cars, trucks and blocks of all sizes. One corner of the room looked like a kitchen. It had a small stove, refrigerator, play food, dishes, and even dress up clothes.

The kitchen table was small too, but he saw four chairs. His table at home had four chairs. His teachers must love books. They were everywhere!

He saw a computer and wondered if it was for the kids or if it was like Mama’s and just for big people.

There was a shelf with puzzles and some toys he had never seen before. He couldn't believe it, but yet it was right there inside the room! A big sandbox on wheels! It had buckets and shovels in it.

He saw the biggest shelf he had ever seen with some paint, markers, crayons, scissors, glue and all colors of paper. Dakota almost felt dizzy as he tried to take it all in. So, this was school!

Dakota tried to play with everything but he didn't have time before Ms Joni said they had to clean up the room and get ready for lunch.

She reminded him of Mama the way she said, " Put the toys back where you found them." He didn't like cleaning up at home and he didn't like it here either. He would do it though because mama and daddy told him to be sure to do what the teacher said.

The teachers lined the boys and girls up to go to the bathroom and wash up for lunch. Ms Sarah took the girls. He was glad when Ms Joni took the boys because he needed to ask her something.

While washing his hands he asked, "Do I go home after lunch?" Ms Joni assured him he would. Then she asked, "Have you enjoyed being at school today?"

"Dakota nodded and told her he did. He was surprised that he really meant it too. Still, he wondered about Mama and Daddy. Did they know what time he ate lunch at school? Would they know when the bus was bringing him back?

The teacher had everyone sit down at the table. Dakota stared at the Jell-O next to his plate. His tummy already felt like it was jiggling around in there and he hadn't even taken a bite. He looked at his food and began to cry. Ms Joni asked,

"What's wrong, sweetheart?" It felt good when she called him that. It reminded him of Mama saying that when he felt bad.

He tried to stop crying and asked," Will daddy be there to get me when I get home?"

Ms Joni told him daddy knew what time to expect the bus and he would be waiting.

Dakota sipped his milk but he wasn't hungry and he didn't think he could eat. After lunch the class went to the playground while waiting for the bus. Dakota loved to swing, but he did not want to play today.

The small yellow bus rolled up in front of the school. The teachers lined everyone up and went over the bus rules again.

This time Dakota wanted to run up the bus steps. He didn't, though, because he didn't want to get in trouble for not listening to the teachers. He remembered Mama saying that a lot, so it must be important.

He managed to get in his seat and almost buckled up before he needed some help. The bus bumped along the road and Dakota watched the traffic from the window.

A woman in a small red car looked up at the bus and smiled as she waved. Dakota thought to himself that she must be someone's Mama or maybe a teacher. They both seemed to smile a lot. He managed a weak smile and waved back at her.

Finally, the bus rolled to a stop in Dakota's driveway. Dakota could see Daddy from the window. He was grinning ear-to-ear and waving. Mama was there too and she was holding a camera. Dakota knew she would want to take his picture when he got off the bus. Mama loved taking pictures.

He walked down the steps and off the bus just like he was supposed to. Mama said, "I want a picture of you and your teacher on your first day of school.

" Ms Joni kneeled next to Dakota and told him, " Say Spongebob Squarepants." Dakota laughed and Mama took the picture. She said she was putting it on the refrigerator. That made Dakota smile even more. He hugged Mama and Daddy so tight his arms ached.

They asked if he liked school and he said, "Yeah, because I get to have fun and then come home after lunch." His tummy was rumbling now and he was getting hungry.

He looked up at his teacher as she waved to him from the bus steps. She asked, "Do we have a lunch date tomorrow?" That made Dakota laugh. He liked it when she said silly stuff like that.

As he walked away, Dakota smiled up at Mama. " I'm going to like school!" he said. He talked excitedly as he walked hand in hand to the house with Mama and Daddy.

Copyright © 2008  Sheila Barberia. All Rights Reserved.