SOUTH PORTLAND — Nicholas Zaccaria stood on the curb in front of his house Wednesday morning, holding the ends of the army-green straps that dangled from his Ninja Turtle backpack.

“Daddy, how many minutes now?” the 5-year-old asked, as his parents stood behind him in their driveway.

“Seven,” said Ched Zaccaria – the last of an hour’s worth of updates.

After three years of watching his older brother, Michael, board the bus to Dyer Elementary School, Nicholas was more than ready for his turn.

The morning before, his parents were still sleeping when he appeared in their bedroom fully dressed in shorts, his new light-up Skechers and the orange plaid, button-down shirt he planned to wear to his first day of kindergarten.

Although Michael was starting third grade that day, Nicholas had one more day at home, his mother reminded him. She suggested he change into something else.



Nicholas tends to want to do whatever his older brother does.

Since he was big enough to reach the bus, he has followed Michael up the stairs, where driver Jamie Creamer let him take over the PA system to say goodbye to his brother through the hand-held microphone, before returning to the driveway to wave from outside.

For the first time Wednesday, he would walk past Creamer and down the aisle to a seat of his own.

That morning, Nicholas buttoned up his shirt again and was ready to go hours before his bus would arrive.

With the television on in the background, he rolled a miniature Lego backhoe along the couch cushions, making sound effects as his mother stood in front of the open refrigerator.


“Nicholas, what do you want for a vegetable?” Jill Ward asked.

“Carrots, please,” he said.

Cheeseburgers were on the menu at school that day, which meant the boys would bring their lunches. Hamburgers they’ll have, but not with cheese.

“Tomorrow’s taco,” Nicholas said. He’d be getting lunch at school then.

Ward zipped up the lunch boxes and brought them to the boys’ backpacks hanging from the chairs at the kitchen table.

“Am I doing this right?” she said to herself, trying to remember which lunch went in which bag. “I’m out of practice.”


The summer had felt longer than usual. When Ward started making plans in the winter for what camps they’d go to, the school calendar hadn’t come out yet and she assumed they’d be back before Labor Day.

The later start meant they had two weeks before school began with no planned activities.

“The end of the summer has been a huge juggle,” she said.


But the start of school also meant the beginning of soccer season and swim lessons.

“It goes from one type of chaos to another,” Ward said.


Having both boys in the same school, however, would make things easier.

Last year, after Michael got on the bus, Ward would drive Nicholas to preschool. This year, they’d get on the bus at the same time, right in front of their house.

But on the first day of school, the bus makes a special run for kindergarteners, which meant Nicholas would be left waiting one more time.


When Michael’s bus arrived at 8:04 a.m. Wednesday, Nicholas didn’t hesitate to march up the stairs behind him.

“This is it,” Creamer said, as he handed over the microphone.


“Bye, Michael! Bye, Michael! Bye, Michael!” Nicholas yelled into it with a satisfied grin, then walked back down and waved.

As soon as he and his parents got back inside the house, he started asking his father how long it would be before the bus came back for him. An hour, his father told him.

“How long is an hour?” Nicholas asked.

“It’s like two Scooby-Doos,” his father said.

Nicholas flopped back onto the couch in front of the television and searched Netflix until he settled on “Penguins of Madagascar,” an animated movie he discovered a week and a half ago and had watched five times since.

Every few minutes he’d ask if it was time to go outside – until it was.


Fifteen minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive, Nicholas got his backpack from the kitchen and a baseball cap from the closet in the mudroom, covering up his back-to-school haircut and smooshing his ears so they stuck out the sides.

He ran out the garage and down the driveway to the curb, before his mother summoned him back up to the house for a picture by the bushes in front.

As she kneeled on the driveway with a camera, his father hunched behind her making faces to make Nicholas laugh.

“Good,” his mother said, and he took off again down the driveway, stopping at the edge of the sidewalk where he stood face forward and waited.


Every time he heard the rumble of a motor coming from beyond the trees at the entrance to their cul-de-sac, he turned his ear toward the sound and kept still.


When it started getting louder, his eyes grew and his mouth spread across his face.

“This could be it,” his mother said.

The bus pulled into view, and Nicholas bounced up and down and grabbed his backpack straps until it stopped in front of him and the doors swung open.

With his mouth stuck in a half-smile, his eyes darted back and forth between the bus and his parents, before he dashed back toward the driveway and gave them each a hug.

He kept turning to look over his shoulder as he climbed the stairs, then stopped next to Creamer, who told him where to sit.

He slid into the second seat from the front, put his backpack next to him by the aisle and pressed against the window, waving back to his parents from inside.

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