As students all over the world head back to school after the summer break, LightBox presents Greg Miller’s large-format 8×10 series on school bus stops alongside rural roadways. Below, Miller reflects on his life as the father of two daughters, and the separate and shared worlds that he and they (and all parents and children, everywhere) inhabit.
My town in eastern Connecticut is a small, rural college town. My wife and I live with our two daughters (a 7-year-old and a 6-week-old) down a winding road from our local dairy farm. It is a quaint and peaceful place.
On a cold Friday night last December, watching children light the menorah at our friends’ Hanukkah celebration, I struggled, like the nation and the world, to come to grips with the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, about an hour away from my home. As the months passed, however — as I waited for a period of national introspection and mourning — I was stunned at how the event, the people and families affected were quickly eclipsed and co-opted by America’s raging gun control debate.
I just haven’t been able to shake the feeling that we missed the point; that we have become callous and have lost our appreciation for the preciousness of life — something so basic to the survival of our species. I am left with nagging questions: What if we were to lose our ability to cherish life? Have we lost it already, like an animal falling off the endangered species list? I think: How can anyone not see children, all children, as their own, as nieces and nephews, or even as themselves?
In the early pre-dawn hours, heading to the airport for an out-of-town assignment, I see children and teenagers, like apparitions or woodland creatures from a C.S. Lewis novel, waiting in the bitter cold for the rumbling school bus to arrive along our town roads. If I passed by five minutes earlier or later they would not have been there, appearing and vanishing in the flicker of my headlights. Did they kiss their parents goodbye before they rushed out the door?
As my daughter and I go our separate ways each morning, I see her with her pink and purple sparkly backpack, hairclips and boots (having already changed twice, like a real-time performance art piece that invents and reinvents itself constantly). She goes to school, and I go to work. Somehow, in spite of what I read in the morning paper, I am actually able to trust that things are going to be fine. And like so many other parents, I am able to lose myself in my work during the day, and almost forget about her. Almost.
Back home, picking up my daughter from school in the afternoon, I am reminded of where she and I left off. Like a record player starting up mid-song, the conversation resumes, punctuated by news of the day: an assembly; rope climbing in gym; ice cream at lunch; and the day’s lesson: “I’m as tall as an emperor penguin!”
There is a whole lifetime that happens between 9 am and 3 pm, a lifetime that begins at the end of our driveway. To the parent, it is an invisible existence. From kindergarten to 12th grade, no matter how involved you are with your child’s school day, there is a lot you miss. That spot where the school bus stops at the end of the driveway is a membrane between home and school. Children and teenagers stand out there vulnerable, brave, trusting that they are safe. Trusting that we cherish life itself.
Greg Miller is a fine art, magazine and advertising photographer specializing in narrative portraiture and photography workshops. He lives in Mansfield Center, Connecticut. See more of his work here.