On the Wisdom of Ms. Frizzle

If you were a parent of young children in the 1990s, you probably sat through more than a few episodes of the “Magic School Bus” cartoon series. Scheduled for a convenient pre-nap time slot on PBS, my kids and I spent many hours watching the feisty and brilliant Ms. Frizzle take her elementary school class on field trip after life-changing field trip in the name of science education. Courtesy of the limitless shape-shifting powers of the Magic School Bus, “Ms. Frizz” took the kids on journeys into outer space, deep into the ocean, inside a volcano, into a sick classmate’s immune system — any place, micro or macro, where there might be an opportunity to learn more about science.

Like most worthwhile kids’ shows, “Magic School Bus” spoke to parents as well. Before letting her charges disembark from the Bus at the latest destination (underwater cave, sick child’s tonsil, etc.), Ms. Frizzle would deliver her trademark enjoinder:

OK, class, it’s time to …

Take chances!

Make mistakes!

Get messy!

It was therapeutic for me, the emotionally restrained, overly cautious, tidy Virgo mother, to hear this reliably at 2 p.m. five days a week. Ms. Frizzle was like a guru reminding me of the mantra I needed to focus on in order to expand into my full self. (Is that too much to lay on a cartoon character? Even one voiced by the incomparable Lily Tomlin? Maybe, but we can find teachers anywhere if we’re paying attention.)

This post is a love letter to someone who needs more Frizz power. Sometimes you have to break things to find out what’s inside, even if it all spills out onto the recently cleaned floor. Sometimes you nick your finger putting the pieces back together and you have a scar to talk about at parties. Sometimes the container is more interesting with cracks in it, more real. Sometimes the mess was the whole point.

This post is a love letter to someone who needs to drive more carefully. Some days you wake up with a Magic School Bus hangover. Some days you’re sore with whiplash from crashing into trees and your eyes are tired and red from too much go-go-go. Some days you get out of bed with a sick feeling that maybe you ran over a few things while driving in the dark. Go out into the street and check, OK? Bring the broom to sweep up the glass. Park the bus and apologize. Drive more carefully next time.

I’ve changed a lot in the nearly two decades since I first heard Ms. Frizzle’s call. I’ve gotten more messy, more willing to make mistakes. Mostly this has been a positive shift. Still, it’s good to reflect on the dubiousness of the premise that the Frizz never lost any of the students, even though in every episode they were out there taking crazy chances. That’s how you know it’s a cartoon. In real life, we need to be sure everybody gets back on the bus, every time. Assign buddies. Hang onto the clipboard. Count heads. I’ll call roll.

August 27, 2012 Blog Posts