I have important things to discuss. After overhearing a brief conversation by a few parents in my community making fun of the “short bus.” I am here to defend and applaud the “short bus” otherwise known to my college friends as the “happy bus.”
In case you don’t know, the “short bus” is a reference to the special education bus – smaller than the regular yellow bus we have all come to know and love/hate ( depending on whether you were a back- seater or a front- seater I suppose.) The following is what I want to say to those parents… And no, I am not angry and this is not an angry tirade. I have been known to make a joke or two at our own expense in the past. This is just how I have come to see something I never thought I would know anything about.
Max rides the “short bus” to school everyday. My little son is now in first grade, in the regular public school and he is doing great. This very same boy, who was born much too early, much too small, much too disabled to be able to do anything else your babies did, is going to school too. The only way he can go to school is with the help of a few pretty good federal laws, a decent special services department, and the support and kindness of his amazing teacher and personal aide.
Before he even gets to school, there is the bus. We started thinking about the bus long ago when we realized that he and Sophie would be going to the same school, but would not be riding the same bus. Max needs an accessible bus – and Sophie doesn’t. The first moment this thought popped into my head, I was heartbroken. I imagined Max looking out at Sophie and all the other neighborhood kids at the bus stop across the street and wishing he too could join in. The little boy a few doors down has been waiting for his turn so excitedly these past two years and he is the same age as Max. The topic of the bus has been thrown about in our house for some time. Sophie wanted ride his bus with him – she thought it would be cool. She didn’t know that people, even adults, make fun of the kids on the “short bus” so I discouraged her gently, not wanting to make a problem for her.
I was afraid that Max would feel different or be embarrassed – but he doesn’t know that parents could possible make fun of him – he doesn’t even consider being made fun of. The idea that anyone would do anything to hurt his feelings is unimaginable. As first grade grew closer, I actually stopped worrying about the bus. I figured, as everything does, it would work itself out.
A few days before school started, I got a phone call from the bus driver, Linda. She introduced herself, told me what time she was coming and that everything would be fine. She told me that Gail would be the aide on the bus and that she knows exactly what to do. She gave me her cell phone number and I realized that just knowing this phone number, everything would be ok.
On the first day of school, we stood outside and took pictures of our very beautiful children in their nice clean clothes and nice new backpacks. Max ‘s bus came first and there it was… the short bus… that bus that people make fun of… right in front of our house. Max walked quickly and excitedly to the bus in his walker and the driver and aide knew exactly what to do. That wonderful invention, the short bus, the one we are all so quick to mock, has handle bars going up the front steps so Max actually walks onto the bus with help and can actually walk to his seat holding Gail’s hand. Linda greets him with a smile every morning and already knows that when the weather is bad, his legs move a little slower. Gail knows how to fold the walker and tie it down to the special straps in the back of the bus. She knows that he needs to reach up high to hold onto the back of the seat in front of him to sit down in his seat. This wonderful bus has a built in car seat so that he can sit like a big boy and still have enough support not to fall over.
One morning, we were running late and I apologized to Linda when we got on the bus. She said that its no problem at all. She said that she completely understands that sometimes it takes a little big longer with her kids and that she will gladly wait for us to finish with the braces and the walker and all the stuff. She waits patiently and still greets us with a smile no matter how long it takes. This is not something anyone should make fun of.
Sophie helps me get Max on the bus, she peeks through the bottom of the front seat and they say goodbye to each other in their “loving” way ( Bye, loser.. bye, bigger loser!) Sophie and I stand and watch the bus drive away . Every morning I swallow my tears, not because I am sad- but because that bus is the most beautiful thing I see everyday. It has my special boy on it and he is happy and he is safe and he is going to school just like everyone else.
He walks to the driveway every morning and says that he is “waiting at the bus stop.” He is not sad that he is the only one there. He doesn’t even mention the other kids on his bus who are much differently disabled than he is. He is fine. I don’t pretend that sometimes the sight of the short bus driving to or away from our house doesn’t shock me. I wonder how on earth this came to be… it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
And then, I remember, in an instant, that just maybe, this IS exactly as it is supposed to be.
Can you say that too?