We wait for it, every weekday morning. Yesterday it came for the last time to take N to his community school.
The little bus may be small, but its significance for my son and I is truly great. For my son, who has autism, it is a signpost of a predictable day, a signal that he can expect to be able to cope. For me, it is confirmation of my constant assertion to him, don’t worry, it’s OK. Each weekday morning, from the moment the sun dawns, he asks the same question, over and over, “First get ready…..then BUS?”. And I repeat it back to him as many times as he needs me to: “First get ready….then BUS!” The response is always a smile on his face.
As I waited yesterday I found myself drifting back and recalling fragments of a conversation, many months ago, when my middle son’s friend asked: “Why are you sitting in your car at the end of your driveway every morning?” I remember only bits of my reply: “N’s bus….safer to wait in the car…he might run…cannot catch him…” I remember feeling an absence of understanding. It felt at the time like oppressive humidity, it stuck to me like an uninvited guest that cannot take a hint to go away.
Yesterday was the last bus ride to our school for N for he is changing schools in the fall. He is going to a structured teaching classroom, which does not exist at our current school, and while I am excited for the possibilities that it may bring to him, to encourage his independence, I also feel sadness for N. I am sad for the changes that he has had to experience as we have struggled to find programs for him, because the world does not understand autism and the importance of sameness for those who have difficulty processing sensory information. N has established relationships that now he will lose. While that is life, these losses are much more difficult for my son. I feel sadness for the self-consciousness I used to feel, sitting here in the car, while everybody else’s kids walked to the school 2 blocks away.
In spite of its significance, yesterday morning waiting for the little bus was like most mornings. Except that I decided to turn on the radio. I leaned forward, and turned my attention to the buttons and dials on the dashboard. A high pitched anxious voice piped up from the back seat, ” No, no, no…. – head back, head back!”. I gave the expected response, “Head is back,” and i pressed the back of my head into the headrest, and adjusted my gaze straight out the front window. I waited for the next compulsive request, and it came immediately, “hands down!“. “Hands are down”, I gave the required reply and adjusted my hands so that my right hand rests on the right thigh visible to him, and the left hand is out of his sight. That is the way we wait. It has to be the same each day. “Bus?” requests the singsong voice from the back seat. “Bus is coming in 5 minutes” was my reply. Although N does not understand time, I believe that a number gives him an idea of how long before it comes.
N watched, as he always does, for the other signs indicating the little bus arrival is imminent, all the while uttering his stream of nonsense autistic self-babble talk. First event: the girl across the street comes out the front door, goes around back to the gate to make sure it is locked, and then heads to school. A wave to me. Second event: the other little bus goes by from the opposite direction, driven by the crazy bus driver lady who takes the corner at breakneck speed, with the rear of the bus bouncing with violence. Then the third signal, the big black Escalade goes roaring by in the opposite direction, transporting the perfect kids from the perfect family around the corner to their perfect private school, and their sweep along the road as always read like an exclamation mark! For N it read – here comes the bus!
Sure enough, it rounded the corner and the little bus turned on its lights. “Bus is here” I exclaimed, and Nick looked down the street. I got out, scurried around to his door and opened it for him. Then I said “hop out”. If I don’t say it, he will say it for me. As usual it took Nick a few moments to adjust to the open door and get himself out of the car. Then he took a few more minutes to adjust to his out-of-door surroundings. There was alot of waiting going on around us: the bus is driver waiting; the kids on the bus are waiting and watching with a mixture of curiosity and mild fear; the drivers on the street are waiting for the flashing red lights to stop so they can get going on their way. I didn’t push, I let him take his time. I paused to remember this moment, last bus trip to our community school. Everything seemed to stand still, then that big smile appeared on his face, and he started to walk to the door. At the door I hand him his backpack and wish him my love and a good day, and watch them drive off. I wave to N but as always he does not wave back. I just see those blue eyes looking back at me through the window, never giving up a their secrets.
A new adventure begins, summer camp!