Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Third grade or bussed

Bud's been in third grade for over a month now and he seems to be off to a terrific start despite a few - er - speed bumps we encountered early on.

Let me back up. It all started sometime in early August, when I got a letter from the school department notifying me that because of a necessary shift in bus routes, Bud's school day would be starting a half hour later than it had in the past. Like most people, I had a knee-jerk reaction to the unanticipated announcement: "That won't work. I can't get to work that late." So, before I did a moment of problem-solving, I dashed off an e-mail to the special ed department inquiring about the accommodations that are made for students like Bud who take the bus - Is there a bus aide?, I wondered. Is there a "special ed" bus? I wanted to gather as much information as I could as I formulated a plan. I got a quick response from the inclusion coordinator, who said she'd look into it.

The weeks passed and I realized that my initial reaction was the kind of panic that's borne of unexpected change, and was not routed in any real need for me to arrive at my office at a particular time. I rearranged my schedule to accommodate a later drop-off for Bud, and promptly forgot about my earlier inquiries.

Fast forward to August 26, Bud's first day of school. I was unsure about what to expect from Bud. For the entire second half of second grade - from January till June - Bud cried nearly every day at drop-off - big, soggy, woeful, sad goodbyes that started each day with a broken heart for both of us. I'd seen a turn-around, though, in summer school - four mornings a week that Bud enjoyed and looked forward to. By the end of the summer, most of our drop-offs were tear- free. And besides that, Bud seemed to be looking forward to third grade; he seemed ready for it.

He was in a cooperative mood as we got ready for school that morning, and I was feeling hopeful about making an easy transition. It was just about that time that I looked out the window and saw it: there was a full-size school bus in front of my driveway. I walked outside tentatively and the bus's big doors opened.

As I walked toward the bus, I called to the bus driver, "Are you here for Bud?"

She said she was.

I walked to the door and said, "There must be a mistake. I didn't know you were coming. Bud's autistic - he can't really manage a bus."

"Yes, that's why I'm here. He's the only child on my route."

I stared at her, blinking, while the sentence registered. Then I stepped up and glanced down the long, vast expanse of empty bus.

"This whole bus is for Bud?" I said.

"Yes," she answered.

I looked down the long aisle again. The seats and floor were pristine. I sniffed. The air was full of new bus smell.

"Is this a brand new bus?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered.

"They sent a whole brand new bus just for Bud?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered.

I stood dumbfounded, struggling to make sense of what was going on. I knew I couldn't plop Bud down on the bus and send him merrily on his way. But, my goodness, they'd sent him his own bus, for heaven's sake! It felt ungrateful to simply send it away.

"The thing is," I said, "Bud is a kid who needs preparation. He needs to know what to expect. And I didn't know you were coming."

"Somebody should have called you," she said.

"Right," I answered, "but they didn't. And so I've never even mentioned the possibility of a bus to him. We haven't talked about it at all. I mean, there is just NO WAY that he is getting on this bus today."

"Well, maybe he'd like to just come and look at it," she suggested.

My mind raced. Was that a good idea or a bad one? There was no way to know.

"I'll go get him," I said.

I went back inside and approached Bud. "Hey, Bud," I said as jovially as I could. "There's a school bus outside! Do you want to see it?"

"Okay," he said, following me outside. As we hit the driveway he began to suspect that something might be afoot and he added, "I don't want to ride a bus."

"No, not today," I said. "Today we're just looking at it." Bud climbed on board and the bus driver introduced herself. He walked down the aisle and looked around. He remained calm.

"Maybe someday you'd like to take a bus," I said.

"No," he replied.

"Well, not today," I said. "Maybe someday." We said goodbye to the bus driver, then piled in the car, now running late on the first day of third grade. As we drove, I could feel Bud's anxiety rising.

"I don't take a bus to school," he said. "I just ride with Mom." I assured him that he was right, and I didn't push any further. Despite that, his anxiety was high enough to produce tears at drop-off, so I left his classroom quickly and went off in search of someone from the special ed team. I found Bud's OT in the hallway and gave her the run-down on the bus situation. We quickly brainstormed - Would riding the bus be a good thing for Bud? Was there a way we could make it work? Could we create a social story? Maybe I could ride with him the first time? Or even the first week? The team set to work creating a plan and said they'd contact the bus company.

As the morning progressed, my anxiety grew. Questions and fears raced through my mind. Did the bus have seat belts? Would somebody be waiting for Bud when the bus pulled up at the school? What would the bus driver do if Bud started crying, started panicking, started screaming, started throwing himself around the bus? What would happen if there was a thunderstorm while he was on the bus? And what about global warming for heaven's sake? Could I really justify the use of a whole school bus just for transporting my child to school???

After a few agonizing hours, I called the special ed team back and left a lengthy voice mail message. We didn't need a bus. We didn't want a bus. What we needed was a smooth transition to third grade, and we didn't need to complicate it by throwing Bud a bus-shaped curve ball. I told them to stop the preparations and to call off the bus.

The next morning we were into the final stages of getting ready when I looked out the window and saw the bus back at the end of the driveway. I said nothing to Bud, but slipped out the door, gave the driver a hundred apologies, and sent her on her way. She asked what my concerns were and I gave her the run-down, but told her that, ultimately, it was just too big a change for Bud right now. Someday, maybe. But not now. She was terrific, and said she understood completely. She said she'd let the bus company know, and gave me the manager's phone number in case I wanted to call to talk about options for the future - in a month, in January, next year. I thanked her again, tucked the phone number into my bag, and promptly forgot all about it.

The next day was bus-free and Bud and I finally started to establish a new third grade drop-off routine. Over the next few weeks, we fell into a regular - though perhaps not yet easy - pattern to transition him to his school day. Things finally started to feel predictable.

I was more than a little startled, then, when one morning about three weeks later, as Bud climbed into the car to go to school, I opened the garage door to find a mini bus parked at the end of my driveway.

"I don't want to take a bus!" Bud cautioned. I just shook my head and walked down the driveway, sure that somehow the driver had made a mistake and was at the wrong house.

She hadn't, and she wasn't.

I told her about our earlier bus confusion, about the concerns I'd had, about the decision we'd made to scrap the bus idea entirely.

She knew about my concerns. She said they'd sent a small bus because they knew that a large one was too scary for him. They'd created a three-child route because riding alone was too overwhelming. What else could they do, she wondered, to make this work for us?

My friend Kiki would call this "too helpful by half."

I thanked her profusely, gushed at their accommodation, and gave her the old "it's not you, it's me." I told her that he just wasn't ready to take another big step, then I sent the bus away and drove behind it all the way to school.

Later, the manager of the bus company called me. She apologized and said that she'd intended to call me the previous week to talk about the new plan, but had obviously forgotten. She wanted to know if there was anything else they could do, and then told me she'd make a note in the file that said that I would call them if I wanted to revisit the transportation issue.

That was two weeks ago. Now Bud's back into the new routine - the one in which he greets Ms. Brett, the wonderful paraprofessional who requested to stay with him in third grade after working with him through a very difficult second grade year, by walking through the school door each morning, seeing her, and groaning in a loud voice "Oh no! It's YOU again!," then tugs at my sleeve and pleads half-heartedly "No, Mama, wait, Mama, no, no, no," until I leave and he cheerfully walks to his classroom with his good friend Ms. Brett, ready to start another great day at school.

So, as I said, all things considered, Bud seems to be off to a terrific start in third grade. I can't help myself, though - now that a couple of weeks have passed and we're into October I keep peeking out the window as we get ready to leave in the morning. Call me crazy, but I just feel certain that any day now they'll be sending us a chauffeured limousine.


Anonymous said...

What an awesome post! I don't know what I find more compelling: that you have a school district and bus company so invested in pleasing you and serving Bud, or that three times people forgot to call you, resulting in these unexpected bus appearances!! This is a tale I won't soon forget.

I'm very happy to hear about this great start to third grade!

Ange said...

wow. I can't even imagine having that type of relationship with Bubba's school. How great to know that everyone is so willing to be helpful and do what is best for Bud. For example, our paras are not respected as equal team members, and for the most part it is the 'practice' that they cannot have the same kid for more than half of the day or for more than one year. Paras aren't allowed to attend IEP meetings even though they are the glue across all school environments. Staff receives training on restraint but not on positive behavior supports. I am envious! It sounds like Bud has one model school!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jordan. I really don't know what's more astonishing. The mystery bus that arrives with no warning, or the fact that they care enough to keep sending it (in all its various incarnations).

Lovely to find you here, by the way. Missed you.

Niksmom said...

My first thought on seeing the title was that Bud has a girlfriend. Actually, it sounds like he *does* in the form of the bus driver. Man, what a good sport and what a great story.

You can bet the stretch limo will be a Hummer. ;-)

Anonymous said...

You should kiss every member of your IEP team. You have no idea how lucky you are. I have had to file for hearing just to get basic restraint safety procedures put in place.

PS where do you live and are there any houses for sale there?

Anonymous said...

I am pleased to hear that they transportation department and school division were on the ball for you. Perhaps the wrong ball, but a ball nonetheless.

And cheers to a great start! Every child should have a Miss Brett. so much can be taught with the consistency and skill of teachers like her. To me, they are not 'para', they are as professional as I am and often have more insight and ideas than those 'degreed up' folks.

Perhaps in time, if Bud has the opportunity to ride the yellow bus for field trips etc (with Miss Brett) he may find the bus an adventure he wants to try. And if not, that's okay too.

I am still trying to find my way with my new job and my new challenges. The kids are amazing, wonderful, eager, joyful, tearful and above all need a "4" in their lives for some consistency. so pat yourself on the back tonight MomNOS, you are doing the best thing; by loving and being Bud's mom and adventure guide! I wish I had parents like you for my new brood!

Quirky Mom said...

What an amazing story! What a lucky Bud! I'm on pins and needles wondering what vehicle will appear next. A fire truck? An army tank?

Anonymous said...

What an embarrassment of riches! You're so lucky to have such an on-top-of-things school system.

Pity they're not that good at remembering to contact you with their (no sarcasm) bright plans, but these things, they do happen.

kristina said...

Having just written about the schoolbus issue, this post is good tidings of more good to come.

KAL said...

Wow, amazing! Glad third grade is off to a such a great start.

Kitt said...

Wow. An embarrassment of riches indeed! How wonderful that they are trying so hard to accommodate you. Someday Bud will be ready for that bus. Whichever one it is.

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful that the year has started off well for you both, and it's pretty amazing that your bus company is so accommodating. We've been pretty fortunate with busses, drivers and aides as well and it makes a huge difference in Gus's day. The first year we lived here I was brought to tears one day when I realized he actually had friends on the bus - kids giving him high-5's in the hallway one day when I was visiting. It blew me away. He really looks forward to the ride every day, even though there's only one other boy on his run now.

Marcy said...

This post just cracks me up! Maybe they'll send a tandem bicycle next? I love that they care enough to try, even when you tell them no. They care. I can think of some districts that wouldn't even try.

kristi said...

My goodness. They tried, huh??
TC rides the daycare bus. He does very well....the special needs bus is offered, but I don't get off work in time to be home for that option is out.
I am glad this year is going good for you and Bud!

mommy~dearest said...

OMG- you have bus stalkers.

So glad to hear things are going well so far! Jaysen takes the bus this year (he's the only kid on the route too), and it's just what we (he) needed- tear free sendoffs!

Stimey said...

This is absolutely hilarious. I don't even know what I would do if an unexpected bus showed up at my door.

I'm glad things are going well, bus or no!

Drama Mama said...

So happy for Bud, and his happy start to 3rd grade.

And given the Spec Ed service around these parts, stunned at your district's perseverance.

And hopeful that the rest of the country will catch up.

Shelli Stanley said...

Bud sounds like a great little boy--and I love the way you write about him. Parts of your story remind me of my son and our change in routine this year starting first grade.

mama edge said...

I can't decide if this story is hilarious or disturbing. A whole bus for one child? There has to be a reason -- maybe a budget line that they have to spend? If so, I'd suggest to them that they give the money to you as your son's alternate transportation provider. You certainly have earned it.

Michelle O'Neil said...

Oh my God! By the time the mini-bus arrived this was starting to read like a Steven King novel.

ACK! THE BUS! It's baaaaack.

Anonymous said...

omg!! I wouldn't know how to handle that either but I think you did well. At least ya know when it comes to transportation Bud is taken care

Anonymous said...

Naturally I have 1,000 thoughts on this, though so many have commented already it seems mostly unnecessary. I'll make only this peripheral point in the spirit of how your blog applies to all children and families: why are we so obsessed with the safety of our children -- as well as the use of seat belts -- yet not enough to put seat belts in school busses? It makes me nuts.

farmwifetwo said...

Both of mine take the bus.. so we have 2 of them come to the door since little boy rides the spec ed bus.

He loves it. He get perturbed if they have to go off route (someone is ill) but this year he's first home and last picked up so that's no longer an issue. He was a bit put-out the first day when he realized they weren't going to the other girl's house but after a few days got the new routine.

The bus driver just ignored the tears and once to school was all smiles for his EA (same one as last year - great transition into Gr 2).

Have you considered having him only travel one way on the bus. Following the bus home where he can see you from the bus. Following the bus to school with him in the vehicle. So that he learns the buses route, learns that his EA will be right there meeting the bus.

We transitioned the eldest onto the bus slowly... little boy went with Mom to school the first day to class, 2nd day to the playground, 3rd day on the bus both directions.

I'd take as long as he needs. Is there even some way you can ride it with him the first day... etc.