He’s been riding them for years. Some were terrible, others were okay. One was great.
One night while giving C a bath, I noticed small red marks all over his torso. He couldn’t tell me their origin, but after some cajoling I came to understand that his bus matron was pinching him when he was “too loud.”
This was a low point, but there were others. One short bus was just a beat-up yellow minivan blasting reggae music. Other buses had no a/c despite New York City’s notoriously hot and soggy summers. One had no heat: foggy clouds emanated from the driver’s mouth as he greeted C one January morning.
One belched blue smoke and broke down regularly. It died its final death on a highway overpass during rush hour. The matron had to transfer the kids through traffic to a replacement bus when it arrived an hour later. Another short bus was perpetually late and the bus company’s only phone number was a single cell phone. Always busy.
These stories aren’t unique to C’s buses. One friend waited two hours for his autistic son to arrive home. The driver wasn’t responding to calls from the bus company, and no one knew where they were or why they were late. No explanation was offered.
Another parent’s non-verbal autistic child was dropped off at the wrong stop. Fortunately, a good samaritan saw the young boy wandering around, realized something was amiss, and went to work figuring out where the boy belonged. Had it not been for the kind stranger, all could have ended badly.
People make fun of short buses. In fact, the term “short bus” is often used as an ableist slur, one so common even evangelical Mike Huckabee thought it was an appropriate way to insult people. (Which begs the question, is there an appropriate way to insult people?)
But these short buses aren’t a joke, and they’re far more than a utility; for special needs parents, they’re a lifeline. And all we ask is that our kids make it from home to school and back without incident. We entrust our children to strangers who earn little more than minimum wage, and who have little if any training in special needs. And, in fairness, most of them do their jobs competently, if with little enthusiasm.
Last week, however, we said goodbye to a very good bus. A great bus, in fact. It was clean and dent-free. It was quiet, with tinted windows to reduce heat and glare. Both the air conditioning and heat were effective, and it hummed like a sewing machine. Oh, and it was a hybrid.
None of that made the bus great, however. Alex and Mariana, the driver and matron, made the bus great.
Each morning C is greeted with big smiles. “Good morning, C!” they cheer. Mariana asks how his day is going so far. “Great!” he says as he bounds up the bus steps, backpack flopping behind him.
C taps the dashboard clock when he gets on, time being something of an obsession for him. Some drivers have scowled, one used to swat his hand away, as if the clock were some kind of mission-critical flight instrumentation. Not Alex: he laughs, confirms the time with C, and gives him a fist bump or high five. And why not? You could set your watch by Alex’s arrival times. And when the bus is running behind, they send texts so we can prepare C to deal with his “schedule anxiety.”
Some matrons report every infraction—he was too loud; he banged on the bus window; he yelled when we got stuck in traffic—but not Mariana. On the occasions when I’ve asked how C is behaving, she smiles and says, “He’s fine.” Translation: “Sure, he sometimes does things he shouldn’t, but we’ve got this.” (Thank you for not making everything a problem we have to solve.)
C rides the bus for up to three hours every school day, and for the past several months, we’ve had the good fortune of knowing he’s riding with Alex and Mariana, two people who not only do their job ably, but who genuinely care about the children in their charge. Two people who won’t earn any extra money for being good and kind, but who do so anyway.
Sadly, today was C’s last day on the best short bus he’s ever had. We’re grateful for the peace of mind you’ve given us, Alex and Mariana, and for the care and affection you’ve shown our son. Maybe, if the stars align, you’ll be picking C up again in the Fall. Either way, you’ll always hold a special place in our hearts.