It's 6:45 AM on any given school day. We're standing in our driveway, my boy in my arms as always, a Thomas backpack slung over his diminutive shoulders. He's staring at his timer with the weight of the world and it's worries far from his conscious.
He hears it coming down the street. I see his hands begin to flutter as his lips struggle to release the word on the tip of his tongue. "B-b-b-b-us! Bus!" he says with the enthusiasm that can only be unleashed in the form of a very young child. I take the timer from his hands and place it on the trunk of my car just inside the garage. I put him on the ground and take his lunchbox - a matching Thomas number - in one hand and my baby's small hand in the other. We walk that walk to the end of the driveway to meet the bus and the inevitable heartache I feel each day seeing my 3-year old's tiny head just above a school bus window, far too young to be in the world of the "big kids".
I heave my boy's tiny frame up each step - stairs designed not for children as small as he. I hand-over-hand hold his hand fixed to the railing to keep him balanced. His bus driver waits at the top to guide him back towards his seat and strap him in. I wait and watch, looking at my baby as he leaves the safety of my grasp for the bus each morning.
That's when I see it - the cars whip around the side of the bus. There is a STOP sign there. Our neighborhood also forms a giant loop and - with us living towards the very back - they could just as easily go one way as the other. Instead of turning around, they whip around the school bus like it is no big deal. Like waiting a few minutes for my boy to get on the bus and get buckled into his seat is more than they can bear.
Now, Jack isn't on a lift bus, which tends to alert people more to the fact that they are seeing a special needs bus, so I don't expect people to just infer it. However, this isn't a special needs thing. It's a matter of decency. You don't run a stop sign at a school bus stop. It's dark outside and how do they know that there isn't a child running from across the street to get on the bus?
Normally, that's the extent of it - people swerving around the bus, too impatient to wait for my boy to get secured in his seat - but then came the day where someone rolled down their window. She poked her head out, obviously annoyed at the wait, and asked why it took so long every morning for the bus to get going after stopping at my house.
Now, this neighbor is one that I haven't held in high regard. I hear her yelling at her children with such anger in her voice as her children play. I hear her annoyance with her children. I know that children can be trying to say the least, but as a special needs mom, I also have a different perspective that doesn't allow me to fully understand the contempt with kids being typical kids. I find it hard to find anger and annoyance in the everyday follies of a child.
I felt the anger rise in my chest. The ignorance and lack of understanding from my neighbors had come to a head and I felt so incensed at it all. The feeling that we are living in a world that no longer focuses on community and centers more around the individual was more than I could bear. We're so concerned for our lives that a school bus is nothing more than an inconvenience?
As I opened my lips to speak, I paused and took a deep breath. This is not who you are. You are the bigger person. You treat your neighbors better than this. I took a second breath and responded.
"My son rides the special needs school bus. It takes the driver a moment to strap him into his seat, but I really appreciate your patience in the meantime."
I could see the look on her face. It registered. The fact that I carry my boy in my arms. That I have to help lift him onto the bus. The fact that he is so very small. The fact that he doesn't ride the same bus as her children, even though we share matching elementary school bumper stickers on our cars. The fact that I have a puzzle piece wreath on my door and that we have blue exterior lighting throughout the month of April. It clicked. She knew. She withdrew into her car silently. I kept my composure, which was the best I could do. I spoke calmly and - hopefully - helped educate someone.
I wondered for the rest of the day what she was thinking. Did she feel remorse? Did I care, really? Ultimately, I just wanted her to think twice before speaking, which I hope I accomplished. I have no idea, but if just one person shows more compassion rather than inconvenience in a similar situation, then I will have done my job as my child's first advocate.