Charlie on the bus: What you can know and what you can’t (#456)

Everybody has a bus story.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to say, everybody would like to know what the story is on the bus: What exactly happens during those minutes from the time we stand on the sidewalk waving and calling out “bye, I love you!” to the wind, and (by the teacher’s report), one’s child emerges from the yellow doors, minus a shoe, with pants askew or freshly dampened, even crying?

What are we doing to trust that the little yellow or red or white schoolbuses (sometimes minivans) will make their way through morning traffic with our kids—many of whom, like Charlie, have limited abilities to communicate—peering out the tinted windows? Especially if those kids have only ridden in the backseats of our cars in their trust carseats; if those kids (like Charlie) sometimes erupt into panic, because (unbeknownst to us) they did not see a certain colored-sign, a particular building.

On the first day of school, Charlie’s bus driver had handed me a piece of paper with her cell phone and the bus number written on it the first day; a bus matron always makes sure that Charlie is in his seat and the seatbelt buckled. Over the years of putting Charlie on buses, I have learned that it is best to keep my own communication simple: “He’s tired.” “Humid weather doesn’t agree with him.” “Yes, smiling this morning!” Once on, Charlie is ready to go.

Jim put an eager Charlie on the bus this morning. A few hours later, Charlie’s teacher emailed me to say that Charlie had been crying when they met the bus. She and the instructors were not sure what had set Charlie off; they heard a yell, that may or may not have been from another student, or from Charlie. The bus driver reported that nothing had occurred.

It is one of those things that, in Autismland, I have gotten used to: Not always being able to know “what happened.” I would like to, for sure; would like to still my every mother’s worry by knowing what bothered my boy on that not quite half-hour ride? What would he tell if he had the words? And, even if he could, would he?—might my nine-year-old not be starting to feel there are some things a boy doesn’t need to tell his mom?

What I do know is that Charlie was smiling and laughing by the time he walked to his classroom, and that he stayed that way all day. He snatched bits of watermelon before I could cut them into proper pieces; he ran back and forth up to the porch to look for his ABA therapists and tried out some Kids K’nex; he practised piano, reading off the notes before playing them. He asked for his “hot showah” and to “bwush theeeth.” I sat down to type a letter for a student; after a few minutes of showing, I heard:

“Mahm. Mahm!”

And came in to Charlie’s call for help. He was looking at me big eyed, and wet, through the shower door. “Mahm! Towel. Pants on! Jamas.” And, by 8.30pm, “beddtime.”

“You sure?” I asked. Charlie usually stays up at least until 9pm.

“Beddtime. Goo’ night.”

We read a few pages of a story, I turned out the light, and Charlie was asleep before 9pm.

Whatever happened on the bus, Charlie knows and—as I learn again each day—he knows best.

10 Responses to “Charlie on the bus: What you can know and what you can’t (#456)”
  1. So very true Kristina, the curiousity of what happens away from us, and especially those bus rides. I LOVE the picture of Charlie waiting for the bus. It says “hmmmmmmm….” all over it.

  2. Lisa/Jedi says:

    Ah… the bus. Most of my childhood bus-memories are happy, thank goodness. My favourite place to sit is right over the back wheels because it so much bumpier 🙂 B does not ride the bus daily because his psychologist doesn’t think he has the coping skills yet, so I drive him 4 days a week (dad takes Wednesdays, since he only works 1/2 days, which is a nice respite for me). Since I don’t work outside the home I’ve gotten in the habit of hanging out at school, helping out & visiting, & I think I’d miss that social contact very much if I didn’t have it. B did take a bus from school to the local Y for swim & gym for 3 years. The first year was difficult, too much noise & confusion, & we ended-up sending tape player & headphones so he could listen to a book on tape during the 10-minute ride. As he got older he coped better & there were sufficient adults on board to forestall any bus-teasing. B’s best buddy, who rides the bus daily to his suburban school, has had a terrible time with nastiness & teasing on the bus, & it has contributed greatly to his feeling an outcast at school. Sigh. I’m glad your bus driver was happy to give you their cell # & open the way to good communication. And I’m glad Charlie usually does well on his ride to school 🙂

  3. tara says:

    It is so hard to let go of our kids even if it is only for a half hour bus ride.
    Thankfully, Owen and I enjoy a short stroll to school every morning, so the bus was never a consideration.
    Still, there are so many moments I would like to be privy to during his day and I am not.
    Owen and Charlie are in charge of their days I guess, masters of their own domain, and we have to be satisfied with the parts of their days they will share with us!

  4. Oh what I wouldn’t give to be the invisible mom sitting on the school bus watching what happens to/with Patrick. Same as the school room (he’s been in a kindergarten class for two days so far). The school tells me some stuff and Patrick gives me basics like ‘played with sand’ played with water’ but that doesn’t really tell me WHAT HAPPENED!

    Ugh, this is really hard for me. He’s ready for independance and I’m so not ready!

  5. Meg says:

    The bus, the dreded bus. Fin now takes a bus at the end of the day. Scares the pants off me, but he loves it. It’s “FAST!”. Yikes. Fin is very verbal, but he too has moments of upset that he has no language for. They forever remain a mystery. We often get reports thst he “was sad today” from school. He has no words for that either, just feelings he can’t place, or manage.

  6. enna id says:

    “Not knowing” is the driving force behind my motivation to help my son learn communication skills. Do you have ways to cope with the “not knowing”? Love your blog!

  7. serge's dad says:

    I know exactly what you mean. Every day we have to hand Serge over to a taxi driver we barely know. And I’m sure everything’s fine. But what if?

  8. The great “what if”—-if I think about it too long (perseverate?), too many questions (worries) fill my head…..enna id, thank you, I have been able to cope with “not knowing” (as much as I can) by immersing myself in something else (my job, mainly). And also by learning to “let go,” if only a little—to tell myself that Charlie is indeed growing up (albeit very much at his own pace) and that I need to grow out of my own need to “know everything,” too. It is not easy!

  9. Kat says:

    Oh the bus. My son was on a “little bus” through kindergarten. Then we moved to a small school district that told us “we don’t have little buses”. Who doesn’t have little buses? Reluctantly, they put him on a regular bus and within a week he was a wreck. The lights flash on and off to tell the kids to quiet down. There are no monitors. The bus driver yells. It smells. People sat next to him. I managed to get them to get a monitor on his bus with him and things got better. We even progressed to where we started fading back on the monitor (3 days a week, not 5). Then we moved to a new school. “A monitor on the bus? We can’t do that, he’ll go on the little bus.” But he’s grown past that and we don’t want to go backwards. Today he rides the regular bus. We had trouble at the bus stop and on the bus with a bully, so now there is assigned seating and the bus stops at our house so he doesn’t have to wait at the regular stop. But I often wonder exactly what goes on in that bus. Maybe I’ll put a tape recorder in his jacket one of the days….

    Great post. Thanks!


  10. Julia says:

    Sam’s experience with busses hasn’t been good, the sound of the engine when he’s outside the bus bothers him very badly. We’re planning on driving him at least another year after this one.

    His siblings, however, may be up to taking a bus next year. His little brother loved the bus when he went on a field trip on Friday; he was uncertain about getting OFF until he saw me waiting outside the bus (I’d gone to meet them at the destination), but he’d had a very “off” week since his twin sister was home sick almost all week. (You don’t think they need each other, they’re not interacting with each other at school — but it really threw him for a loop not to have her there in the room with him all the time. And she’s a chatterbox, and he apparently felt the need to fill the void with his own chatter while she was absent.)

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