Part of what we do as parents is walk a constant tightrope between what makes our kids comfortable and what makes them grow. I think we all do it. It’s such a delicate balance to strike, under the best of circumstances, and what I’m learning with my son is that his particular tightrope is thirty stories up. And occasionally lit on fire. And I’m on it, trying not to fall off.
In Monkey’s case, he has a specific set of social and behavioral challenges, right? And we desperately want to help him overcome those challenges. But a lot of things are hard for him that just aren’t for me or Otto or his sister, and knowing when to push it and when to say “enough” is getting harder as he gets older.
I guess wrong a lot. It sucks. It sucks for him and it makes me wonder if I’ll ever get to where I KNOW things with him instead of the clueless flailing I feel like I do most of the time.
This year, the bus became An Issue.
Prior to this year, both kids always went to the same school. Chickadee—much to her chagrin—was tasked with keeping an eye on her brother on the bus. She whined and complained about it, but the truth is that she dislikes putting up with him slightly less than she dislikes seeing him getting into trouble, so when it came down to him having a problem, most often the story included “And then Chickie put her hand over my mouth so I stopped talking” or “But then Chickie told him to stop picking on me.” She’s a marvelous big sister when she needs to be.
But this year, Chickadee moved on to the middle school, leaving Monkey to ride the bus alone. Furthermore, he’d switched schools, so it was a new bus driver and a new group of kids.
We wrestled with it. In the end, we decided that we wouldn’t make him ride in the morning; for one thing, on nice days we can walk (which is a great way to start the day for a kid who can always use a bit of vestibular regulation), and for another, we want to make sure he arrives at school in a good mood. So in the morning we walk or drop him off, but he rides the bus home.
And he hates it. And I make him ride anyway because it’s “good” for him to learn to deal with it.
The bus is loud. The bus is filled with big, foul-mouthed kids who pick on other kids. “Just sit in your seat and read a book,” we tell him. “It’s not a long ride. Just tough it out. You can do this.”
There have been multiple bus incidents. A few months back Monkey came inside wailing hysterically, telling me I had to go talk to the bus driver. It turned out that another child had punched him. But the bus driver wanted to tell me that Monkey had instigated it; Monkey was “pushing the other child” and this kid was just “retaliating in kind” after Monkey “whipped him with his jacket” while getting off the bus. Turns out that this kid was sticking his arms over the seat into Monkey’s space, and Monkey had asked him to please stop, and he wouldn’t, so Monkey tried to clear the space. Later he kind of flounced out of his seat and his jacket hit the other kid. I’m not saying my kid handled it perfectly, but let’s also note for the record that Monkey is approximately half this other child’s size. And Monkey pushed on his arms, while this other kid PUNCHED HIM IN THE HEAD.
The bus driver insisted Monkey was “barely touched” and was “just being melodramatic.” Monkey had a GIANT goose egg on his head. I insisted she write up the incident and she told me that if I was going to “make” her do that, she would be writing Monkey up as well. I told her to do what she needed to do. Monkey now has a behavioral incident on his permanent record, and it says that he was the instigator. Even though the other kid was fine. Even though the other kid provoked him. Even though he is supposed to be protected by his IEP from EXACTLY this sort of thing.
I spoke the the IEP committee. I spoke to school officials. He didn’t want to get back on the bus, but I made him. Because I was assured he would be okay, and because I think it’s a life skill he needs. Because he has to learn to put his head down and endure, sometimes. Because I wanted to believe the people who told me he’d be fine.
And I’m just going to say it: The bus driver is of a different ethnicity than us. And the other child involved is of that same ethnicity. And the bus driver clearly cannot STAND my child and talked to me like he was some shit she’d just scraped off her shoe, and I went over and over it with Otto, afterward, because—as I said to him—it cannot be possible that the subtext of “You think your horrible child should be treated better than us because you’re white” was really there, right? Because how could that be.
Twice more I was called out to the bus for “incidents” that made it clear that the bus driver had been informed of Monkey’s IEP and she just wanted to make sure that I understand what a terrible burden it is to her to have to drive my son five minutes to our door. One time she swore he’d misbehaved terribly (even though the other kid involved was right there going “no he didn’t”), and another time he’d hit his head and she wanted to make sure I knew that no one else was involved. Like maybe the CRAYZEE WHITE LADY would sue, or something. I don’t know.
And Monkey asks at least once a week to please not have to ride the bus. And at least once a week I tell him that sometimes in life we have to do things we don’t like very much.
Two days ago I was called out to the bus so that she could tell me that Monkey and another child had squabbled, and when told to be quiet, my charming son had retorted, “No, YOU be quiet.”
Let’s be clear: I don’t like this woman; I think she’s definitely not very nice and also quite possibly racist, but my children aren’t allowed to speak to adults (or anyone, really) that way. I apologized for his behavior and assured her that it would be dealt with. Back inside the house, I got Monkey’s side of the story. And even after cross-examination and combing through every detail, one key point stood at the end of it all:
She told him to SHUT UP.
I’m never going to tell you that my child is easy, and lord knows there are times when I’m tempted to speak to him unkindly because I’m at my wits’ end, but no. NO. You don’t get to tell my kid to shut up. You just DON’T.
We could fight; we could call for her dismissal, we could kick up a fuss, I could, furthermore, demand that they remove the previous incident from his record because CLEARLY this woman has no business working with children or making determinations about who’s in the wrong. We could do all of those things.
Except that I’m tired and my child has had enough.
Oh, I sent out the email. I let the entire IEP team and the principal of the school know what had happened. I told them that I would now be rearranging my schedule to provide transportation for my child, and that it’s a SHAME because I’m pretty sure the district is legally obligated to provide said transport, but that I can no longer in good conscience send my child into such a stressful situation every single day.
“Anyone who knows Monkey knows that he is most likely to act up in a situation where he doesn’t feel that he is safe,” I wrote to them. “I think by now we can all agree that he doesn’t feel safe on the bus, and with good reason.”
I want to be furious. I was furious, at first. Now I’m just tired. I am a product of public schools. I BELIEVE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Even this particular public school has gone above and beyond for us in certain ways, but in so many ways they are just failing us, over and over, and I can’t keep letting my child pay the price.
So now I pick him up. And wrestle with the guilt of letting him ride for so long with that horrible woman. And in my mind’s eye I see a countdown clock, and I can’t read the numbers, but I know it’s the time we have left before I give up and pull him entirely, and become the world’s most reluctant homeschooler.
And even then, I’ll be on that tightrope… wondering if by keeping him safe I’m robbing him of the experience he needs to grow and endure. All I know is that this PARTICULAR experience is one I was wrong to make him tolerate all those months. And I’m so very sorry I did.