Friday, April 20, 2012

The school bus

The white buses that go around our borough, transporting 'special' kids to somewhere that clearly isn’t their local school – they look to me like a symbol of ‘other’. Before I had Amy, I’d see the buses with their wheelchair symbols on the back, and glimpse the children inside them – but I didn’t have much clue, really, what those children were like or where they might be going for the day. (A few years ago one of the buses used to stop on the street where we lived at the time, collecting the boy who lived in the upstairs flat of the house next door. He used to scream, loudly – we could hear him through the wall sometimes. “Why don’t the parents do something about that?” I used to think. We never spoke, and they moved away.)

As of this week, a white bus now stops at our door in the mornings, picks up my four-year-old daughter in her wheelchair, and takes her on a circuitous route through slow-moving rush-hour traffic to her ‘special’ school three and a half miles away. And then brings her back in the afternoons, where I receive her like a long-awaited package that has to be checked and signed for. (It’s okay: I don’t actually have to sign anything.)

It makes sense, really, for her to take the bus. Nearly all the kids at her school go there by bus. She started school well over a year ago, and since then I’ve been taking her there and back myself. I liked doing it (at least in principle) – I liked talking to her teacher each day, and seeing for myself that she was settled in her classroom. But it was a daily challenge getting two kids to two schools in completely different bits of the borough, picking them up again, and trying to fit in a small amount of my own work in between. The bus allows a bit of breathing space, and an extra hour or two has magically appeared in the day. Waving Amy off, I have that old, well-remembered feeling that I had when my children were tiny and I left them with child-minders for the first time – liberation and guilt all mixed up complicatedly together.

It’s hard, though, to let go of Amy. I couldn’t quite believe I was doing it. After she’d gone off on the bus the first day, I found myself – feeling slightly foolish – behind the wheel of my car, following the usual route, just so I could see for myself how it all worked. I lurked, wobblingly, in the staff car-park, waiting for the bus to arrive and watching as the doors opened and Amy descended, to an effusive welcome from her support-workers. I was discovered, of course, by staff who were simultaneously amused and sympathetic at my antics. In my head, I'm glad that Amy’s at such a good school, where they understand her and meet her needs so well. But it still hurts my heart that she needs to be there, that she can’t go to the same school as her older sister and live the same untroubled life.

As with so many things in our ‘special needs’ life, I struggle to work out what my job is. Is it to protect my special girl and keep her with me at all times? Or is it to let her go a bit, just as I do my other, ‘typical’ child, and encourage her to be as independent as she can? For Amy, ‘independence’ will always be a relative concept. She won’t be able to do things for herself, and will always need constant help. But independence is a state of mind. Even Amy, little as she is, needs a bit of space, to be with her buddies, to not have her mother hovering anxiously over her all the time.

I wish she could tell me what she thinks of the whole thing and what it’s really like for her. But yesterday morning, as the bus pulled up outside our door, I said “Amy, here’s the BUS”, and she beamed. And when she came home, I asked her if she liked going to school on the bus, and she beamed some more. It’s a different kind of ‘letting go’ with Amy than with her sister. But letting go is good for all of us.

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Catriona is a writer, blogger, idealist and resister of the idea that ‘special parents have special children’. She lives in London and blogs at Living with Rett Syndrome.


  1. This usually happens when observing special kids. Though you have to be well aware of their dental needs too with dentist summerville.

  2. My daughter is 4 and I am having a tug of war with myself trying to decide what to do about transportation. She is non verbal and goes with the flow of any/everything. I have high anxiety and find that I over think way too much. I worry the driver will be texting or on the phone, I worry that the driver or aide will be mean or do worse to her and she will have no way to tell me. I told myself that I (or family) will transport her until she is verbal - which I'm starting to wonder if that will ever happen.