Kinda. There’s no guarantee on that until Mason starts school in a little less than two weeks. But still. I’m back for now. I’ve been meaning to write about Kaleb’s new school for a while now (actually, I have written about Kaleb’s new school – and a million other things – you should see the list of drafts in my folder!). Today though, I’m not writing about the school. Well not much. Just to say this: I REALLY like his new school. And I REALLY like his new teacher. She’s tough, but she’s compassionate, and I think we made the right decision in pairing them together. On an overall scale I am exceptionally pleased at how it’s turned out.
Transportation though? That’s a whole different ball game.
Allow me to give you a little bit of insight into our history with the Transportation department for our county’s public schools.
When Kaleb was three he started going to School A. He went five days a week from 11-2. That first year I drove him back and forth – which was a pain for many reasons. First, our car does not get good city mileage, and his school was a good 7 miles from our house. In this town, that’s a minimum 15 minute commute if you don’t hit any lights (and I’m cursed, so I always hit the lights). Second, Mason was an infant – and it was always a nightmare to try and juggle Kaleb’s drop off and pick up times with Mason’s nap schedule (which was WAY important!). Third, Kaleb really wanted to ride the bus for some reason – but this is one mommy who wasn’t immediately cool with the idea of my baby getting on a bus and being driven around this touristy town by a stranger.
His second year at School A I finally caved and allowed him to ride the bus – for everyone’s sake. The bus would pick him up at the end of the street around 10:30 and drop him off at the end of the street at 2:30. This was mostly fine and dandy, save for the whole “end of the street” part. Kaleb isn’t the most observant child in the world when it comes to his surroundings. Now, he’ll pick up on every tiny nuance that the grownups around him don’t want him to notice – but a car coming down the road at him? Not so much. Turns out, at that point, his running into traffic was the least of our worries. One morning Kaleb was having a rough time pulling himself together, and it was one of those I really hope he calms down before school days.
Not that he actually made it to school. The bus got two minutes down the road and I got a phone call informing me I had to come get him off the bus. I’m still not 100% on what happened to set Kaleb off – but what was very obvious, was that Kaleb had a total meltdown. In the process of this, he got out of his seat and kicked his bus aid in the back – sending her to the E.R. and placing her on medical leave for about a month with a spinal injury. Kaleb was 3 years old. We called an IEP meeting and began to implement a harness on the bus – for his safety and the safety of everyone else on the bus.
Of course, shortly after this, Kaleb was transferred to the full day program. Because we did not want to transfer him from School A to School B in the middle of the year, we got a variance and kept him at School A until the end of the year. Now the real fun begins. Because we have a variance, the bus will no longer come to our street – let alone our neighborhood. Nope. For the following half of the year I had to pack up little Mason, hustle both boys in the car, and every morning drive Kaleb two miles away from our house to wait at a bus stop in another neighborhood. At 6:30am. Pain in the butt? Absolutely. Did I consider just driving him each day? Absolutely. But when it came right down to it – the total fifteen minutes in the morning it took for us to get to the stop, get Kaleb on the bus, and get home was still better than the cash we’d spend in gas driving back and forth to the school. Even if it was at the crack of dawn.
So, enter year 3. Now Kaleb is officially in the full-day Preschool program. One more year until Kindergarten (his birthday is past the deadline to start kindergarten at 5). So, on to School B. You already know all about School B. More than 17 suspensions in three months time. Constant battles over IEPs, Testing, etc. School B was a nightmare of epic proportions. But it all started with Transportation. We were back to Kaleb getting picked up at the end of the street. Better than two miles away? Duh. But still highly dangerous. Not to mention the added level of danger with having soon-to-be two year old Mason out on a main road when he’s OBSESSED with chasing cars. Yes, you read that right. My dog chases his shadow – my kid chases cars. We’re definitely abnormal around here.
For the first few weeks the bus is stopping at the curb. Once the bus driver realizes that there is heavy traffic on the road he started to turn down our road and stopped in front of a house at the end of the street. Every day when he would pick up Kaleb and drop him off, he’d drive right past our house. Aside from the fact that we were still way too close to the main road for my comfort, now they were driving right past the house! I was getting more and more frustrated each day – as Kaleb got more daring each day and was darting further into the road. And I’ll say it again for good measure - they were driving right past our house!
So, we call a meeting, where I request to have the transportation altered to pick him up at the house. For his safety, Mason’s safety, and just plain common sense. After a 45 minute meeting, I am informed that Kaleb does not have a “physical disability” so therefore they refuse to offer him curbside service. Are you kidding me? Being unable to control himself when he gets overwhelmed or overstimulated and running into traffic despite my best efforts to prevent him is not considered a physical disability to you people? Oh no. According to the Transportation department the safety of the child at the bus stop is not their concern – it is a concern for the parent, and is therefore the parent’s problem.
These are the people who my child depends on for safe transport to and from school? Jeez, he’d find more compassion on a Brooklyn subway car. I wanted to stand up and yell at the guy. All I could think was “Have you ever had to chase down a 4 foot tall 50lb autistic child with Hulk-like strength tendencies while keeping a grip on a 2 year old who wanted to chase the same car that was in danger of running down the first child? No? You should try it sometime. Take it from me – it’s no picnic. Hell, it’s nearly impossible.” I didn’t yell (I might have said some of the above though). I kept my temper. I didn’t even cry.
Instead, naturally, I did what any other parent in their right mind would do. I left the school, came home, ranted, raved, yelled at the sky, and finally it hit me. They said I need to have some form of doctor’s note that coincides with my belief that he has a physical disability. Well, it just so happens we had an appointment with his neurologist due to long suspected seizures coming up pretty soon. So for the next week I held my tongue and bid my time. When we got to the neurologist’s office I explained the situation, and found that he was in complete agreement with me. This arrangement was dangerous and it would not do. So, he gave me the note I requested, and then did one better – he informed me that if anyone at the next meeting gave me so much as an ounce of trouble about it, to call him on the phone while in the meeting – inform his secretary who I was and why I was calling, and he would immediately answer and make sure they understood in no uncertain terms that things could not keep going the way they were going.
Two weeks and another (of course, this turned out to be just the first few of MANY) IEP meeting later, Kaleb had curbside pick up and drop off. Now, I had mixed feelings about Kaleb’s bus driver. I liked the aid plenty, but the driver himself I was on the fence about most of the year. He was nice enough – but it didn’t take long for me to realize he was pretty short on patience. But, by the end of the year, I had bigger things to worry about, so that got shoved to the bottom of my list of worries.
At the last meeting we held last school year, the one that decided what school Kaleb would be moving on to (School C), my first question was about his transportation. I wanted to make sure he held on to his curbside service, as I didn’t want to be dealing with the mess again next year. I was assured that his transportation wouldn’t change. Wrong. Sigh…
When I was given the information for Kaleb’s bus schedule at the beginning of the school year I was sincerely angry. After everything we had gone through last year, couldn’t we just once catch a break? Please??
I call Transportation, who calls the school. Now, on this, I really have to give a hand to the Assistant Principal of School C. He jumped right on it – calling to let me know that he had spoken to transportation and would do everything he could to fix the problem. Ummm… what? You’re going to help me?? Really? Really really? Am I being punked? I mean seriously, I’ve become a bit jaded toward public school administration after the last year. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do. Somehow somewhere some line got crossed and his curbside service was trumped by a special stop (meaning the house at the end of the street). UGGGHHHHHH. How did that even happen? He explained to me (I kept my frustration in check seeing as how I actually liked the guy, and appreciated his willingness to help), and I requested another IEP with Transportation to get this straightened out.
That was about three weeks ago, and I still hadn’t heard from the facilitator. However, I had actually decided to let it go – for two reasons. The first, there are actually a group of kids at our bus stop now. They’re all Kaleb’s age, and he really enjoys playing with them each morning. They go to a different school (the one we’re actually zoned for, but doesn’t have any ESE or gifted classes), but their buses come around the same time, so it’s something Kaleb looks forward to. Not to mention, we’ve been in this house for five years – and in all that time, I’ve only met one of my neighbors (and they do not like me at all). I enjoyed having adult conversations for a few minutes each morning with people who actually live on our street.
Second, Mason starts school in 9 days. He will be in the afternoon class at School A, just like his brother. While I’d be willing to drive him, he’s in love with the idea of riding the bus. So, his afternoon bus will drop him off at the same corner as Kaleb at the same time. I certainly can’t have one child being dropped off in one spot, and another somewhere else. So, it would just be easier to have them both dropped off at the corner. Daddy and I were both pleased with this solution, and were willing to drop the whole issue.
Until Thursday. I was informed Wednesday morning by Kaleb’s bus driver that there was going to be a new driver on the route, so that was her last day. A part of me was sad about this – change is hard for Kaleb, and that didn’t give me a lot of prep time. However, this particular bus duo had refused to put Kaleb in his harness during the first few weeks of school, and as a direct result he freaks out whenever they put him in it. Is he getting too big for the harness? Maybe. But I don’t appreciate a bus driver who has only known my child a couple of weeks suggesting I call a meeting and remove the harness from his IEP because she doesn’t like having to put him in it. That particular piece of equipment is there for the safety of EVERYONE – and above all else, the safety of my child. He may not like it – but if my now 62lb five year old has a meltdown on that bus, there’s no way to know what kind of harm he can cause.
Anyway, we get up Thursday morning like usual. We leave at 7am to walk to the bus – now, our normal stop time is supposed to be 7:15 but she was consistently late, so Kaleb usually got about 30 minutes to play with his new friends. His bus ALWAYS came before the other kids’ bus. Not yesterday. Yesterday the other kids all get on the bus and we’re still waiting. Mason is all over the place, Kaleb is getting really antsy, and I’m starting to get worried myself. By 7:35 I’m calling the dispatcher at Transportation, asking if something is going on. We’ve been out there since 7am – that bus should not be anywhere near our house before 7:10, but you never know.
After sitting on hold for 8 minutes I’m getting agitated (come on, really? I gave you the route number, how does it take this long to radio the driver?). Until she gets on the phone and tells me he’s not listed on that route. Ummm come again? He’s been picked up by this bus every day since school started – how could he NOT be on the list? Two minutes later she’s found him – his bus route has been COMPLETELY changed. His route number is now ###, the bus will be coming at 6:45 instead of 7:20. What the hell?
So, let me get this straight. Someone in Transportation deemed it not only acceptable, but wise to alter my 5 year old’s bus route so he has to wake up almost a full hour earlier, memorize a new route number, and nobody thought to tell me????
For the second time in a month I look around and wonder if I’m on Candid Camera right now… if so, there are going to be a lot of bleep! noises. I grab the kids and we race back to the house, where I basically chuck Mason at Daddy, throw Kaleb in the car and race off to the school so Kaleb isn’t late. Of course, it was only as I was en route that I realized not only did I forget his smoothie money, I’m in my freaking pajamas! Ohhhhh man. Pajamas are cool for a bus stop. They are not acceptable attire for the PTA driven mom-tropolis of your child’s elementary school. Crap.
I get Kaleb to school on time (barely). I explain what happened to his teacher – who was just as confused as I was as she’d had two other children switched to Kaleb’s old bus route, but had gotten no notification of Kaleb’s route changing (I’m not the only one being kept in the dark here). I then rush out of there with my baseball hat hiding my tomato colored face of shame as I’m openly gaped at by a bunch of super moms (I know I should not care – but really, of course I do. Eventually I’m going to have to interact with these women, and I’d prefer not to be known as the one who shows up in jammies).
The rest of the day is normal – as normal as we get anyway. Then I get a phone call about five after two. Kaleb missed his bus – because he made a big mess and his teacher made him stay to clean it up (I don’t care that this slightly inconvenienced me – I love this lady! Way to stick to your guns!) – so she’ll call me when he has cleaned his mess so I can come get him. The whole drive home from the school I discuss with Kaleb what it’s going to mean to have a new bus. It’ll be a different bus, a different number (he quickly memorizes it), a different driver, and a different time. We’re going to have to get up super early so he doesn’t miss his bus.
In the end our conversation doesn’t really matter. We get up Friday morning, both of us dragging (I know it’s ridiculous, but that 50 minute difference in wake up times is a bitch). Kaleb is in a wretched mood. Bad enough that I stick a note in his folder trying to give his teacher fair warning that he’s exhausted and crotchety. We eventually get out of the house around 6:35 (the walk to the end of the street only takes two minutes). We stand outside chit-chatting for about two minutes before the bus comes around the corner. Already I’ve noticed a few things I don’t like about this new arrangement. First, it’s crazy early for a five year old with sleep issues. Second, it’s crazy early for a mommy with sleep issues. Third, it’s DARK outside. And if it’s THIS dark in September, just think about how dark it’s going to be in December. But, I grin and bear it, because that’s what we do.
Then the real trouble arrives. The bus gets to the stop, and instead of stopping about 30 yards from the corner where it has been stopping all year – it turns down our road and stops at the first driveway. Already this has got Kaleb in a tizzy. He’s tired, he’s miserable, and the bus is doing it wrong! I remind him that it is Fun Friday at school, and if he misses the bus he’ll be missing that – and he’ll spend the day cleaning his pigsty of a room instead. Well – that at least gets him to walk up to the bus. The doors open, and for a split second we are both so stunned we freeze. Then I glance at Kaleb and I see the change happen right before my eyes. Oh no. This is going to be big, and very, very BAD.
Have you figured out who is driving Kaleb’s new bus yet? That’s right. The driver from last year. From School B. Where Kaleb had what I hope will forever remain as the absolute worst academic year in his history. I see it on his face the minute the thought hits him. He thinks we’re making him go back to School B. At this point my heart is automatically broken for my kid. But we can’t just up and walk away from this. We have to push through it, no matter how miserable it is. He immediately reacts. He starts crying and screaming, so distraught I don’t know how I’m going to get through to him. ”This isn’t where I belong mommy! This is wrong! That’s not my bus! I don’t belong on that bus!”
He’s so completely upset about this I want to take him back home and curl up on the couch with him until he’s better. This just sucks. But I can’t do that – I can’t set a precedent like that. He has to get on the bus, he has to conquer this and get to school. I pick him up off the ground and start to maneuver him onto the bus – no easy feat when there’s 60lbs of uncontrollable muscle fighting me with everything he’s got. Twice I think I’m about to go flying backwards, I can just see my head smacking into the pavement when I land. Luckily, I’ve got just enough strength on him and I manage to get him up on the bus. From there, it takes fifteen minutes for myself, the bus driver, and the aid to get Kaleb into his harness and buckled in properly. About halfway through the struggle to get him strapped in, I’m wrestling him like a pro and he’s screaming that he doesn’t belong on this bus – the bus driver pipes up. Wanna know what he said? To my autistic five year old who is currently under the misconception that he is going back to a place he deems very, very bad, and in complete meltdown mode? ”Well I didn’t want to be here either, but they made me.”
WHAAAAT??? Did you really just say that? Really??
If I hadn’t had my hands full of Kaleb at that moment, I might have had my hands full of bus driver.
Instead, I tuck it away for later, and finish getting my kid safely buckled into his seat. Eventually we manage to get him properly strapped – and I step off the bus. I watch as they drive away and Kaleb is kicking his shoes off screaming like a lunatic. My first course of action is to grab my coffee cup off the ground – which is when I realized how badly I was shaking due to the coffee I was spilling on my foot. My second is to call a friend and vent all of the pent up aggression I’ve managed to accumulate in the last twenty minutes. Then I call Kaleb’s teacher. The odds of this day ending badly are high, and she needs to know that he’ll be running with a hair trigger today. She also needs to understand just why this was such a traumatic event for my Monster.
I’m simply floored by this latest little incident. Someone took Kaleb’s previous driver and swapped her route with this driver – and I want to know why. I called the school and requested an IEP meeting to discuss this development. If they’re going to be picking Kaleb up at the crack of dawn he is no longer going to be able to enjoy his new little friends in the morning – which means I want the curbside pickup reinstated. I briefly toyed with the idea of driving him in the mornings, but immediately dismissed it. First, he likes the bus, that would be unfair to him. Second, Mason’s going to be in the afternoon class when he starts school. Meaning, we have to start keeping him up later and having him sleep in longer in order to avoid him being a tired and miserable terror by the time he gets to school. In order for me to drive Kaleb every day I’d have to have both kids up and awake by 7:20am – a full hour and forty minutes before I want Mason to be waking up. That just won’t work.
So, I leave a message with transportation (I’m basically on a first name basis with this woman by now – she has to be getting tired of me), requesting a call back to discuss the latest development. Hopefully I’ll hear back on Monday. Now I have to go find some more caffeine and make some breakfast – which I’m sure Kaleb won’t be eating since he snuck into the fridge this morning while everyone was still asleep and stole my entire banana cream pie (along with two mini chocolate cream pies). Apparently he figured out that Daddy put locks on all of the cabinets containing food yesterday. I don’t suppose I’ll be making any more deserts that require refrigeration. At least he didn’t find my ice cream cones.