Lucas loves when the school bus arrives. It rolls up to our front door and I yell out, “Lucas! Bus! Bus! Bus!” He’ll spring from the living and room and come darting to the door. I take his hand and we walk out to the waiting matron.
I say hello and hand her his school bag as he purposely ambles awkwardly up the steps, forcing her to push him. The driver leans back in his seat, gives me a cool-dude ‘sup ‘sup salute, and the doors close.
As they do, I stand there and watch Lucas through the window, waving towards him the whole time as he’s strapped into his seat until they drive away.
When I say “the whole time”, I mean it. I’ve stood in pouring rain and snow for minutes at a time waving until the bus leaves. The weird part? I’m not sure that he’s ever once looked over at me. At that point, he’s so enthralled with being able to look around outside that I’m not anywhere on his radar. I’m aware of that. I see it with my own eyes. Yet, I still do it every time.
The hardest thing about my non-verbal son’s first day of school was sending him alone on that bus. At three, Lucas’s preschool began bussing him in from the start and, at first explanation, the whole concept sounded ridiculous to me. Bus? He’s going to ride a bus alone? How is that even a thing? He’s tiny and helpless. How can my little guy take a bus without me? Ridiculous.
Schedule-wise, there was really no other way for him to go. His sister was attending a different school and he was heading to the next town over. Logistically, no one could drive him. That was a given. These kids had to get to school somehow. Although inevitable, I was still apprehensive.
Then we began to ask around and were told that taking the bus was the best thing for a child like him. It’s like a forced step of independence. How he reacts here would speak volumes for how he’d react at school. If he can’t take a nine minute bus ride, he can’t handle a six hour school day.
What makes it hardest with a non-verbal child is that I wasn’t able to sit him down and explain what was about to happen. I couldn’t buy him an ice-cream and tell him that big boys ride alone to school. I couldn’t have that moment that gives parents piece of mind. He isn’t capable of that level of communication. So it just wasn’t possible. I had to take my little guy, who I’ve done pretty much everything for since birth, march him to a mysterious yellow vehicle and chuck him at a stranger. Hopefully someone would bring him home eventually. That was the doomsday scenario closing in.
I dreaded it. I kept imagining bringing him to the bus doors and watching him claw his way back to me, crying the whole time. The scene played out like a Lifetime movie on repeat in my brain. As the day got closer and closer, my anxiety grew greater and greater.
Worrying doesn’t end your issues, though. They just stretch them out much longer. The day did come and I had to do, what I perceived to be, the unthinkable. I had to send my son away without explanation. I had to do exactly what I feared and hope for the best case scenario at a time when best case scenarios seemed to occur less and less frequently.
That first school bus morning wasn’t like anything I had imagined. In fact, it wasn’t really anything at all. As would become a running theme in his little life, Lucas blazed through a moment that I was sure would be a disaster. His toughest times are always the ones that you never see coming. The ones you’re sure will cause a heart-wrenching meltdown go off without a hitch. This was no exception. Lucas marched right onto the bus and took a seat. He barely glanced at us. As it played out, it became apparent that the only one who was really having a tough time was me.
I watched through the window and waved like a fool as he was carefully buckled into his seat. If he glanced at me, it was simply in passing. I stood there until it sped away and, for the first time ever, he wasn’t there. It hit me pretty strong and I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach. I felt like the worst father in the world.
Do you know how long it took for Lucas to start running to the bus with glee?
One day. That’s it. The next morning, his ride pulled up and he raced to get on. It became clear that all the worry that I had been holding on to was for me and not him. He was fine. I wasn’t. I was the one who needed reassurances, not Lucas.
That’s why, three years later, I still stand there waving until the bus rolls away, no matter how dire the weather. It’s not because he’s incapable of handling the ride or is likely to have a meltdown. It’s for me. I take solace in knowing that despite being unable to explain what’s happening, I’m able to show him I’m there as he experiences it. I’m also able to see how strong he is when facing new things. His fearless nature, which causes many dangerous situations on a regular basis, is on full display in its most positive form. In that moment, I couldn’t be prouder of him. It’s a pride that I’m able to experience every morning.
So I wave. I waved last week. I waved this morning. I’ll wave tomorrow. All the while, I’ll stand by the window until the bus pulls away. I’m doing it for him in case he needs to see me. I’m also doing it for myself because I know I need to see him.