I guess it’s actually 10 years ago that my oldest son was starting Kindergarten. He was so excited… preschool had been a breeze for him and it was great social fun for my guy that loves people so much. Although my son is almost completely blind, we chose to put him in our neighborhood public school so he’d learn how the world works… and we lived in a district that had proven success with special needs students.
I was steadfast in my “he is just like everyone else so let’s treat him that way” mantra. He had to do the work that everyone did. He had to figure out where things were in the school like everyone else. And he had to take the bus to and from school: we practiced walking to the bus stop and he learned the sound cues for when it was time to get on and off the bus. This is something that blind and visually impaired people don’t just practice once or twice: an instructor came to the house over the summer to walk the route with my son. He and I would walk it as well and practice what he learned. Although the bus stop is only about 6 houses down from ours, he had to learn how to pause at driveways to listen for cars, he had to learn to follow the sidewalk with his white cane and know the cue from that cane if he veered into the grass, and he had to learn how the corner was shaped, where the bus would stop, and how to cross the street at the right spot to stay in the bus driver’s view until he found the door and got on.
Yes, lots of things to figure out, but luckily my little pint sized happily motivated guy was excited to learn and figured it all out pretty quickly. He was perfect at walking the route, waiting for the bus, and cautiously but confidently crossing the street to board.
But that was only half the transportation challenge: there was also the arrival back home after the school day. Think about those school buses and what the kids sound like at the end of the day. The yelling, screaming, laughing, etc makes for one loud vessel of kids anxiously wanting to get to their stop and off to the world to play. My son had to tune them all out and count the times the bus stopped and turned so he’d know when it was time for him to get off. When it was time to get off the bus, he’d have to navigate the pushing and shoving and make his way down the big steps and out to the street, cross the street, and head home. He handled most of it with ease… until the crossing the street part.
For the first few days of school I met my son right at the bus door and crossed the street with him. But I will never forget the first day I waited for him on the other side of the street, anxious to watch him cross because he was so confident he could do it, and I was confident he could do it too. While he was crossing in front of the bus, one of his great friends, who had more energy than a busload of Kindergarteners, was SO excited to tell my son all about something that happened that day. He was so loud and so animated that my son lost all sense of where things were in the street and where he was in relation to the bus. He froze. Right in front of the bus he froze. My heart stopped as the driver started to turn off the flashing lights… which meant that metal bar that protects kids from being out of the driver’s sight was closing, and my son was standing there. Did she see him? My heart pounded, I was 20 feet away… could I get to him in time? Desperate, all I could think to do was scream. A from the gut kind of scream that made every kid stop in their tracks. I ran in the street and grabbed my little guy, and hurried him to the sidewalk.
I tried to explain to the other child how he has to calm down and let my son cross before he starts talking… but I knew the reality was that a Kindergartener is not exactly reliable or even equipped to exit a school bus calmly.
I felt so defeated. I couldn’t make something as simple as getting off the bus work? I was exhausted from all of the other stresses of raising a blind child in a sighted world. I was exhausted from trying to stay a step or two ahead of his needs at school and have things ready. And, to be perfectly honest, I was still in the depths of sadness that my son would have a year full of challenges far greater than any of the other kids he rode that bus with. So instead of thinking it through logically, instead of taking a breath and figuring out how to make exiting a bus stress free and successful, instead… I panicked.
Luckily, I live in a neighborhood where you can call someone and tell them your problem and they help you fix it. No judging, No pitying. They just go into action here. So looking for a shoulder to cry on and, more importantly, a solution, I called my neighbor. I sobbed through my story. I asked her if I was just asking my little guy to do too much. I asked if I was being ridiculous in making him take a bus when I could drive him. And I asked her if my expectations of a “normal” life for my son were just too much.
Once she calmed me down and assured me he HAD to take that bus, for all the reasons of independence training that I planned for, she had one simple answer: ask the bus to go in the other direction. You see, we live on a circle. When you enter our neighborhood and come to my street, whether you go left or right you end up where you need to be. Ah ha! So simple! If the bus would just go to the stop from a different direction, it would arrive at the stop with the door right next to the curb he ultimately had to get to, and my son would not have to cross the street when he got off!
I am happy to say I made one quick call to the transportation office and they wholeheartedly agreed it was a terrific plan. From that day on my son took the bus to and from school with great success. Over the years he has mastered after school buses, team buses to away games, he even navigates the big city transit system near us.
I often go back to that “bus incident” when life challenges seem so complicated or a situation seems hopelessly unresolvable and I think “Will a simple change in direction help me?”
The Eye Believe in Miracles BLOG is written by Kristin Smedley, mom of two sons living with blindness, as well as a sighted daughter . The Smedley family co-founded the Curing Retinal Blindness Foundation and host the largest CRBF fundraiser, Bike the Basin. If you would like to Join The Mission to help fund cures for retinal diseases please DONATE here. If you would like Kristin to speak at your upcoming event, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org Together we can do so much.