My daughter rides the short bus. And she cries on the days when she doesn't get to, when I drive her to school or a friend picks her up. I cried the day we found out she was eligible to ride it. Although we had fought to get her help with speech and occupational therapy through our school district for over a year, when she finally qualified I was torn between happiness and worry. Happiness that she would get help, and that the strain of the $100+ monthly preschool bill would be gone. But also worry that labeling her as special ed, even at the preschool age, would affect her future years of schooling, possibly negatively. And I was torn about sending her on the bus. Would she be safe? Would she ride with bigger kids? Would she be made fun of for riding the "short bus"?
I grew up in an era where there was much less understanding of differences (I like to think the world has improved in this, that it has grown more open-minded as I have grown), where terms like political correctness weren't yet invented, or at least weren't common. I am ashamed to admit I was as guilty as everyone else of tossing around jokes with my friends about having to ride the short bus. I don't remember even having kids at my school who rode the short bus, they definitely weren't mainstreamed with us at that time, and I don't know how I first learned the term. But at least in Minnesota it was one of those terms growing up in the eighties you just knew.
Fast forward to now. As I said, my daughter rides the short bus. In the end having her ride the bus wasn't really an issue, and she was so excited to ride that how could I say no? My son goes to school with all types of children, and at least for a portion of everyday he has kids with many types of learning difficulties in his class. There are children at his school with down syndrome, autism, aspergers, chromosome deficiencies, ADHD, ADD, and these are just the ones I can name off the top of my head I know about. My children have friends at school with cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis, and of course, they themselves have marfan syndrome. At 5 & 7 my children have been exposed to a larger variety of people's challenges than I had even into my teens, but my kids don't really see it or see it as anything to pay attention to. That is the beauty of children, their ability to accept differences in appearance and physical abilities without passing judgement or caring. It is through adults and society that they learn to pass judgement, and I can't think of a better way to help them be open minded than to have them in this diverse environment, to answer their curiosities with facts, and to allow it to be their normal.
My son rides the regular bus to school, and he has since the start of Kindergarten. It wasn't until the beginning of first grade that I learned he had the nickname booger boy the whole kindergarten year from a kid at the bus stop who saw him pick his nose. Although he has friends on the bus, just like back in the days we went to school there is a definite pecking order on the bus and you can see it even in elementary school at the bus stop. He's not afraid to take the bus, has been lucky enough to not have encountered much bullying so far, but I know through friends that it still happens too much. I see his bus driver everyday, but she's never made an effort to get to know us parents. It's just business on that big bus.
And that's where the short bus is magical. My daughter's bus driver introduced herself the first day last year when she picked her up. Every day she stops to chat a few seconds as giraffegirl makes her way off. We know about her grand kids down south, funny stories about her husband and family. When she saw us at the State Fair last summer she came running up to give giraffegirl a big hug. It was one of giraffegirl's favorite parts of the fair when we talked later at home. When it is still warm and the windows are down, as the bus drives by each day to turn around to drop her off at our driveway, I can hear them all singing and hear the little kids giggling. It's a beautiful place, that short bus she rides. And the best part- no pecking order. There aren't the cool kids and the dorks, the nerds and the jocks. The kids who ride her short bus this year all face a struggle, whether physical or learning disabilities, and they share that common bond. They stroll past the "regular" kids and their parents who make up half their preschool class, and they excitedly run to their bus with the teachers. And like my daughter before she was special ed, many of those "regular" kids wish they could ride the bus. Heck, I wish both my kids could ride that bus through the rest of their school years. And I can't help but think what a better world we would live in if we could all experience the magic of the short bus once in awhile.