What My Son's First School Van Ride Taught Me About Special Needs Parenting
As we stood at the curb together in the early morning sunlight, I couldn’t help but feel nauseous. Thoughts raced. Should we run inside and pretend we’re not home? Should I put on shoes, grab my keys, and get in the car? Would they notice if I drove behind them? As my nerves messed with my head, the vehicle turned the corner. I had only moments to decide.
For fourteen years, I took my son to school. Every morning for thirteen consecutive school years I was my child’s chauffeur; it was a “job” I liked and did not complain about (although some mornings when the parking lot was full, the walk to campus was long).
Because he relied on me to get to his classroom all those years, I knew he was safe and sound. I could go to work feeling assured that he was in the hands of a good teacher and reliable aides.
I also picked him up after school for many of those years. For a couple of years, we lived within three miles of his school, and a yellow bus took him home. I’d often sit on the porch with my head craned in the direction of the intersection looking for that bus.
It was, and still is, tough to trust another person in the driver’s seat when my kid is a passenger. And when your child has special needs, it’s even harder.
So last year, a transition to a new school became a reality. School personnel assumed we’d want transportation to and from campus. However, there wouldn’t be an open seat in the van for a few weeks.
With a sense of relief, I continued my chauffeuring. But keeping up such a schedule didn’t make sense. When a seat was available, we needed to take it.
When the day arrived for my son to climb aboard the van first thing in the morning and ride all the way to school and get to his classroom (without me) where he’d spend the day before taking that van all the way home again…I was a wreck.
I honestly wanted to follow the van just so I could be sure he arrived safely. I had a baseball cap and dark glasses that would do the trick!
The vehicle turned the corner. I saw the driver; the driver saw me. There was no running inside now. When I looked at my son, he seemed excited. We had shown him pictures of the van to get him ready for this step. And ready he was, even if I wasn’t.
As I watched him buckle his own seatbelt, I took a deep breath. You can do this, I thought. (I was referring to myself, and not so much my son). It was a huge step for him - to have someone other than his mom take him to school.
It was a huge step for me - a stepping aside actually - to have someone other than me looking out for his welfare and safety.
My nerves remained on high alert that day, and, if I’m honest, for a good couple of weeks. Looking back, though, it was most important step to take.
I’m not going to be around forever. He needs to have as much independence as possible, and he needs to know there are others who can help him.
And I need to be able to trust plans that I make for him, as well as learn to trust others with his care. It may not be easy or come naturally, but it’s essential.
A few months down the road, I was on my way to meet a friend for coffee. After texting to say I was running late (the van had been caught in traffic), I paused. Gone was the severe apprehension I had surrounding the van. It had gradually become a new normal for us.
Zach was riding the van to and from school; 45 minutes each way. Without me. And he was not only fine, he was thriving. I smiled.
We had both made a major transition. In that transition, I believe both of us began to understand that he can be OK without me.
It’s not easy, and it takes time, but what's important is that we took that critical first step.