Every once in a while, someone comes along that reminds you that there are still good people out there.
For me, it’s my son’s special needs van driver.
Friday was Howie’s last day on the van until his summer program starts before kindergarten. The van was starting to fill up due to additional eligible students at the elementary school. To alleviate this overcrowding issue, the district asked the preschool to reexamine which kids really needed to ride the van, and which kids could be picked up by their parents.
In following the letter of the law, Howie’s disability did not rise to the standard of needing the van for preschool. The “normal” mode of transportation for the preschool is by car, and Howie’s autism does not affect his ability to ride with me home from school, especially since I was already driving him there. So with an amended IEP assuring us that he would be back on the van for the summer program and for kindergarten (because he cannot ride the regular school bus), we agreed to drive him to and from school until the end of the school year.
This was a difficult decision for me. As I wrote in my first post for Hopeful Parents, the van was my first real public acceptance of his autism. Selfishly, it also gave me an additional 45 minutes each day to myself. Lewis would nap in the afternoon and I could have that time to write, make phone calls or catch up on Glee while I waited for the van to bring Howie home.
And Howie loves riding in that van…and the van driver.
So on Thursday, right before his last day, I wrote Ms. J (the van driver) this note:
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for everything you’ve done for Howie this year on the van. As you know, Friday will be his last day riding with you until he starts his program for kindergarten. I have yet to tell him, because I know how sad he is going to be.
I know I said this to you at Christmastime, but I wanted to formally tell you what an important part of Howie’s school life you have been this year. We see you as an extension of his school day, as one of his teachers. Your use of “red” and “green” choices on the van is consistent with the words he hears in the classroom, and that continuity is so important for him. He has learned incredible social skills while riding with you as he interacts with you and his peers. When he gets home, I hear about Fred the Horse and how salt melts the ice on the road and how many satellites he’s seen that day. All those things have come from you. The ride home with you has been a great transition from his day at school to life at home, and we will all miss seeing you every day.
I know you don’t usually do the summer van run, but I hope you will be back driving again in the fall. Seeing you pull into the driveway that first morning will help make Howie’s move to kindergarten so much easier. For me and for him, since we will all know he’s in such good hands.
I’m sending a copy of this letter to the Superintendent, the Transportation director and the head of the preschool with the hopes that they’ll put it in your personnel file. This school district is lucky to have such a caring and loving person on staff. You work with a very special population of kids and some days it can’t be easy. All I know is that you’ve made it very special for us.
Friday, when she pulled up to drop Howie off for the last time this year, she handed him a package.
“Howie! Look! Ms. J. found you a pack of Matchbox cars! One of them has a van in it JUST LIKE Ms. J’s! I got it for you!”.
If you know Howie, you know that Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars are the key to his heart. She also gave him his favorite sour apple (organic corn-free) lollipop.
His eyes? His eyes were dancing.
I thanked her and whisked Howie out of the van before I started to cry.
Inside, we opened up the pack of cars. Not only had she found a van that looked just like hers, she had taken the time to open up the box and write these words on it:
“Ms. J’s Van.” And the name of his school. And Howie’s name, with an arrow leading to his window spot.
I can’t make this stuff up:
The writing is on top. Trust me. It’s there.
Of course, Howie thought this was pretty awesome. I figured it was a good opportunity to tell him that he’d be riding home with me now and that’s why Ms. J gave him the cool van.
“Nooooooooooooooooooooo! I’m going to kick out your tires!”
Any doubt as to how he feels about that van?
It’s always the bad stories we hear – the things that can and do go wrong when our kids aren’t in our care. The stories that make us want to hold our kids close and never let them out of our sight. We always talk about the constant battles that wear us down and wonder why there isn’t someone – just one person – who can understand our child and love them for who they are.
Howie’s van driver is that person. We’re lucky that she’s one of several amazing people we’ve encountered so far.
And I wanted to talk about something good for a change.
“Tell me something good (tell me, tell me, tell me)
Tell me that you love me
Tell me something good (tell me, tell me, tell me)
Tell me that you like it, yeah” – Tell Me Something Good by Rufus and Chaka Khan