Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Scripting" and the Bus Don't Mix

Last year didn't end well for Ethan and the bus. The story is too long to recount here (and I believe I already did), but let's just say he was butting heads with a group of kids who enjoyed egging him on to do certain things -- and when Ethan started to refuse to do them, they weren't happy about losing their source of entertainment for the 40-minute ride each afternoon.

One boy in particular -- let's call him "S." -- I just didn't get. He seemed nice enough in the times Ethan encountered him during t-ball and baseball. But in this case S. seemed to be the ringleader, and told Ethan he hated him and wouldn't be his friend, just because Ethan wouldn't act the way he wanted.

One day in the summer while the kids were in swimming lessons I started chatting with a guy on the playground who had a daughter Chloe's age. Somehow the conversation rolled around to the older kids and school, and lo and behold, I realized that I was actually talking to S.'s dad. I figured bringing the whole thing up, delicately, would be my opportunity to set some things straight.

"So, I guess there was some trouble on the bus last year?" He quickly agreed. I gave him a little background on Ethan, on his diagnosis, and how sometimes he'll do whatever kids want because he can see they're getting a "kick" out of it and he doesn't quite understand if he's being completely appropriate. As I talked I hoped he didn't think I wasn't one of those parents who try to blame all of their kids' behaviors on a diagnosis. I honestly just wanted to give him another perspective on the whole thing.

S.'s dad seemed reasonable and reiterated how he and his wife had told their son they better not be getting any more calls from the principal, that that was unacceptable, etc., etc. I left feeling as if maybe, just maybe, we'd avoid some of the worst issues when school started.

But by the middle of August I thought, "Who am I kidding?" and dashed off an email to the principal reminding her of the situation and wanting to know what plan was in place for this year. She wrote back suggesting we find a seat buddy for Ethan and maybe have someone check off a chart for him each day to tell if his bus ride was a good or bad experience so he wasn't holding everything inside for a long time (as he tends to do). Cool. Sounded like a plan.

The first day of school, the first thing Ethan said when he walked in the door was "[S.] kept reaching over and hitting me on the bus. And now his little brother rides with him. He kept sticking out his tongue at me."


Day two, he announced right away, "[S.] is stronger than Jadis (from the Chronicles of Narnia, of course). I know he is. He twisted my arm so much and it hurts really bad."

I asked him what else had happened on the bus.

"I got mad because he was teasing so I yelled, 'Get out of here, you shameless hussy, or I'm calling the police!'"

Another line from the Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician's Nephew. Someone yells that at Jadis when she comes into our world and causes a lot of trouble. I can only imagine how that went over with a gaggle of second graders.

"Then what did he do?"

"I don't know, I kept saying it. And then I was so mad, I was apoplectic, I yelled, 'LOVE ME FOREVER!'"

Also from a book, although I can't remember which one.

"And then," he continued, "[S.'s] brother said 'THAT will never happen.'"



I could just see how this all went over. And I had to admit, yeah, if I were seven years old and some kid yelled out Love me forever! I'd probably burst into giggles. But I know what he was really saying was, I want you to like me. Why don't you like me?

Ten minutes later I was on the phone with the principal. As it turned out the "bus buddy" wasn't going to work because the one "good" kid they'd identified wasn't going to be taking the bus all of the time. And obviously, that probably wouldn't really address the issue.

"We're going to have to put a monitor on that bus," she said, more to her self than me, in a tired voice that said Here we go again.

When I was a kid, even taking the bus to and from a Christian school, there was often a monitor on the bus. Apparently they've gone the way of budget cuts, which is pretty sad. By "monitor" what she really meant was a staff member from school, most likely a paraprofessional, would ride. That was completely fine with me -- although I had the feeling it might have been one of those, "We'll try this for a while and then if things calm down move the monitor to a different bus with problems."

And so, the next day, Ethan came home all smiles. The adult presence serves as the perfect buffer. We're now into week three, and Ethan no longer dreads or complains about the bus (except for the heat, and the fact that it was a half-hour behind schedule for two weeks).

"Ethan," I've tried telling him. "When you quote things from books at people, and they haven't read the book, they don't understand what you're talking about, and they think it's kind of funny."

"But I LIKE Jadis," he countered.

"I know. But they don't know who Jadis is."

I have the feeling this type of issue is going to crop up again and again.

"Mama," Ethan said to me the other day. "You won't believe this, but down deep, deep, in my heart, in the deepest place, I really like [S]." He was scripting from a Ramona book.

"Yeah, I know you do."

"Do you think he likes me?"

I wasn't quite sure what to say. I choose the hopeful route. "I think he does, buddy. I think he does."

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