Monday morning Richard and I awaited Emma’s school bus. I had prepped Em the night before. “Okay, so Em. The bus is going to come and it’ll pick you up and take you to your new school, okay?”
Em nodded her head.
“When the bus gets to your new school, it’s going to let you off in the front and there will be someone to meet you. They’ll take you into the auditorium where your teacher will be waiting for you.”
“Go see Katie!”
“Yeah and Katie will take you upstairs to your classroom.”
“Go with Mommy!”
“No, Em. I can’t go on the bus with you. They won’t let me. But I’ll wait for it with you, okay?”
Emma bounded back and forth on the sidewalk in front of us as we waited. When the bus pulled up Em ran up the steps, we spoke with the driver, who reassured us we had the correct contact info for her and as the bus pulled away I waved, remarking to Richard how nice it was to have such a friendly driver.
Forty five minutes later the bus driver called, saying Emma was very upset and refused to get off the bus. “What?” I heard Richard say. “Well that’s because you’ve taken her to the wrong school!” There was a pause. “Uh-huh. Yeah, well it’s good she didn’t get off because that’s not her school.” Meanwhile I began talking to Richard as though the driver could hear me. “They have to bring her home and they need to tell her what they’re doing. She’s probably really upset and confused. They need to tell her…” Richard thrust the phone at me.
To the apologetic driver I said, “I’m sure Emma is upset. May I speak to her?”
I could hear the driver, who was clearly upset herself say to someone, “hand my phone to her. No it’s okay. Give her the phone, it’s her Mom.” And in the background I could hear Emma’s anxiety laced voice repeating, “No I don’t want to get off the bus. Emma goes to new school!”
“Your mommy’s on the phone, honey. Here…”
Then I could hear breathing and Em’s voice very quietly said, “Mommy?”
“Emmy, Emmy! The driver made a mistake. They’re going to take you back home now. I’m waiting for you. Okay?”
“They go wrong way. Emma said, no! NO! I don’t want to go to old school. I want to go to new school! I don’t want to get off the bus!”
“That’s right Em. You did the right thing. You told them they were going the wrong way. They’re going to take you home now.”
“Go home, see Mommy! I’m going to be right back!”
“Yes, Em. I’ll see you in a few minutes. I’m waiting for you.”
When I got off the phone I looked at Richard and said, “Wow.” We looked at each other. “She advocated for herself. She totally advocated for herself. Wow!”
When the bus arrived, returning Emma to me, I gathered her in my arms and said, “Em! I am so proud of you!”
“No not this way!” Emma pointed east toward her old school. “You go wrong way. You have to go this way!” Emma said, pointing west, toward her new school.
“You are so awesome, Em. If they had listened to you, you could have directed them to your school! You advocated for yourself! You told them they were going the wrong way.”
“You did the right thing! You refused to get off the bus. I’m so proud of you!”
By the time we got upstairs Emma was smiling and laughing. Richard congratulated her on standing up for herself and for trying to make them understand. With each compliment Emma’s smile grew wider.
By the time Richard had gathered his things to take her to her new school, Emma was happy, repeating the things she’d said to the bus driver. It wasn’t until she came to say good-bye that I saw the teeth marks on her hand.
“Hey Emmy, I said, holding her close. “Did you bite yourself?”
Emma nodded her head. “Emma screamed. Emma was frustrated!”
“I bet you were. You were trying to tell them they were going to the wrong school and they didn’t listen.” I stroked her head.
“Emma goes to new school now!”
“Yeah, Em. You’re awesome. I am so, so proud of you!”
As she and Richard left, I thought about all our children who are trying so hard to communicate and yet aren’t being heard. I imagined Emma sitting on that bus trying to make them understand that they were going the wrong way. Using the right words, but not being understood. And finally, because no one was listening, no one was considering that she actually knew what she was talking about, she began to scream and bite herself.
My dream for Emma is that she be able to advocate for herself.
Now she is and I could not be prouder.
Em and the School Bus