Monday, October 8, 2012

The Short Bus - That Parent

I dropped my daughter off at daycare and made polite conversation with the director.  She was an older nun, Sister K.  She was no nonsense, a little mannish, a little. . . hard.  Mothers tended to dislike her.  Fathers tended to get along fine with her.  

I mentioned to her that my wife would be following the bus when it picked my daughter up from daycare and trailing it to her special preschool.  I said it conversationally; just between us guys.  She looked vaguely affronted and said, "It's illegal to follow a school bus.  She can't do that!"

I shrugged my shoulders and said, "It's not like we're going to make a habit of it.  She just wants to see that she gets to school safely, and understands the route."

"She can't do that," she repeated.  

Annoyed, I defended, "It's hard that first day leaving your child in the care of a complete stranger and just watching them drive off, you know?"  I should have known better.  This is why women didn't relate as well to Sister K.  She didn't know.  

Men are embarrassed of their feelings, and can be bullied by this, accepting things we might not because we refuse to let our emotions master us, the way we imagine they master women.  

"We haven't lost a child yet," she said meaningfully, a "look, what are you all panicked about" sort of statement.

Suddenly I was annoyed.  "Yeah?  Well I don't want my kid to be your first." I tried to reply evenly, but I suspect it came out clipped and terse.

"The drivers of these buses undergo extensive background checks before they're cleared to drive school buses."  

I raised an eyebrow in disdain, but didn't say anything else. 


My daughter is practically non-verbal.  She says words, even has a decent vocabulary, but yes/no are used interchangeably  and she only answers direct questions sporadically.  She is, for all intents and purposes, "non-verbal".

"Are there any kids on the bus who ARE verbal," I asked the pre-school teacher?  

"There's one."


One day the bus driver gave her candy in her backpack.  It seemed weird.  Was he this nice with all the kids?  I shrugged it off.  


I met her bus driver, M, a few months into the route.  I tried not to let his physical appearance bother me.  Matted hair and patchwork beard framed an over-wide face.  Coke bottle glasses magnified eyes that were slightly off-kilter.  He was missing several teeth.  It shouldn't matter what he looks like.  He seems to genuinely like my daughter.

He offers to babysit her if my wife and I ever need someone to watch her while we're away.


The daycare teacher approaches my wife one day and says, M is counting down the days until your daughter's birthday.



"Does that seem weird?  It sort of seems weird to me."

"Yeah, it is sort of weird."


Nobody tells us the day of the incident.  There's paperwork to fill out.  Questions to ask.  The parents are to be notified after the preschool understands better what happened.  We hear about it from and aide.  The special ed teacher isn't there that day.  We ask for more information, but everyone is gone.  Nobody is in town, but it's really important that we figure out what the fuck just happened so we call the teacher's personal cell phone number.  She doesn't answer.

My wife is going to the hospital the next day for a treatment.  We can't stop thinking about "it" even though we really don't know what "it" is beyond this:  M has been reported to the bus company by the preschool because he was sitting with one of the students on the bus when the teachers came out of the school to gather them and escort them inside. 

"Which student," we ask, but we already know the answer.

"Your daughter."


In the absence of any kind of feedback, we talk to a friend, a police detective.  We give him a name, we explain the situation.  He says to us, "everything you just described is a red flag for a sexual predator except one.  Usually predators don't engage the parents.  They try to distance themselves from the parents."

We don't feel any better.  He says he'll look into it.  We feel a little better.


While my wife is being treated in the hospital the special ed teacher calls me.  This isn't the first time they've complained about M leaving his seat.  

"He is not to get up and go back with the children under any circumstances," she tells us.  He has been given notice.  This doesn't make me feel any better.  We receive more information.  It's not enough.  He was sitting with her.  How long?  We know how long the bus route is.  He's been getting to the school early.  The preschool has complained that he's arriving too early and the children are sitting out on the bus until they show up.  The daycare tells us when the bus picked her up.  My wife knows the route, and is satisfied that they can't have been on the bus in parking lot for more than a few minutes.  The preschool agrees.  How long was he sitting with my daughter?

I'm intensely concerned.  Very worried.  Heartsick.  But also guilty.  What if he's just a nice guy who happens to love children.  I can't get his appearance out of my mind.  I feel guilty again.  He can't help how he looks.  He can't help that he "looks like a pedophile".  

Fuck him, I decide.  We complain to the bus company.  He's moved off the route.  The daycare and preschool are instructed that under no circumstance is our daughter to get on any bus he is driving.  I feel guilty all over again, but I cannot fully satisfy myself that this man belongs on a bus full of non-verbal children, least of all my daughter.  An aide is assigned to ride the bus.  Why wasn't this done to begin with?


I don't think anything happened.  I don't know, but I don't think so.  


I read the headlines.  I hear the stories.  This shit happens all the time.  Whether it's the driver, or the aide, or the kids on the bus. . . this shit happens way more than should ever be allowed in the sight of god and man.

All you have to do is type "autistic abuse on bus" and watch your monitor fill up with a demon's resume of reprehensible shit that human beings inflict on other human beings because "they can" and don't think they'll get caught.


From "Sexual Assault Statistics"

Among developmentally disabled adults, as many as 83% of the females and 32% of the males are the 

victims of sexual assault.

Women with disabilities are raped and abused at a rate at least twice that of the general population of 

From "64 Facts about Child Sexual Abuse":

Child molesters come from all backgrounds and social classes. However, most molesters (1) are male, (2) work in an environment surrounded by children, (3) befriend the parents first and then gain the child’s trust, and (4) attend events such as sports, camping, and video arcades

In the United States, approximately 1 out of every 4 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys is sexually abused.

From "Statistics: Child Sexual Abuse"

Children with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than their non-disabled peers.


Men are quick to discount.  At the risk of speaking for my gender, I know I am quick to discount.  Arguments appealing to the absurdity of the situation take root in my mind and prickle my pride. . . I don't want to be made a fool of.  Everyone ELSE is trusting this. . . why am *I* "that parent".  Do I really want to be "that parent?"

For anyone who is quick to discount the possibility that something bad could happen, read the statistics above.  It's almost a fucking guarantee.

For anyone who nods apologetically to Sister K at the absurdity of his/her own paranoia. . . read the statistics above.

If you ever feel embarrassed or silly or. . . just exhausted at the idea of "being that parent". . . read the statistics above.

Those are just snippets.


I caught so much hell from the district getting a camera on the bus

(after the fact).  You feel stupid fighting so hard.  Everyone is so
reasonable.  Why can't I just be reasonable like everyone else?  I
guess experience. . . and statistics.

Get an aide.  Get a camera.  Be a pain in the ass.  Shame yourself with your paranoia.  Chip away at the statistics.  Limit your child's risk.