I don’t think the average jerk knows he or she is a jerk, or feels at all like a jerk even at their jerkiest moments. They aren’t trying to be jerks. They aren’t trying to be self righteous or small-minded or hateful. Life just hasn’t handed most of them a mirror and forced them to see themselves for what they are. Last week I was handed just such a mirror, and I'm holding it up just in case anyone else out there needs to take a look in it.
I've discovered that phone calls from my son’s school have a way of changing my viewpoints. I should be thankful for the opportunities to gain these wisdoms and insights, but I’m not: I liked being ignorant. Being a jerk is easy. Being kind and insightful is a lot of work, and the self examination leading up to it is painful, to boot.
Winter break was a nice relief when it came to not worrying about whether or not the school was going to call. For two and a half weeks I was the mother of a normal, happy child. Not a perfect child, but a manageable child. School started back up on Wednesday, and that morning I got a call on my cell phone. I always mutter a few choice swear words when I see the school’s phone number come across my phone, to get them out of the way. Then I can sound calm and professional after I press the “talk” button.
“Good morning. This is ---- -----, the assistant principal at [Sweet Pea’s] school. How are you doing this morning?”
“Fine. I think.”
“Oh, don’t worry. [Sweet Pea] is okay. I just needed to touch base with you today about something you will be getting in the mail. Do you have a few moments to talk?”
I hate these “touching base” phone calls more than the crises phone calls. Crises phone calls only last as long as the crises; touching base calls can drag on and on and on. I took a deep breath and exhaled.
“Of course,” I said.
She went on to ask if I knew about the incident on the school bus that had happened in the morning back on December 16th. I did not. Well, an incident report had to be written up by the driver (standard procedure and all that), and I would be getting a copy of it in the mail. She just wanted to give me a heads up and see if we couldn’t come up with some solutions to see if we could keep it from happening again.
I told her I understood. I don’t freak out at these calls any more. I do brace myself a little, but they don’t send me reeling like they once did. I view them like a vaccination shot at the doctor’s office: I expend the news to sting a little, but I know I will survive it.
There were two incidents, really. On the 15th Sweet Pea had gotten a little agitated before the ride home, so the school counselor had given him a coloring book and a small box of crayons to occupy and distract him. It worked a little too well. He had taken everything out of his backpack on the bus and spread everything out, papers, crayons, his jacket, his fidget toys, etc, all over the seat and on the floor, and then got upset when the bus stopped in front of our house and he was told he needed to get off the bus. He got agitated. Jeff was at the bus stop and got on the bus to gather up everything and calm Sweet Pea. A parent on the bus isn’t really allowed, the assistant principal told me. I understand why, right? (Not really) But anyway, it happened and she guessed it was okay in this one instance. But that wasn’t the reason she was calling. That incident was not written up. She just wanted me to know about it.
On the morning of the 16th, Sweet Pea was out of his seat on the bus. The child who sits across from him told him he should not be, and told the bus driver on him. This caused Sweet Pea to scream and hide under his seat. The driver could not get him to come out. He “continued to emit a shrill, high-pitched scream and refused to come out from beneath the bench and sit in the seat as instructed,” she read from the report. Once the bus arrived at the school the rest of the children unloaded while Sweet Pea stayed beneath his seat, clinging to the legs of the bench and refusing to budge. Staff from the school were eventually able to talk him into getting off the bus, but it took awhile.
She wanted me to understand the safety concerns of a child not being in his seat. I said I did. She wanted me to understand how serious it is to have a child on the bus that does not follow directions from the bus driver. I said I understood.
“During the IEP meeting, was the special ed bus discussed at all?” she asked. “You know, there is a seat belt on that bus, so he could not get out of his seat. And there is an attendant to help the driver. It’s something to consider.”
“It was brought up, but Theresa said she didn’t think it was necessary,” I said. Theresa is the principal. “Let’s see if we can’t try some other ideas first. This was one incident.”
“Two incidents,” she reminded me.
“Two incidents in the week leading up to Christmas, when there was a lot going on that was out of the ordinary. Let’s consider other things we can try, first.” So we discussed other options for awhile.
After the call was over, I sat thinking about the “short bus” for awhile. It has a stigma to it. It’s wrong that it does, and in a perfect world it wouldn’t. I understand what a blessing it is to have these busses for handicapped children. There should not be a stigma, but even as I thought about it I could hear the conversation of two women over the cubicle wall talking about an insurance agent that one of the women considered to be thickheaded.
“I mean, it’s like he got right off of the short bus, you know? I mean, right off of the short bus! And every time I talk to him, I just want to tell him go get back on the short bus where you belong, why don’t you?” Each time she said short but it felt like I was being slapped across the face.
She was using short but as a synonym for stupid, defective, and not worth bothering with. I could not muster the rage to come across the wall and correct her, though: I have used the term this way myself. I won’t anymore, but her words were my mirror that let me see what a jerk I was for ever thinking it was okay to be that cute and insult a group of children when I only meant to be catty about an adult who had gotten on my last nerve.
The kids on the short bus have a hard road to travel. They are different, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. Their parents love them as much as any parents love their kids, and most of them have been through the ringer at one time another fighting for their children. I’m all for being catty and snide, but I think we can all agree that when we want to insult a grown up that we think has done something stupid or that we don’t care for, we can state that plainly. We can say things like: I don’t like him. He’s a pain in the neck. He’s a jerk. I don’t want to bother with him anymore. He just doesn't get it. And so on.
If you think someone is dumb as a post, or maybe a brick, then say so. Posts and bricks are not living things and can't be insulted. But we need to stop picking on kids who for one reason or another are not able to ride the “big bus.” Because picking on children because you don't like an adult makes you a bully. And it makes you a jerk, too. Take it from a reformed bully and jerk like me.