Outside the Box
By Karen Murphy
Eric goes to a special-needs preschool four mornings a week. Other than some cryptic hastily-scrawled daily notes on what he did that day (story: check; snack: check), I have no idea what goes on there. I figure that’s between Eric and the school. They seem willing, thrilled even, to take my son for fourteen hours a week and herd him around with the rest of the cats and do things to him like making a beanbag-chair sandwich out of him, something that probably elicits a deep chortle and repeated signings of “more”.
Four mornings a week, then, he gets on the bus that takes him to his school. (I think it does, anyway; it’s possible the whole thing is an elaborate ruse cooked up by the bus driver and she actually just drives around for five hours with Eric and a bunch of kids in wheelchairs, but… naah.) And four mornings a week we go through the same routine. Eric has this down to a science.
Assuming he is actually dressed, when the bus pulls up right at our curb Eric is busy watching “Curious George” from his preferred television viewing distance of four inches.
“Eric, the bus is here!”
“Eric! The bus! Is here! It’s time for school!”
Talk. To. The. Hand.
“ERIC! IT’S TIME TO GO! NOW!”
He gives me an “Oh, were you talking to me?” look and comes to the door. I grab his tiny backpack and help him navigate the doorway. If he’s quick and I’m not quick enough he’ll be able to reach one hand over and buzz the doorbell on his way out. From there we have to descend two concrete steps and walk about thirty feet over grass to the sidewalk, cross the sidewalk, step over the curb and go up the four steps inside.
This should take about twenty seconds.
It doesn’t take into account Eric.
Eric has been working on ascending and descending steps in physical therapy at school. At home he climbs up like a monkey or holds the handrail (conveniently located way above his head) and steps up, one at a time. To go down, I taught him to sit and bumpbumpbump, partly for safety reasons and partly because it’s fun. At school they are teaching him to alternate legs and perhaps even to ascend/descend without holding on to anything. I know this because Eric is determined to practice it, but only in the mornings on the way to the bus.
I am apparently not allowed to hold his hand; he must do this himself. Talk. To. The. Hand.
Those thirty feet of grass are kind of bumpy and uneven and sometimes cause small boys who are still a little unwieldy in their walking to trip and fall. Those thirty feet of grass also contain interesting items like rocks that must be thoroughly examined and at least one picked up and carried.
The bus idles at the curb, doors open, waiting.
The bus is also conveniently parked next to the large grate of a storm drain. The curb is quite high, too high to talk to the hand, and Eric deigns to allow me to assist him in his safe descent. Now he must stand directly on the storm drain grate and peer down. The rock he was holding is dropped down in. Enthralling.
The bus driver stands in the doorway.
At this point Eric either becomes completely limp and inexplicably loses his ability to hold himself up, or he lets me help him up that first very high step into the bus and then becomes completely limp and inexplicably loses his ability to hold himself up. His feet ascend the steps while he leans back against me, becoming more and more horizontal with each step until he is suspended between his feet on the top step and his head burrowed into my belly. Or, he grabs hold of the handrails on either side of the steps, laboriously climbs up three and then sits on the top one, leaning back, his arms draped over imaginary companions on either side of him with an audible sigh of contentment. This is clearly the most comfortable seat he has ever sat in, this filthy top step of the school bus. He grins. It has taken us seven minutes to reach this point.
The driver can’t stand it anymore. “Come on Eric, you don’t want to be late for school, do you?”
That’s when it hit me.
Eric doesn’t care if he’s late. He has no concept of late. Any time, every time, is the right time for Eric.
Not only that, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever really grasp the concept -- at least not in the way I have lived it. I passed on my unnatural fear of lateness and my need to conform to my older son, but Eric is impermeable to such an unnecessary waste of energy. Eric is determined to have a good time wherever he is, and in whatever circumstance. He lives outside the box.
I really want a piece of that.
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