Why getting my son on the school bus is like preparing Kid Shelleen.
My fifteen year old autistic son likes his routines. He relies on them. The one that has evolved during his nearly twelve years of exposure to the public education system is lengthy. During a recent execution of this morning ritual, it struck me that our dance quite resembled the preparation of Kid Shelleen in the famous 1965 western, Cat Ballou. All that was missing was the matador music.
If you haven’t seen the movie … What?? You haven’t seen the movie? Well, you should. It’s a raucous romp through the old west with an eclectic cast which includes Lee Marvin (Oscar for Best Actor), Jane Fonda and Nat King Cole. Those of you that have seen the flick will remember the scene in which Kid Shelleen, the washed-up, drunkard gunslinger, is resurrected by his attendees through a process of long baths, hot towels and clean clothes. Although my son doesn’t drink, he is quite groggy in the dark, early, first minutes of a school day.
It starts with the alarm. Then I run a bath. While he is bathing he receives his meds and vitamins. He gets out and dries off without help, but I must unplug the bathtub and pull the shower curtain closed. Sometimes he also insists I dry his neck and shoulders. I always am the one that hangs up the towel. He can dress himself, but I must buckle his belt and tie his shoes. His shoes must be double-tied. We do this once on his right shoe and three or four times on his left. Then comes his teeth, his chapstick and his hair.
Ahhhhhhh. His hair.
It must be sprayed with water, brushed then wetted down by hand. Next, I draw a brush stroke across his forehead and five down the back of his scalp. They must be counted out in cadence, 1-2-3-4-5. Then he runs his hand through his bangs and we start all over again. At some point the coif meets with his approval and we move on. On good days this can mean as little as two or three repetitions. On bad days, it never ends. When this occurs, I must move him along, at the risk of a meltdown, promising to revisit his hair after we have completed our other tasks.
Next comes his coat, backpack and checklist. We check off all the steps we have completed and one we have yet to complete, going out and waiting for the bus. But first comes my routine. My coat must be zipped all the way to the top, my hat and glasses put on. Then every door that is open must be closed. Even some that are already closed must be opened and then closed again while he supervises. At last we are free to go outside. We wait at the end of the driveway until his ride arrives. When he gets on the bus, he always stops on the first step, gives me a peck followed by four quick pseudo cheek kisses. To the neighbors, we must look like a couple of old Frenchmen meeting on the streets of Paris.
Then comes the hardest task of all, watching as the bus pulls away and out of sight … hoping I have entrusted him to people with the care of a father and the humor of Cat Ballou.