Back on the Bus

Missy’s been giggling again. And smiling. She’s been doing that a lot since Monday.

Ever since she got her wheels back.

Mind you, Missy doesn’t drive (not that she wouldn’t gleefully try). But Monday is when her bus service got brought back – the large van that takes her to “work,” her program for developmentally disabled adults.

She’s thrilled and rightfully so. It’s a chance to travel with all her friends again, to have a little more independence, to be in a huge vehicle with lots of space. To have her routine back just the way she likes it.

We’re thrilled that she’s thrilled. It’s neat to see her excited, great to see her happy.

And yet …

Well, the morning drive seems just a little quieter than it used to.

Heather and I have been the Official Missy Chauffeurs for about two years now. It’s how we first eased into caring for her before moving in last year, and how she got used to us being around all the time. By now, the takeoff prep is second nature: making sure the shoes are on the right feet, that the coat for the day is heavy or light enough, that a spoon from the morning’s breakfast hasn’t mysteriously migrated into her lunch box, and so on.

But the flight time. That’s where the fun begins.

Most mornings and afternoons, it means Missy the DJ, grabbing a fistful of CDs or tape cassettes and swapping them out through the drive, sometimes at half-song intervals. Oldies rock, Christmas tunes and a cappella groups like the Face Vocal Band get the longest lingers and the loudest volumes. (Ever seen a car vibrate to the tune of “Safety Dance?”)

Some mornings, it’s Missy the Environmental Engineer, adjusting the window from the armrest. Usually this means watching her seal it tight even on a dog-melting summer’s day, but we’re no stranger to the occasional surprise draft from the passenger seat.

More than once, it’s been Missy the Tour Guide, pointing through the windshield at a house Heather used to live in, or the newspaper I work at now, or the next turn we need to take to get to her work. Heather spent a long time wondering why Missy pointed at one particular office building before finally discovering it was the chiropractor that she’d gone to as a girl.

And always, it’s been Missy the Love. Sometimes sassy, sometimes mellow, sometimes ready to “dance” in the car or pat your arm reassuringly.

And now, the dance partner has joined the rest of the party.

Is this what a parent feels when a child goes to school? Or learns to drive? Or takes just one more step out of the house? A little joy, a little regret, mixed with time and bound with memories?

Funny. I’d gotten so used to thinking about Missy’s routines that I hadn’t realized my own. And how they’d come to grow around hers.

But that’s what families do.

And if the last couple of days have shown me anything, it’s how much of a family we have become.

I was there to meet her when she returned the first day. She walked eagerly inside, balancing a bit on me, ready for her tea and her snack, for our hugs and questions, for our reading session later in the day.

It seems we’ve become her routine, too. As much as the bus ever was.

But seeing that smile, hearing that giggle, will never grow routine.

And that’s the best ride of all.


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