One of my greatest fears as a mother, is that a stranger would take my son, and I wouldn’t know where my son was or what was happening with him, or whether I’d get him back. These fears are multiplied with a special needs child because of their special needs; the worry that they are even less able to fend for themselves, find their way home, and more likely to irritate and confuse whoever took them (with potentially horrid consequences). Yesterday morning I had a small taste of those fears coming true.
My son is picked up each morning by the same taxi driver, hired by the special-needs school to ferry my son and most of his fellow class-mates to and from school everyday. Yesterday was the first day back at school for the term. His taxi driver from last term had left, and at the end of last term he had trained up his replacement; acquainting him with each child’s special needs for getting on and off the taxi, and making sure us parents were familiar and comfortable with his replacement. But it wasn’t his replacement who turned up yesterday morning, knocking on our door at 7:30am.
It was some other man I’d never met before, looking a bit lost, but he was from the right taxi company, knew my son’s name, had the right looking taxi van. He was much earlier than the other driver was meant to come (closer to 8am) so I was a bit confused and disoriented. He said the other driver couldn’t do the run, and so he was the replacement. He wasn’t familiar with the car seats or the route, but he seemed to be sure he was meant to be picking up my son.
Any change in plans in life makes me nervous. So I’ve got used to telling myself to try to go with the flow; adjust and relax, don’t over-think it. So I let my son get in the taxi van with this stranger.
Ten minutes later the original replacement taxi driver turns up at our door, with one of the other students already in the back, ready to pick up my son.
I told him someone else had already picked up my son, he was confused and tried to call the base operations to find out what was going on. He couldn’t get through but said he’d sort it out, and drove off. Leaving me and my husband alarmed. I tried to get hold of the head teacher to let her know what had happened, but didn’t get a reply. My husband rang the taxi company to find out what was going on, they told him the taxi run had been taken off one of the drivers that was currently out there picking up these children. We weren’t told why. Thoughts start bouncing around as to why one of those drivers lost his run; was he a risk to our son, was he a poor driver, did he now have a vendetta with the taxi company and had refused to stand-down?
In the meantime we worried too that there would be no-one at the school if and when our son arrived; usually the teachers would meet him, but the new taxi driver clearly hadn’t been walked through the routine and we were worried he’d just drop off our son – probably far too early considering the early pick up – and then what would become of our wandering child?
My husband decided to drive to the school himself to wait for our son to appear, in case no teachers would be ready for him. Also of course, to make sure our son arrived safely. In the meantime I rang the taxi company again, who on three occasions told me he’d arrive at the school by a certain time, and each time that time would come and go and my husband would let me know they still hadn’t arrived. My husband had been waiting at the school for an hour. The teachers there didn’t know what was going on either. The children were all meant to arrive in the taxi van by 8:30, the usual half hour after our son usually leaves our house. 8:30 came and went. 9am came and went. Still no sign of the taxi or our son.
Other children from his class started arriving at school, dropped off by their parents, saying the taxi van had never turned up. Can you imagine what it was like by that stage? Our son is in a taxi van with a driver we don’t know, who might be the man who has had his other runs taken off him, in a taxi van that never turned up at these other homes, and he’s exceptionally late to the school.
The taxi company tells me during one call that our son has been transferred from one taxi van to another, but they can’t seem to confirm who the driver is of the van he’s currently on, and can’t seem to figure out why he hasn’t arrived at the end location yet.
Finally, at 9:10am, the taxi van arrives at school, with our son and some other students aboard. My son had never been transferred, he was in the same taxi van that took him from our home. Arriving an hour and a half after leaving; a half hour trip had tripled somehow. We were a few minutes shy of calling the police when it had finally turned up; that was how distraught and concerned we were as parents.
The whole situation would have been avoidable with more and better communication from the taxi company. It wasn’t until after the whole mess that we were finally told via the school – who hadn’t found out until after the mess too – that the original replacement driver (and man who turned up second) had lost the taxi run because his taxi van was unsuitable for carrying wheelchairs (and not due to some more sinister reason). The school shared our concerns and upset, and have taken the matter up with the taxi company on our behalf.
So that was my morning from hell. A morning of me bursting into tears between holding it together to make endless enquiries. Of feeling responsible for the situation; berating myself for not listening to my gut instinct when a stranger came to pick up my son. Though looking back I’m still unclear what I should have done differently; the taxi company didn’t know they had two people doing the rounds at that point anyway so they would have just reassured me to let this man take my son. The school wouldn’t have said any different either. Knowing that now didn’t make me feel any less responsible at the time though.
I spent the rest of the day feeling emotionally raw. My husband didn’t want our son to be picked up by the taxi company for the return home; he no longer trusted them to act responsibly and thoughtfully with our child. We decided eventually to let them bring him home, largely because the school had taken the issue seriously and has reassured us that they will be laying a complaint and looking into how this mess happened, and let the taxi company know that the lack of clear communication was unacceptable.
I had many nightmares last night, and this morning I’m still feeling the after-effects of those intense emotions. As the day wears on I know they’ll go, and this will just become a blip on the radar in time. Everything turned out fine, my son handled the situation well, life goes on. But I never want to feel that way again; even that tiny taste of one of my greatest fears coming true, was too much.