I hotly anticipated the release of the new book by Craig Davidson called Precious Cargo. The sub-title is My year of driving the kids on school bus 3077, which sums up the premise of the book: in desperation, struggling writer takes a job driving a special ed school bus in Calgary. As a mom with a kid with special needs, I’m not super happy about the ‘in desperation’ part, but I do understand the writer’s need to set up dramatic tension as he begins his story.
I wanted Precious Cargo to provide a little crystal ball into my son’s life – being 13 and having Down syndrome, we’ve been told he’s eligible for the ‘special ed’ bus pick up and drop off next year – and that’s new for us. I once heard a prominent researcher in the disability world give a talk on abuse and children with disabilities. An audience member asked him, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give to parents to avoid abuse for their kids? And he answered: never ever put them on a school bus. That scared the crap out of me. Hence my extra-fascination with the premise of this book.
I also wanted to read Precious Cargo to gain some insight into the thoughts of a person who had never been exposed to kids with differences (e.g. the writer) – I wanted to see if he had any epiphanies about why the hell general ‘society’ shuns and excludes our children.
What I ended up getting from the book was this: a hope that others who have never had experience with people with differences read this book. Me reading this book is akin to preaching to the converted. While it was interesting to ponder some points about inclusion (do kids want their own special ed bus? Is inclusion about us and not them?) and to validate that the ‘wide berth’ given to people with disabilities is rooted in a very primal fear of difference: it is 2016, yes, I know we haven’t evolved that much, particularly in regards to people with intellectual and/or visible differences.
For a richer analysis of Precious Cargo, listen to this wonderful CBC interview on The Current. What stuck me about this interview was the immense respect that Anna Maria Tremonti offered to the panel participants and the subject matter of disability and stigma. As always, Ian Brown knocked it out of the park with his thoughtful commentary (read his Globe and Mail review of Precious Cargo here). I so appreciate the author Craig Davidson for introducing the stories of these young people on his bus to the broader world. During the interview, I learned the most from Ing Wong-Ward, Associate Director, Centre for Independent Living in Toronto. She spoke eloquently about us all being aware of always ‘calibrating our fears’ about people with differences.
Ing helped me realize that my world as the mother of a person with a disability is not the same as my son’s own world of living with a disability. The older he gets, the more I’m working hard to unravel myself from him, to create environments where he can express his own feelings and make his own choices. His story is his story. My story is my story. Craig Davidson’s story is his own story. I believe there’s room in this world for all these stories.
The more we talk about stigma and people with disabilities, the more we chip away at that stigma that has been built over the decades with the bricks of secrets and silence. I truly hope that Precious Cargo becomes a best-seller, transcending the world of those who have a personal interest in ‘special needs’ like me. I’ve often wondered whether having someone follow us around with a video camera as we go about our day-to-day life as a ‘special needs family’ would either terrify people or calm people down. If nothing else, all these stories illuminate, and shine light on people and families who are just doing the best we can (just like you are) in this messed up, beautiful world.