A Leprechaun Named Mike
By Cynthia Patton
As Saint Patrick’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about luck and twists of fate. One of the most unlikely leprechauns I’ve encountered on our strange and humbling autism journey is a taxi driver named Mike.
When my daughter Katie switched school districts back in February 2013, she once again was slated to ride the special needs “short bus.” The two school districts, however, did not share bus service, so after a month of my driving her to and from the neighboring town, Katie began to take a taxi to school. Yes, a taxi. I was hesitant to send a barely verbal nine-year-old by herself to school (or anywhere, for that matter), but a taxi ride is quicker and easier on Katie’s often over-taxed sensory system. Plus a taxi has far better air conditioning than the average California bus. So now both she and I prefer this unique form of school transportation.
When Katie started riding the taxi, she had an array of extremely solicitous Middle Eastern drivers who doted on her. They chatted with her, shared their snacks with her, and even on one occasion, bought her balloons! Katie loved it. Then she began having a driver called Mike. He didn’t chat or share his soda. He didn’t get out of the car and hold open the door with a flourish the way the others did. He wasn’t even friendly to either me or Katie, and as a result, he annoyed both of us. Katie didn’t want to get in the taxi when Mike drove, and I suspect he felt the same way. His discomfort was palpable.
Mike began driving Katie to and from school more frequently, and finally Katie lost it on a drive home. The dispatcher called me, and I reluctantly gave her my impressions. “It’s a personality conflict,” she said matter-of-factly. “It happens. I’ll switch Katie to a new driver.”
My relief turned to annoyance when Mike showed up the next day and the next. The dispatcher had said she couldn’t guarantee he would never drive Katie, but now he was driving all the time! I waited for things to change, but they never did. Somehow instead of going away, Mike had become Katie’s permanent driver.
To my surprise, Katie and Mike worked things out. As Mike became more relaxed and friendly, Katie turned on the charm. Soon the two of them were buddies. Even better, Mike would pass messages to the aide at school at drop off and report back to me on how the school day went. I’d ask about the ride home and Mike would say, “I turned on the music and we rocked out together.”
Like Katie, I began to see Mike as a friend and ally.
When school started this fall, both Katie and I were happy to see Mike again. Yet after a few weeks, different drivers replaced Mike more often than not. Katie wasn’t happy, but she tolerated this change. Finally the dispatcher called to tell me that Katie would have a new permanent driver. Abdul’s nice, but he and Katie clearly have a few things to work out.
Last month, on Katie’s late-start morning, Mike was once again in the driver seat. I smiled as soon as I saw his big grin, and Katie eagerly flung herself into the backseat. Before I could prompt, she said, “Hi, Mr. Mike.”
Mike informed me that he had arranged it so that he could take Katie to school after his regular Wednesday morning route. I thanked him and he said, “No need. I did it because I missed her.”
Katie, who had been bouncing happily on her seat, stopped and said, “I missed her, Mr. Mike.”
Mike turned around. “Katie, that’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me all week. Give me five!” The two exchanged a series of high fives and happily departed for school.
I was surprised when Mike dropped Katie off that afternoon. He said he’d drive every Wednesday. “It’s my favorite part of the day, driving Katie.”
It was all I could do to keep from crying as I thanked him. Mr. Mike is yet another person I never would have met if not for autism. Yet another person who now “gets” the disorder thanks to my charming daughter. Yet another bit of luck on the journey that is my unplanned life.
About the Author
Cynthia J. Patton is a special needs attorney, autism advocate, writer, social entrepreneur, and founder of the nonprofit organization, Autism A to Z. Her award-winning nonfiction and poetry have appeared in twelve anthologies, including the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series, plus numerous print and online publications as well as performed on stage. The Northern California native and single mom has one daughter. She is completing a memoir on her unconventional journey to motherhood, tentatively titled My Guardian Angel Sings the Blues, as well as a chapbook of autism poems. Learn more at http://CynthiaJPatton.com.