Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Riding the Bus with My Sister can help.

Riding the Bus with My Sister: 18. July: The Optimist Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in the present, in the early afternoon, the silly, portly, sleep-deprived driver Bailey parks his bus in front of Kmart and yawns. He and Beth joke about how many times he’s yawned, and then he spills coffee on his shirt and jokes about it to the whole bus. Beth calls him “Crazy Bailey” because “he’s fun.” While he opens the bus’s roof hatch to let in fresh air, Beth explains that he’s so tired because his teenagers keep causing mischief. Like most drivers, he works four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon, and he loves the schedule.
Beth’s friendship with “Crazy Bailey” is clearly more lighthearted than her relationships with other drivers. After all, like every other driver, Bailey takes a unique, personalized approach to his vocation. While drivers like Tim, Jacob, and Estella use wisdom and empathy to create inclusive communities and enrich their passengers’ lives, Bailey does the same through humor.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
After an elderly woman yells “Get a job!” in Beth’s face, Bailey suggests that Beth help him make sure that his kids get to school in the morning, while he and his wife are both out working. She agrees, so she starts riding to his house in the mornings, knocking on his kids’ bedroom doors, and waking them up for the bus. Of course, Bailey devised this scheme for Beth as much as for his children.
While rude and intolerant, the old woman’s comments do speak to Beth’s family and friends’ real concerns about her decision not to work. Bailey’s scheme is generous and thoughtful, and it shows how people with developmental disabilities can contribute to society if opportunities are tailored specifically for them. Nevertheless, it’s not clear that other similar opportunities exist for Beth.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Beth has always struggled to keep jobs, as she frequently gets distracted, bullied, or bored. He government assistance check goes down when she works, so she has stopped trying. But this means she also hasn’t found the friendship, skills, or sense of purpose that can come with work. Rachel has long tried to convince Beth to volunteer or get a job, but she has always refused. As a result, Rachel thinks that Beth isn’t fulfilling her potential.
Beth’s work situation raises yet another difficult ethical question, because she’s capable of working—but she has no incentive to do so and prefers not to. Readers may or may not agree with Rachel’s belief that work is inherently good, but it’s clear that Beth would contribute more to her community if she actively worked to better it. Moreover, while forcing Beth to work would no doubt violate her autonomy, almost everyone else in society has to work, and so Rachel feels that Beth is taking advantage of the system by refusing to do so.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
The disability experts Rachel contacts give her mixed responses about Beth’s unemployment. Some point out that many people with Beth’s kind of developmental disabilities can and do work, while others suggest that Beth would struggle to find and keep a job at all. Rachel tries to find Beth work at a supermarket, an animal shelter, or even the bus company—but she doesn’t want any of it. Bailey tries, too—he wants to identify and build on Beth’s strengths, just like he does with his own children. But she doesn’t want to participate.
The experts Rachel contacts debate the extent to which people with developmental disabilities can adapt to a work culture designed for non-disabled people. But this question would not be so troubling if there were opportunities specifically tailored to the needs and abilities of people like Beth. Nevertheless, Beth’s behavior again shows that nobody else will make her change—she has to choose to change.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Get the entire Riding the Bus with My Sister LitChart as a printable PDF.
Riding the Bus with My Sister PDF
Meanwhile, Olivia keeps reminding Rachel that Beth’s treatment plan must be organized around her own preferences. This principle comes from the self-determination movement, which argues that people with intellectual disabilities should have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else, unless they’re a threat to themselves or others. Practically, this means letting them live how they want, even if it conflicts with what treatment providers think is best for them. Yet the professionals Rachel meets have conflicting views whether and how they should help their clients make the choices that are best for them.
Self-determination is the central principle in Rachel’s analysis of disability and accommodation. In reality, self-determination just amounts to saying that people with disabilities should have the same kind of autonomy over their lives as people who don’t have disabilities. Thus, self-determination doesn’t want to give people with disabilities a special status—instead, it gives them special support in order to help them reach the same status as everyone else. The self-determination principle explains why Beth’s team lets her make decisions that her family considers wrong for her, like refusing to work: the team prizes Beth’s autonomy over other people’s ideas about what is best for her. It’s also important to note that this model is dramatically different from the system that governed disability care in the U.S. for many generations, under which families and the government made all key decisions for people like Beth.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
In a traffic jam, Bailey remains totally calm and patient, because he knows he can’t do anything to control the situation. Rachel wonders whether she can find the same patience to deal with Beth. Bailey explains how he stays positive through a story: when locked in a room filled with toys, a pessimistic boy complains. But when locked in a room filled with horse poop, an optimistic boy plays and celebrates because “there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.” Bailey tells Rachel to “just look for the pony.”
Rachel admires Bailey’s attitude in large part because, according to the research she conducted in the last chapter, people with developmental disabilities grow best when their loved ones treat them with patience, calm, and optimism. Thus, Bailey is a role model for Rachel because he shows her how to treat Beth better. “Just look for the pony” is really just Bailey’s way of saying that Rachel must identify and celebrate Beth’s victories, rather than constantly worrying about her imperfections.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Rachel realizes that Beth is “the embodiment of self-determination”—she makes her own decisions in life and gets to leave an impact on the world. This helps Rachel relax. She marvels that Beth has found such incredible, wise bus drivers—and she realizes that Beth’s secret was putting in the effort to get to know all of them and figure out who was the best. In contrast, Rachel has never put this kind of effort into relationships with the people around her. She realizes how much she is growing from her time with Beth.
Rachel, Bailey, and the rest of Beth’s family and friends aren’t happy about Beth’s lifestyle. But after taking the principle of self-determination into account, Rachel realizes that her own opinions don’t really matter. Just as she has no right to tell her non-disabled friends and relatives how to live their lives, she ultimately has to respect Beth’s autonomous decisions. In fact, by taking this new perspective—or trying to understand Beth’s choices instead of trying to change them—Rachel learns important lessons about herself.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Related Quotes