May 30, 2006
I hate turning her over to other people. A while back, I wrote about my secret dream, which was for us all to move to an island somewhere and be together without all the fears and pitfalls of a cruel society. It wasn't a healthy dream, I admitted as such at the time. On days like today, however, when Schuyler walks into another new situation armed only with her tough girl disposition and her Big Box of Words, my stomach ties in tight knots with all the old fears. That island sounded pretty good to me this morning.
A friend of mine recently found out that the teachers at her five year-old daughter's private school were singling out her kid for special treatment. It's not my kid, so I won't get into the specifics, but let's just say that I was a little surprised to learn that these teachers were adopting the Lord of the Flies educational model. A shame circle? WTF?
The details aren't important. What is relevant about this story is that the teachers apparently counted on the kids to keep the situation a secret, and for a long time, they succeeded through the use of that time-honored teaching tool, embarrassment. My friend didn't find out from her daughter, who was humiliated by the experience and was keeping it to herself, but from other parents where were hearing bits and pieces of the story from their kids.
The reason this story upset me so much, aside from the fact that in general, I'm not in favor of little kids being humiliated, is that this happened to a little girl who can speak. This happened to a little girl who loves to talk. I think you can see where this is going.
We're in a delicate place with Schuyler. A year ago, she was just beginning to use her device and was still spending all her time in a heavily (if incompetently) supervised special needs program. In a year or two from now, she will hopefully be proficient enough with her device that she will be able to accurately communicate to us if things go wrong and no one's around to stop it.
But right now, it's hard. Schuyler's spending more and more time in mainstream programs, and this summer, she'll be spending the better part of every day surrounded by neuro-typical kids. Neuro-typical North Dallas kids, many of whom will presumedly grow into North Dallas teenagers like the ones who recently had drug-infused muffins delivered to a local rival school's teachers and made a bunch of them sick.
She's still learning how to use her device, and communicating detailed incidents is still very difficult for her. We depend on her teachers and her after-school program staff to tell us when something happens, but we can all remember how often grown-ups got it wrong, and how important it was for someone to take us seriously when we needed to tell our side of the story.
Schuyler needs to be able to tell her side.
Julie came home from dropping Schuyler off this morning, and she was in tears. Nothing bad happened; Schuyler was nervous and hesitant at first, but then she saw some kids she recognized and was off in a flash. This is summer camp; she'll be outside almost the whole time, playing and swimming and getting dirty and eating bugs and generally being a kid during the summertime. Today wasn't a bad start at all.
But Julie was scared, like I'm scared. She'd like the island, too, but she sees better than I do that Schuyler would hate the island. Schuyer would swim to the next island when no one was looking and go play with the headhunter kids.
As much as I turn into Barbarian Dad when the world pushes Schuyler around, Julie is just as sensitive. But more than that, she's dedicated to the idea, as I am, that Schuyler's world shouldn't be so fucked up. The monster shouldn't be calling as many of the shots as it still is.
"I just want her to have fun like any other kid," Julie said through her tears. "I want her to be able to go swim and play and have fun like I always did when I was a little girl. I hate her stupid device sometimes. I don't want her to be different."
When things are going badly for Schuyler, it's hard to be her parent. But the thing is, sometimes it's hard when nothing's wrong, too.