June 25, 2008
The early days of summer have been different this year, for the simple reason that we've elected to keep Schuyler at home with us rather than handing her over to another summer program. I feel like I got adequate practice writing angry emails to administrators last summer, after all. The one thing her summer programs have had in common for some time has been the lack of progress she's made on her Big Box of Words. When she was at the YMCA, she never used it because they were constantly playing hard and swimming and having fun being feral kids on the go go go. Last summer, she didn't use it because the people taking care of her were too busy searching for a quarter for the clue bus.
So now she spends her days with one of us, mostly me since my boss doesn't mind her coming in to the office. I think she actually brightens the place up when she's there; the associate dean went out of his way to tell me how much he enjoys hearing her playing in the next room. She brings in toys (sometimes her fairies, other times her big slobbery monsters) and draws and watches movies on my laptop, and the summer session at the university doesn't seem so ghostly. During the hour-long commute, she jabbers away and watches the world going by with interest.
The more time Schuyler and I spend together, the more conspiratorial we become, which is nice, at least for us. When she has her monsters in the car with us, she asks for me to play the "monster mix" I made for her on the iPod (consisting of music from monster movies like Cloverfield and King Kong and Jaws and War of the Worlds), and we drive along pretending to devour the people we see on the sidewalks.
"Daddy!" She says. "Eat that guy!" Which of course I do. When she eats that guy, she only eats half, handing me the rest. She's a very generous monster.
A few weeks ago, her cousins came to stay with us. One of them, almost exactly Schuyler's age, is a smart kid, almost scarily so in fact, but he's also trusting in a way that is perhaps unfortunate when he's got an uncle and a cousin who spend so much time trying to trick and scare each other. (For instance, he now believes that I know a deadly martial arts move called the Monkey Paw, which I can't teach to him because unlike me, he only has ten fingers. Something to think about if you are considering asking me to watch your kid.)
Schuyler invented something called the grass monster a few months ago, a krakenesque creature lurking under the surface of the lawn who will grab you if you walk on the grass. When her cousin came to stay, Schuyler played grass monster all weekend, and I fleshed out the story for him until the grass monster had reached legendary status in our house.
Once he returned to Arlington, he googled "grass monster" and "arlington" from time to time, and always bragged to me when I saw him that there wasn't a grass monster in Arlington. Thus, he was safe. So really, in my own defense, I think a case could be made that some things are just inevitable. (He called me yesterday morning to give me the news.)
Julie's summer has been a little rocky, mostly on account of her work situation. I've worked in a bookstore in the past, same as her, so I know how petty and ridiculous the environment can become, particularly during the slow summer months when people grow bored and restless.
Still, it pains me to watch her deal with a work environment that increasingly resembles nothing so much as junior high school, with a paycheck. I don't write much about her here, for reasons that have been made clear before, but here's what you need to know about Julie, something that people who truly get to know her already understand.
Julie works very hard to maintain a positive and friendly attitude when she's at work, not just having a professional attitude but being open and friendly and funny as well. When she finds herself having to guard herself against petty people taking advantage of that, it does more than cause her to come to work and behave like a retail automaton.
It takes away her refuge, a place where she can go to escape the fact that the light of her life, the little girl who means every bit as much to Julie as to me, is living a life under threat, where every perfect moment has possibilities hanging over it that could snatch everything away in a moment.
I recently read a report of another kid with polymicrogyria, this one closer to Schuyler's age, whose life was suddenly and cruelly snatched away by seizures, the ones that Schuyler has yet to suffer but which hang over this family like a cloud. The possibility of meeting that one last terrible monster isn't something for Schuyler to fear, but her peace belongs to her alone. I can't afford to drop my guard, ever.
And neither can Julie. I write so much about Schuyler's monster that no one ever forgets the thing I live in fear of. I wish the people in her life would remember Julie's anxiety, though. It's her monster, too.