October 1, 2008
I mean, let me put that in context, because it's important, I think, to make a distinction here. There was a time in her life when that sentence could have very well been one of foreboding. In the past, a rough time for Schuyler could have been one in which she was back in the hospital for staph surgeries. It could have been one in which she was undergoing tests that freaked her out and hurt her and ultimately led to more questions than answers. And it wasn't that many years ago that a rough patch for Schuyler could have been one in which her teachers in Austin were trying to deny her services or even taking her speech device away from her, muting her and making her feel powerless and weird.
So I'm happy to report that the past couple of weeks have been a challenge for Schuyler for the same reasons that your own neurotypical kids have rough times. I know plenty of broken parents who would give a decade off their lives to have the problems that we've had recently. In a lot of ways, Schuyler's current issues even make me a weird kind of happy.
I told you about the loss/theft/alien-abduction/whatever of Schuyler's glasses. Sure enough, they never reappeared, and she's made do with her much less cool backup pair. The fact that they were taken/mysteriously-vanished/eaten by bears/whatever during her after-school program is just one of a long string of problems we've had with that program. None of them have been serious, not since the summer of '07, known as the "Here's a letter to the district program director explaining what it means to be ADA/IDEA compliant, have a nice day" summer. But still.
When the staff running the program appear to be losing track of kids and their belongings, that's bad for any of the kids. I'm ready to argue, however, that for a nonverbal but socially outgoing and weirdly beautiful (given her father's face) little girl with a fierce resistance to the idea of Stranger Danger and a $7,500 piece of equipment perpetually in tow, those concerns are multiplied. Add to that the fact that one of the staff members offered Schuyler a bag of Doritos (forbidden because of her PMG and its resulting choking danger), RIGHT IN FRONT OF US, and you might be correct in assuming that we've got some concerns, to put it lightly.
Schuyler's performance in school has been rocky, I have to say. I think she's finally settling in, partly as a result, I hope, of the IEP meeting we had recently. Schuyler's in third grade, which is age appropriate for her, but the work load has been stepped up and grades are now being counted for the first time. Standardized tests are being applied, and that means "scary boo" concerns from everyone. If Schuyler's going to keep up, it's going to take a lot of work, and focus, and we went into that meeting expressing our clear expectation of everyone involved in her education. There were some areas that we felt needed to be tweaked and improved, and they seem to have been. Schuyler's new mainstream teacher is young and fresh and happy, and while my McCainesque reaction to that kind of person is usually grouchy and condescending, I have to say that she seems to be on track. Schuyler loves her unconditionally, of course.
So here's where the concerns become little silver linings, even to someone like me who is resistant to taking lemons and turning them into anything but projectiles. The biggest issue for Schuyler to come out of that meeting, and in the occasional note sent home, has been her focus. Not her broken brain, not debilitating seizures, but her attention span. She tends to become distracted easily, and can sometimes be hard to keep on task. It's not her enthusiasm that's at issue; indeed, her sunshiny new mainstream teacher reported that Schuyler frequently raises her hand to answer questions before she actually determines whether or not she knows the answer. She just has a hard time staying on task sometimes.
The other thing we've gotten notes sent home about has been her willful defiance from time to time. And here's where I'm going to be blunt about something that's bugging me a little. We got an email recently explaining how Schuyler was refusing to do what one of her teachers asked her to do, and was being defiant and saying "no" when told to go somewhere, instead just crossing her arms and planting her feet. It was requested that we address this at home.
Another time, we were informed that she was giggling in class, and trying to make another girl laugh, too.
Well, okay. I know it might be in my nature as her father to be defensive on her behalf, although God knows we brought down the hammer when she got home from school. (On the defiance thing, not so much the giggling.) But the thing is, she's eight. She's defiant. Schuyler is praised by her teachers, and by me come to think of it, for her independent spirit and her "take no bullshit" attitude. And I truly love that about her most of the time. When she turns it on Julie and myself, it can be hard to stay positive about her independence. Everyone's happy about her stubborn independence until it gets turned on them. She's like the "loose cannon" character in every cop show on tv.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure that a defiant eight-year-old is really an emergency, email-the-parents-at-work kind of an issue. I think people are afraid to stand up to Schuyler, and that's probably my own fault as much as anyone else's. I suspect I paint a picture of our relationship that sounds very free and easy to you, and in some ways that's exactly right. But Schuyler hears "no" at home a lot, almost a ridiculous number of times every day, and when she says she doesn't want to do something, she hears a variation on "tough shit, do it anyway" an equally impressive number of times.
Most importantly, when she gets shut down, Schuyler almost never throws a fit about it. She never melts down and she very rarely pushes her case beyond the "repeat it a few times and see if the answer changes" phase. She has even given up on getting a "no" from one parent and then asking the other, although I'm sure than maneuver will return. Schuyler is willful and defiant and independent, but she also has an uncanny knack for sizing up the resistance and picking her battles. She's looking to determine her boundaries like any other third grader, and once she knows where they are, she's pretty good about accepting them.
While we're on the topic of notes, a story. When I went to pick her up yesterday, Schuyler had clearly met with some tragedy. Half of her face was red, with angry welts and scratches. She told me that she'd fallen in the grass during recess, and she didn't seem particularly bothered by it. It wasn't really a big deal, aside from the poor timing (school photos tomorrow, book signing on Saturday), but I was annoyed that we didn't receive a note or an email about it. I had to write to her teacher to get details, although in all fairness, there weren't that many to get. The teacher thought that Schuyler would tell us herself, and in fact she did.
Still, in the future, I'd probably rather get a note about injuries than giggling. As a general rule of thumb.
The important thing about all this is that Schuyler's issues these days are rather mundane. Even my issues with her school are Small Stuff; they continue to get the Big Stuff not just right, but dramatically right.
If I could send an email back in time about five years to myself, back when we were stressing over Schuyler's newly identified monster and the potential havoc it might visit on her in the future, and also the anxiety we felt over her abysmal New Haven school situation, 2008 Me would try to convey the hope and the possibilities that stretched before her. I'd tell 2003 Me about the bad things that never came to pass, and about the Big Box of Words, and the teachers and friends in Plano who would change Schuyler's life and put her on a trajectory that we wouldn't have dared to even dream about before.
But if only given one sentence with which to reassure myself, I could do worse than "Dude, her teachers here in 2008? They're worried about giggling..."