Schuyler survived her first day of middle school.
She seems to have done more than survive, really. She apparently had a great day. She jumped off the bus in a great mood, and was telling me about what they did in her band class before we even got the door open. She said she had a little trouble with her locker and needed some help, but she'll get it. She's already opened it a few times all on her own, after all, and she doesn't like to lose. Her lunch bag still contained the food she was too excited to eat at lunch, including her chocolate pudding, people. Chocolate pudding. She left pretty much everything at school that she was supposed to bring home, except Pinkessa, but otherwise she seems to have nailed all the big stuff. When I asked her how she did, she said "I listened to my teachers very carefully." She is trying very hard to get this right.
We've had a lot of anxiety about Schuyler going to middle school. The truth is that she's eleven years old, but she presents much younger. Schuyler has a developmental delay, but that doesn't tell her whole story. It's hard enough to track her intellectual growth, but Schuyler is also emotionally... naive is perhaps the best word. She's very sensitive and wants to help, to the point that she often invades personal space. She tends to play with kids a few years younger than she is, which worked out well enough in elementary school, but in middle school, she's among the youngest.
But it's not that simple, either. Schuyler is also very adaptable. We saw it last week at the school's open house. Schuyler is extremely sensitive to the behavior of those around her, and when she found herself surrounded by kids older and more mature than herself, she stepped up and she worked to fit in. I believe that's probably what she did today, too. Middle school might kick her ass a little, but it may just finally provide the incentive to grow up a little, too. Not too much, I hope.
There's an undeniable truth about Schuyler. She is mostly uninterested in embracing a world of neurodiversity. She wants to be like everyone else, and while we try harder than anyone really knows to celebrate who she is on her own terms, Schuyler works hard to walk unimpeded in a neurotypical world. She understands that she's different -- she's said as much -- but she also knows that she can pass for typical. I've written about the unique challenges of invisible disabilities, but Schuyler wouldn't have it any other way. I don't know how much success she'll have, and I suppose on some level she may be doomed to fail, but if anyone can do it, if any kid with a developmental disability can make her way through our world, it may very well be Schuyler.
At the open house, I watched her find friends and make a few new ones. I watched her as she puzzled out her locker, and I saw how she mapped out her classrooms. She memorized all the numbers she needed, and she did so without one bit of help. When confronted with a world of kids who are older and more independent than herself, Schuyler stepped up. I think she might just continue to do so.
Those of you who have been reading me for a while, particularly those who have read my book, you understand exactly how much it means to Julie and myself that Schuyler might one day be able to live independently. Entirely independently, too, self-supporting and on her own terms. Middle school is going to be a big part of that for her. She's got accommodations in place to help her. She's got assistants in most of her classes, except for PE and band, and she's got her medic-alert tag and a luggage tag on the little backpack that she uses to carry Pinkessa, so she can quickly tell people what they need to know. She's getting help.
But at the end of the school day, she gets on a bus and comes home. She'll have a key to let herself in if she needs to. As far as anyone who's casually watching knows, Schuyler will be the thing she dreams of being the most. She'll be just another kid.