Showing posts with label my big opinions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label my big opinions. Show all posts

October 28, 2017

The Big Fall

I’ve always known that this fall, and I mean specifically the autumn of 2017, was going to be a big deal. The numbers line up in an interesting way. If you’re a young person and you’re having a child at the age of thirty-two, do the math. It means you’ll turn fifty the same year your kid turns eighteen.

Which is what’s about to happen here.

It’s funny how you can look forward to, or perhaps dread, a coming change and still be at least mildly surprised at how it manifests itself. I guess that’s been a constant in raising Schuyler, and I suppose in parenting any kid with a significant difference. The only thing you can count on is when those anticipated moments arrive, they won’t play out exactly like you thought they might. Blessing, curse, whatever. An unconventional life is what you get.

For Schuyler, her eighteenth birthday is arriving faster than she wanted, I think. There are things to consider. She’s going to be added to our bank account soon. (Oh, the vast treasures that await her from that yawning pit of gold!) We’re exploring all the limited guardianship options, trying to strike that balance between the independence she deserves and the protection and help she still so desperately needs. School is winding down, with all its irritations and dramas but also its safety and federally-mandated giving-a-damn about her welfare.

She’s had a pretty good senior year so far, I think. She’s taking some interesting classes, including an outdoor education class where they learn about camping and outdoor living and survival skills, so she’s set for life in post-apocalyptic Plano. And apparently they’re learning to use power saws in her Theater Tech class, so absolutely nothing to worry about there. Significantly, after four years of marching band and inexplicable seizures in the stands during football games, we finally figured out how to stop them using sound-dampening ear muffs (designed for gun enthusiasts, ironically for this snotty liberal family). Nice that we solved that issue in time for her last five games. Well, what are you going to do?

I spoke to her band director recently, and he noted that Schuyler has come a long way since last year. She’s more confident, quicker to reach out to her classmates. Her social anxiety is still there, but she hates it and how it holds her back, and so she’s powering through it in ways I never learned how to do.

The ultimate test of that comes next week, because, and I can’t emphasize enough how momentous this is, Schuyler was asked by a nice young man to go to the Homecoming dance next weekend. If you don’t have a kid with a profound difference, you might not get what a big deal this is. Not because a kid is doing her a favor and taking her, which is how these kinds of things tend to play out in our popular media. No, it’s a big deal because someone saw past the extra work it takes with someone like Schuyler and saw the reality of exactly how amazing and unique she is. It’s a big deal because someone picked up an emerald in an unlikely place and recognized it for the valuable gem it is.

Schuyler and kids like her spend so much time on the outside of those social spheres. Even in campus communities like Schuyler’s, where she is generally well-received and accepted, it can sometimes feel like there are places she and her different classmates simply don’t travel. Homecoming is one of those, until it isn’t. Schuyler has asked about Homecoming and Prom in the past, and I haven’t known what to tell her. Now I can simply say “You’re going, and your dress looks FANTASTIC, and you’re going to have a big ol’ Texas mum the size of your head, and I’m going to take an embarrassing number of photos, and shut up, I’m not crying, YOU are.”

And a month and a half after that, four days before Christmas, she will turn eighteen. Just like that.

A month before that happens, however, I will celebrate, if that’s the right word, my own significant birthday. Let’s call it “forty-ten”. I’m torn between being slightly horrified by that fact and at the same time mildly and pleasantly surprised that I made it this far.

Pulling up to the fifty station has been occasion for a lot of self-examination, as I suspect it is for most people at this age. I’ve been facing some truths about myself that perhaps I’d internalized for a while. It’s probably not unusual to reach a point on your life’s calendar where you begin to question what you’re doing and how much it really matters. I’ve been looking at the world, not just my place in it, and it’s becoming harder and harder to imagine I’m making much of a difference.

I speak about disability issues, both in writing and in front of conference audiences, and the older I get, the more impassioned those species become. A few years ago, in a presentation in Ohio, I transitioned from mostly speaking about assistive technology and special education issues to a more activist, disability-rights-as-human-rights, “to the barricades and lets set something on fire” kind of speech. I’m good with that; I feel more driven to that kind of advocacy, particularly as assistive technology becomes a smaller piece in Schuyler’s life, as it inevitably must.

This past year has been tough, though. I don’t think I’m alone amongst disability advocacy writers and speakers in feeling that way. I stand in front of groups of special educators or speech language therapists, and I love them for what they do. But I’m also aware that I’m not reaching very many people who aren’t already with me. They have strong and beautiful voices, but they’re still the choir, and I’m preaching to them.

And then I turn on the television or wade into the swamp that Facebook has become, and I see people gleefully talking about intentionally taking advances away from people with disabilities. I hear people from all over the political spectrum calling each other “something-tards”, and the same tired old “free speech versus being a goddamn decent human being” arguments raging. I watch brave fighters in wheelchairs forcing the police to carry them away from protests because they refuse to move, refuse to be silenced. And that’s incredible, that’s a level of bravery I don’t see very often, but I ask myself “Why are we in a place, in 2017, where disability advocacy has again become a literal fight for existence? How did that happen? And why are people like myself not making any progress in stopping it?”

I’m working on another book, which I’ve said before and meant before, too. I’d describe it as less memoir, more unhinged manifesto. Now that Schuyler is leaving school, I guess I feel like it’s an appropriate time to revisit her world, and the bigger, rougher one she’s swimming out into. But my faith in my ability to effectively light fuses has been shaken, and I’m not sure how to get my mojo back.

I think I’m a fair writer on a good day, but while it satisfies something crucial in my soul, I wouldn’t say it makes me happy. And advocacy for me is part penance, part mission, one that I couldn’t turn away from if I wanted to, which sometimes, honestly, I’d kind of like to do. As I approach fifty, I do so with a sense of feeling slightly untethered.

The one thing that I find myself turning to after all these years is music. When asked what I do, my first impulse is still to say “I’m a trombonist”, although given the evidence of what comes out of my horn when I play these days (besides dust), perhaps I need to brush up a bit more. Music is the thing that makes me happy, even though I’m probably no damn good at it anymore. I’m going to grab onto that for a while and see where it takes me.

For our birthdays, Schuyler and I are wishing for big things. She wants a tattoo, and the old “Oh, sorry, we’d love to make that happen but the law says you have to be eighteen” dodge has finally come home to bite us on our asses. So, a tattoo it is, and to be fair, she’s got some good ideas. Also, and this is kind of shitty of me to say, but I’m not sure I have faith in her pain tolerance. She may end up getting a comma, in a twelve-point font, before she bails. But she’s a resilient kid. Or young adult, really.

As for me, I want to learn a new instrument, an unusual one called an ophicleide. Schuyler wants to be the one who gives it to me, so much so that she started an online fundraiser, which did my old man heart good. She’s a much nicer kid than I realistically should have ever expected to produce, and perhaps just getting to take undeserved credit for that is gift enough. Also, I suspect she really wants to hear me moo like a cow.

So, a dragon tattoo and a 19th century French fart horn. We’ve got this birthday thing covered. The rest of it, the big, broken world and the shrinking pool of empathy and the coming void that I’m trying to hard to ignore? They can wait.


July 17, 2017

Warriors

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Social justice warrior. SJW, to use the not-quite-clever abbreviation. Why would that ever be an insult with any real bite? To those who use that term in a derogatory way, I suspect it sounds funny because they’ve never lived a life where societal injustice has ever left a mark on them or anyone they particularly care about. Do you occupy a world of privilege without ever actually looking outward with empathy or compassion? Then I suppose the idea of people who fight for the dignity and equity of vulnerable populations might seem silly to you. I’ll give you that.

June 28, 2017

The Monster We All Feed

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
We live in a society where rape culture isn’t just a thing, but a gigantic thing. It’s a monster that we feed constantly, with our popular media and our societal privilege and an institutionalized misogyny that permeates our judicial systems and is now entrenched and protected at the highest levels of the executive. I wish I’d done more in the course of my life to fight that culture of rape and misogyny. I wish my commitment to fighting it had begun in my heart because I’m a human being and not because I’m the father of a daughter. Like the roots of my disability advocacy, it’s a shitty reason for me to care. As a privileged white male in this country, I’m the problem. I should have been talking about this for decades. I have a lot of catching up to do; many of us do.

June 16, 2017

Father’s Day snapshot

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When Schuyler and I walk together, she’ll still take my hand or lean against me. She’s more affectionate now than I probably have any right to expect. I always tell myself “You’d better enjoy this; one day she’ll be too embarrassed to show you much affection in public.” But I don’t know. She’s seventeen now, and while she’s still changing and learning so much as she rockets towards her future after high school, it’s starting to feel like we know the person she’s going to be. Looking at Schuyler now is to see the young woman she’s going to be, and probably already is. She’s got an impossibly big heart, and the hard world seems to be failing in its constant mission to shrink it.

May 18, 2017

I see you. I see what you’re doing.

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
We push back against ableist speech, over and over again, because we hope, against all the evidence to the contrary, that things might get better. And they did just a little, for a while, I think. And then a candidate for the presidency made fun of a reporter with a disability, and the citizens of this country saw the video of his grotesque behavior and decided that yeah, that’s our guy. And while that at least gave us a platform for advocating for disability rights, particularly at the Democratic National Convention, it also gave people license to say and do terrible things about and to our loved ones. So in the balance, things probably don’t change all that much after all.

May 13, 2017

What she needs

I haven’t posted over here in a while, not exclusively. I’ve been engaged in a more professional weekly blogging gig at Support for Special Needs, and I’ll be back over there next week. This has been a little two week hiatus, albeit an unplanned one. I try not to get too insanely personal or profane over there, and in some ways a slightly more measured tone is probably good for me. When I’m over here, there’s no telling what I might say (balls), after all. I guess this has just sort of become my personal little sandbox now, and that’s kind of nice. (Asshole! Tits!)

I guess the primary reason I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from the other more professional site has been not a lack of experiences about which to write, but a persistent string of incidents that felt too personal to get paid to write about. Getting paid to vent feels a little weird, although I’ve certainly done it before, I guess. Without digging to deep into the details, if there’s been a running theme over the past couple of weeks, and maybe a little longer, it might simply be this. Schuyler has been used very badly by a lot of people. Those include some shitty little friends-who-aren’t-such-great-friends-after-all, a boy who made what can only really be described as a sexually harassing remark to her in his very public place of employment (and the thunder is still being called down from the peak of Mount Daddy-o for that one), and the earnest teacher who believes she truly understands Schuyler but who very, very much does not.

Schuyler has been used badly, and she has stumbled a bit as a result. I know we have a responsibility to discipline her when she makes poor choices, and we have, very much so. But I can’t help but notice that her shitty little friends haven’t suffered any consequences for their actions, which included stealing Schuyler’s iPad and sending horrible messages to a really nice girl in her name. The boy who made a horrible remark to her is protected to a certain degree by his own disability, and I’m not opposed to that, of course. But he keeps his job with minimal consequences, and the school won’t even talk to him about the incident because it didn’t happen on campus so their hands have the appearance of being clean. And a teacher who was supposed to help minimize Schuyler’s social anxiety and awkwardness has instead attached booster rockets to them and sent them hurtling skyward. Schuyler has been left to pick up a lot of pieces this week. It must be said that she helped scatter them, to be sure. But still.

I’ve said before that Schuyler needs overbelievers in her life, and that’s never been more true than now. She’s got a few. Julie and I, certainly. We’ve got an IEP meeting next week, and I think it might be an ugly one, but that’s okay, because it’s always worth the ugly if that’s the last advocacy option. We’re ready to release the Kraken. We’re ready for a whole Kraken rodeo if necessary. (Yippee-ki-yay, motherfuckers.) Schuyler’s godparents are always prepared to listen to her, and give her good advice without letting her get away with any shit, which she will absolutely try to do because she’s seventeen, and because she carries my buggo DNA. And she’s got a few adult friends out there watching out for her.

But Schuyler needs more overbelievers. She needs them at school most of all, where they are in short supply outside of band. Just yesterday, she found out that she was rejected for the campus club that she wanted to join, one whose members help kids with disabilities. The reasons mostly revolved around her difficulties with communications and independence, the very life skills she’d be likely to hone if she were accepted. Schuyler’s had a rough year, and roughest of all has been when she’s made mistakes and no one has been there to guide her into better waters. Schuyler’s had plenty of opportunities for tough love life lessons this year. I’m tired of watching her endure them. I’m inclined to let her breathe a little, but that opportunity will apparently have to wait a little longer.

My greatest frustration with Schuyler’s current school (outside of band, where she is well watched over) springs from how they often seem like they’re in a hurry to be done with her. I can almost hear them counting the days. But honestly, I might be counting, too.

This morning, I’m sitting in the stands watching Schuyler play baseball with her Miracle League team. If you want to see Schuyler in the wild, this is a good place to observe her. Schuyler loves Miracle League, not because she’s an especially gifted player (although she does make a couple of pretty sweet plays today, I’m happy to report), but rather because here is where she feels free to cut loose. Her big laugh is easily heard from the stands. She dances to everyone’s walkup music, she jokes around with every player around her, and she gives out hugs and high fives to players on the other team as they visit her at third base. Seeing Schuyler like this is to be reminded that she’s got the biggest heart of any person I’ve ever met, and likely that you’ll ever meet, too. Here on this playing field, she’s not a collection of expectations or evaluations. She’s not disappointing to anyone who expects her to step into the holes they’ve dug for her. At this moment on a spring Saturday morning, with her backwards-turned cap and her bright pink socks and that atomic smile, Schuyler is all potential. She is as deserving of belief as she has ever been.

I love this young lady, this little girl who isn’t a little girl, and yet kind of is. My patience is being tried, but not by her. I don’t let her get away with much; I’m probably a lot stricter of a father than you imagine me to be. But she’s at a crossroads right now. She needs grace, and she needs encouragement. She needs to be reminded of her strengths, because she has so many. She needs a more empathetic world than the one we currently live in.

Schuyler needs more overbelievers, and she needs them rather a lot.


April 19, 2017

I think I’ve got a quarter if they need one.

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Weird? How are we measuring “weird”? What does “weird” look like for someone like Schuyler? Or for anyone else? I mean, we spend weekends driving around looking for invisible monsters to catch with our phones. Our threshold for weird might not necessarily line up with the purveyors of this particular behavioral inventory.

March 29, 2017

We've met before.

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Those of us raising our kids in public school environments have a pretty good idea of what de minimis really looked like in its worst case scenarios. We’ve subsisted on the scraps that fall from the educational table. For the Supreme Court to now compel public schools to give our kids the opportunity to make meaningful, substantial and “appropriately ambitious” progress? That has to potential to change our lives and the futures of our kids. We’ll deal with the private school tuition issue later. (Private schools mostly don’t want our kids anyway. That’s a very ugly truth.)

February 23, 2017

The Persistence of Little Fish

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When I wrote about the little fish that quietly eat our kids up while we’re busy watching for sharks, I had no idea how many little fish were going to spawn in the coming years, or how sharp their teeth would become.

January 25, 2017

This is why.

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler was surrounded and engulfed and protected by a sea of women, and she understood, I think maybe for the first time, just how large her tribe could be. As she grows older, Schuyler's people becomes a more inclusive group, more intersectional. She took a big step at the march. Her disability advocacy took on more feminism that she'd felt or shown before. Her world grew bigger, and with it her protest and her advocacy.

January 19, 2017

Exploring Worlds Both Dark and Lovely

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
In taking my own focus inward to her more immediate world and trying to help as best I can, I feel like maybe I can recapture my own sense of autonomous self. I can't solve the Big Thing, but I can tell her what it was like when I was seventeen and trying to figure out if love was a thing for me. I can tell her what I got wrong, which weirdly seems to give her comfort. I have value as a cautionary tale, I suppose, which is true of my adult, parenting self as well. So many times, I feel like my fatherly approach to the walls that stand in her way is to keep smashing my face into them over and over until I find a brick that's loose.

January 12, 2017

Denial

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
There are two kinds of deniers. There are the kind that are just goofy, like moon landing deniers. They're not hurting anyone, they're just being kooks, God bless 'em. And then there's the other kind. September 11th was an inside job, they say. Sandy Hook was a hoax. The Holocaust never happened. Donald Trump wasn't mocking people with disabilities. These deniers aren't just trying to change the narrative to fit whatever their ideology might be. They are erasing people, they are taking the struggles and the particulars of the lives of vulnerable people or people who have been destroyed by the world and they're simply sweeping it away, as if it had never happened. If there's pain there, from the agony of a family wiped out by a hateful ideology or an act of violence to the heartbreak of a parent watching the future president turn their children into a joke and an insult, well, that pain is wiped away with simply denial. Didn't happen. The media lied. You're being too sensitive. You're being politically correct.

December 28, 2016

"At least I think that's so..."

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
I'm not going to try to pretend I'm hopeful, or that I believe the inherent goodness of my fellow citizens of the world is going to be our salvation. Maybe I should. Perhaps the first step to making it rain is seeding the clouds, I don't know. All I know for sure is that if 2017 is going to be survivable, if we're all going to get out of this intact and not epically broken, it's going to be because we did two things. Two things, just two, that's what I believe is necessary. They're easy, and they're hard. We need to take care of ourselves. And we need to take care of each other, in a very meaningful and personal way.

December 16, 2016

The Value of Protest

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
Protest forms special needs parents into people we would not otherwise be, and sometimes honestly never wanted to be. We become accustomed to advocacy, to stepping up when doing so makes things weird for everyone else. We learn not to care about the awkwardness, because our protest is God's work, it's in the service of the thing that we do that matters the most, the building of an equitable place for our children to operate. Others may care, others may love our kids and want the best for them, but no one else bears the responsibility to get things right like we do. When our kids grow up, many of them will move in various degrees towards independent life, and more important perhaps, lives that have meaning, and personal fulfillment. Our kids will require accommodations in a world that is loathe to provide them, either in services or equal opportunities or even just a social narrative in which they are allowed to be fully human. The world pushes against our disabled kids, and so for as long as we are able to do so, we protest, and we push back.

November 17, 2016

The next day, and the next

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
But the days roll past, and the Big Scary Thing becomes more and more background as the Many Small Monsters continue their work. We don't make peace with it, because when we close our eyes, it's always there. ("Ah, I can't remember!" cue laughter...) But we push it back as best we can, because the life he's mocking is a hard life, and it's hard and time consuming no matter who's the president. Our monsters aren't all that concerned with politics. Our devils don't vote.

November 9, 2016

The New Danger of Difference

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When Schuyler gets up tomorrow and faces her weary and deeply disheartened father, she will be told that what's wrong with America isn't those like her who are different, or who insist on their humanity without limitations. What's wrong with America doesn't belong to her.

November 2, 2016

A Simpler World

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
I hate this election season, like I hate anything that I find difficulty in explaining to Schuyler not because it’s complex, but because it’s just kind of bad. I feel like every time she hears me explain why a person running for president would lie or mock someone who’s different or say gross things, it dents her a little. Every realization that the world can be awful leaves a little scuff. I hate trying to make sense out of a nationally known comedian going on television and using hate speech to tell the world that she and her friends aren’t fully human. I hate having to tell her that someone wants to be president of her country but they probably aren’t good enough at heart to deserve that job. I hate trying to distill a hard world into something she can digest. I hate having to sell injustice as one of those things that she’s just going to have to accept sometimes.

October 5, 2016

Small expeditions

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Years from now, I hope we see these small expeditions as the beginning of Schuyler's true adventure, the one she takes on by herself, in a world that may be as unprepared for her as she is for it, but which will be hers for the taking nevertheless.

September 21, 2016

Check your local listings, and hold your breath

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I feel like there's been a subtle shift in how people with disabilities are perceived in the popular media. I think I heard more about the Paralympics in the media this year than ever before, although still not enough when you consider the extraordinary work the athletes put in. On-screen portrays of people with disabilities are becoming less of a big deal, although again, there's a lot of distance left to cover. And the notorious "R Word" seems to be slowly transforming into, if not a taboo word, at least one mostly perceived as being used and defended by low class persons. Outrage at the mocking of a journalist by a politician probably raised more awareness than all the ribbons and marathons of the past year, so, you know, thanks for that. (I'm hesitant to say his name again, kind of for the same reason I don't look in the mirror and say "Candyman" three times.)

September 14, 2016

Toll

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Being a special needs parent is an amazing experience, but it runs a deficit. The obstacles that society throws up. The constant struggle to be taken seriously by professionals and educators and family and, well, the world. The ticking clock that runs out way too quickly on the protective cushion our kid's childhood provides until it very much doesn't. The isolation. The pain and anxiety our children feel and our frustrating inability to explain or make right the things that impair their young lives. They learn to find their way, and we are central to that discovery. But it takes its toll.