May 23, 2011
Who She Is
It changed, subtly, last spring when the district diagnostician began her now-infamous quest to retest Schuyler's IQ in order to get a lower score, the score she believed would be more accurate, the one that would classify Schuyler as mentally retarded. She did so without dissent from anyone else on the team. Anyone but us, anyway. It was all done with the best of intentions, I know. But last year, we suddenly felt like we saw one little girl and they saw another. It was hard to objectively weigh their opinions, backed by professional detachment, and ours, loaded with overbelief but also a depth of experience unique to parents and family, a familiarity that can't be known to even the most dedicated professional teacher or anyone else who goes home at the end of the day and moves on at the end of the year.
Tomorrow we go back, and we're hopeful that we'll be back to a place where we're all mostly on the same page and we're approaching Schuyler for who she is, not trying to redefine her as something that fits more easily into a box or a checklist or preconceived idea. That's what we hope for. That's also the expectation we try to bring, with a kind of polite fierceness.
None of this changes who Schuyler is. And it only changes who she may become if we let it, if any of us who work for her do so with the intention of making her fit. She HAS to fit, and yet she CAN'T fit. If that sounds like an unresolvable paradox, you're right, you're absolutely right. If it sounds like a familiar unresolvable paradox, I'll bet you're the parent of a different child, a broken child, like ours. Flawed and neuro-atypical, and yet unique and all their own.
Schuyler is who she is. If you want to know her, you don't need a diagnostic tool or years of impressive yet often irrelevant teaching experience. You need only to watch, and listen, and learn.
You'll figure out quickly that she wants friends, she wants them more than anything, even if they are in fact the hardest thing in the world for her to have, more difficult to acquire even than that goddamn marimba.
You'll learn that she has some unshatterable loves. Root beer. Lady Gaga. Dogs. Squinkies. Chick-fil-A. Fake farts in the bathtub. Summer spent in the pool. Painting her fingernails. Sea monsters and mermaids. Maxie. Referring to the police as "The Fuzz", "The Po Po" or "Johnny Law". Rattle-the-windows thunderstorms. Hot-air balloons. Mismatched socks.
You'll learn that she moves like the Tasmanian Devil, never in a straight line, rarely gracefully, and with a casual disregard for the personal space or safety of the people around her. You'll see her boundless energy, and you might envy it even as you worry about the breakables on the shelves around her.
You'll discover how important family relationships are to her. You'll watch her figure them out, like a complex cast of characters, and you'll see how she obsesses when something doesn't fit, like the one dead grandparent she'll never know. You'll see how much she wants the sister than she'll never have, the one she CAN never have.
If you watch Schuyler write, you'll see that she is behind her peers, but you might also see how her mind works in ways not devoid of logic. Sometimes, very very occasionally, you'll see a kind of Martian poetry in her written words.
Schuyler loves disguise. She hangs onto all her old Halloween costumes and mixes their parts. She loves wigs and masks and capes and hats. It is tempting to think that she is trying to be someone else, trying to adopt another identity, but really, I think most little girls her age are exactly the same way.
Schuyler is never jaded. Ever.
Spend some time with Schuyler and you'll find that she loves games, even if she balks at the rules. She plays Uno but hates to lose. She loves Rock Paper Scissors, but if she falls behind, she's likely to pull out something like a fist with her thumb pointed up ("Bomb"), or wiggly, menacing fingers ("Tarantula"). She loves to play "Real or Pretend", especially when there are qualifiers. Mermaids and fairies and angels and dragons are pretend. Dinosaurs are real. Dinosaurs that walk around eating people in the street are pretend. Cats are real. Talking cats are pretend.
Monsters are pretend. Except when they're not. She's ready for those, too.