September 4, 2011
Schuyler attended a band event this week, held at a local video arcade/mini-golf/go-carts place. The kids were set loose with a cup full of tokens and free reign over the place. It was a nice gesture by Schuyler's new band director, and the kids seemed to have a good time.
There were a number of parents in attendance. We went because no one, not us and not her band director, was certain how Schuyler would do in a setting like that. It felt a little early to just throw her into the mix. But after playing a few games with her, we held back, went to another room and just waited. We watched her try to step up, and to make connections.
She tried. She was awkward, but she tried. After wandering the arcade for a while, looking for someone to play with her, she made her way to the laser tag room, where a bunch of her classmates were being divided into two teams. I watched her disappear into the dark.
When she came out later, I detected a change. And here's the thing that's hard to explain, and yet it's maybe the most important part. When Schuyler came out of the laser tag room, she wasn't defeated. She came out alone, and she didn't try to talk to anyone else, but she wasn't upset, not exactly. We asked how she did, and she gave a thumbs up. She then asked for more tokens and we sent her back into the mix. After a while, I slipped into the arcade and hung back in the shadows. I just wanted to see how she was doing.
Schuyler wasn't interacting with anyone. She wasn't trying to connect. Whatever happened in the laser tag room, it convinced her to retreat back into her private world. I watched her play games, alone. But again, she wasn't dejected. She played a motorcycle game until she was out of tokens, and then she came to find us. When she saw us, she gave us a little smile.
"Did you find any friends?" Julie asked her, even though I guess we already knew the answer.
Without really looking at us, Schuyler just said, "I'm fine." She repeated it a few times.
Her tone suggested that she didn't want to talk about it, so we didn't. We took her outside and played some miniature golf, and the evening ended as a family outing. After the three of us got away from everyone else, she perked up. She said she was fine, and she meant it.
Schuyler wants to be like everyone else so much, and it breaks my heart. I see how hard she tries to make friends with her neurotypical classmates, and I see how they walk away from the effort. I don't think they're mean to her, not exactly. Maybe they just don't know what to make of her, like so many before. Maybe they aren't sure yet if it's cool to be friends with the strange girl. I don't know.
I've shamefully confessed in the past that I often don't care much for neurotypical kids, and I'm not always much better with their parents. It's tricky, because we really do stand apart in so many ways, and when I see what their worlds are like and the (to me) alien obstacles they face, I have to really fight off resentment. Is that awful? I think it must be.
I watch Schuyler's neurotypical classmates walk away from her and I think "Wow, random NT child, you just missed a shot at getting to know the one kid in the room who is truly unique." I feel like if the rest of the neurotypical world would just stop and try, they'd discover a friend like none they've ever had before, and their lives would be transformed by Schuyler, as mine has. There are a handful of people in the world whom I would say have really gotten to know Schuyler, rather than just the idea of Schuyler. They've stuck with her for the long haul. And I think it's fair to say that every one of them feels enriched by the knowing of her.
But kids don't think like that, not at this age. A lot of adults don't either, actually. A lot of people are missing Schuyler, missing out on the chance to enter into an authentic relationship with her, on her terms and in ways that make her happy and make her grow. Well, school's just started. I think perhaps they'll catch on.
And so she retreats, head held high, and she plays alone, or with us. Mostly she plays alone. She doesn't seem happy about it, not exactly, but she does seem to be at peace. Schuyler has a back-up plan, it seems. Her world may be a little lonely, but it's cool. She's cool, too cool to wait around for admittance to a world that is frankly a little grey compared to the one she constructs and reconstructs.
We talked this evening as she got into bed.
"Do you like school?" I asked her.
She nodded her head and said, "A little." She held her fingers slightly apart.
"Are you making any friends?"
"No," she said, but then changed her mind. She held up two fingers. Schuyler has made two friends, or so she says. I met one of them this morning at her Miracle League soccer game. He's in her special ed class at her school. He's impaired, but even without clarity of expression, he made it clear that he genuinely likes Schuyler.
"Are you happy?" I asked her.
She gave her little secret smile and said it again. "A little."
I don't know how happy Schuyler is, exactly. Not all the time, anyway, and certainly not when she finds herself standing alone, as she does so often these days. But she seems determined to keep moving. Not like a shark, exactly, because she's easily the least predatory person I've ever known. Schuyler keeps moving like a hummingbird. She is always in motion, always searching for the prettier flower, the better place, a happier world with sweet nectar and loyal friends.
Hummingbirds don't seem strong. They're fragile, but they never stop. And in their perseverance, we see their genuine strength.