“Do you think Schuyler would be interested in being a cheerleader next year?”
Well, now. That’s an interesting idea.
Briefly stated, Schuyler possesses a brain that doesn’t work like most, not even the brains of other people with Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria, her particular monster. Schuyler’s manifestation of PMG, unique in all the world according to the leading researcher in her field, presents itself primarily as a developmental delay and a pretty serious speech impairment. Schuyler can’t speak, not like most kids and not with much clarity, and her understanding of the world around her is extremely naive and without much in the way of nuance.
In some ways, she is like any twelve year-old girl, and in others, she is even wise beyond her years. But while she is making progress academically and is fighting the good fight as far as keeping up with her mainstream classmates is concerned, in some very significant ways Schuyler moves through the world in confusion. Her speech is weird and hard to follow sometimes, at least until you know her well, and the thoughts she is trying so hard to express aren’t always what you might expect. If every kid is a special, unique snowflake, Schuyler is a very odd snowflake indeed. A purple one, with blinking LED lights, perhaps.
To say that Schuyler joining the cheerleading squad was not an option that had naturally occurred to any of us might be an understatement.
As we got more information, it became less of a daunting thought. In my youth, the cheerleading squad was a gathering of a very specific kind of kid. They weren’t just the popular kids, although they were very much that. They were the über-popular kids, the ones who showed up at school every day in the shiniest, fanciest cars arriving directly from Valhalla. They were the ones who only spoke to each other and their courtiers, and they were often the meanest of the mean girls. Mean, but perfect. I was no shrinking nerd in school; I had a fairly diverse group of friends in band and in my classes. But I can say with absolute certainty that in all my years in junior high and high school, I never exchanged so much as a word with any of the cheerleaders, at least not after they joined the squad. I don’t know that it would have ever even occurred to me to try.
But apparently things have changed in this brave new world, at least at Schuyler’s school. Eighth graders can sign up for the squad and learn the routines, and if they show up for auditions, they are generally accepted. There are about twenty of them, sounding more like a spirit squad than cheerleaders. The faculty advisor who runs the squad is apparently an extremely laid back person (in my mind, I always imagine the cheerleading advisor as Violet Beauregarde’s mom in the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and I can’t imagine Schuyler’s teacher would have said anything to us about this without having a pretty good idea that it would be okay with the faculty sponsor.
“Of course, Schuyler might not be able to do the cheers,” she said diplomatically, “but I’m sure she would be great at the routines and the dancing. And I’ll bet she would just love it.”
And she would.
With Schuyler, it’s always a challenge, identifying the things that present real possibilities for her. As parents, we take the official party line of “anything is possible if you just believe, by golly”, but as parents of a different child, we are accustomed to a delicate dance, the one where we try to open as many doors as possible for her while at the same time gently working to avoid the ones that don’t easily accommodate her broken parts. Schuyler will probably not join the speech club, or drama, or any academic groups. She won’t take foreign language classes, challenged enough by mastering English in a reasonably communicative way (speaking, as she does, in a dialect that she shares with no other human in the world).
And as wonderful as she is, Schuyler will always be a deeply weird kid. Too weird for the likes of the cheerleading squad, or at least so I would have thought.
But maybe not. Maybe I’m selling her short. Perhaps my fear of watching her fail at this most social of endeavors, at a time that social interactions are already giving her fits, maybe that fear has caused me to step cautiously when I should be helping her to leap fearlessly.
It’s probably a purely academic issue. After all, if we’re still living in Texas by the time Schuyler enters the eighth grade, that will mean that things have gone terribly wrong with our Chicago plans. And once we’ve moved, I’m certainly not so pollyanna that I think that every school in America has replaced the Mean Girls’ Cheer Squad with the Inclusive Spirit Group.
But the possibilities remain, if only someone else is creative enough to make them available, and if we’re brave enough to take the chance, to risk one more giant heartbreak if it might mean a chance for friendships and acceptance, which are the currency of her twelve year-old world.