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Sometimes We Celebrate

photo[2]Sometimes we don’t concern ourselves with how Schuyler is so very different from those around her. And when I say that, what I really mean is that of course we concern ourselves with it. It occupies so much of our mental and emotional energy. We try so hard to help her navigate those waters, with all their unseen perils. But there are times, very special times, when we force ourselves to stop doing that. We ask for accommodations from the schools and the world, but in those moments, we pretend that perhaps those accommodations don’t matter so much, just for the moment. We believe that our kids stand on their own two feet, and that there might just be a little hope for fairness in their world, even though we know better.

Sometimes, we simply celebrate.

Schuyler joined her middle school band as a percussionist last year, and while she’s had her challenges and continues to have them, it has for the most part been a positive experience for her. She’s probably not going to be a percussion virtuoso, but there’s a lot that Julie and I remember from our own band days. Among the lessons we learned back then was that not everyone is going to be a great player, or even a good player. The important thing to realize about that, and it’s something that most band directors understand but a few very much do not get, is that a student doesn’t need to be a great or even good player to contribute significantly to the band, both as an ensemble and a community.

We encouraged Schuyler to be in band because we felt like if there was one place she might find her tribe amongst a diverse group of mostly neurotypical classmates, it could very well be in band. We’ve understood for a few years now that Schuyler feels compelled to find a place in that neurotypical world. I’m not convinced that it’s advisable as a goal, but it’s one that she has set for herself and which we feel compelled to help her with as best as we can. While I can’t say that she’s found a place where she is treated as an equal, band has given her a group of kids who care about her, and directors who encourage and support her, and more importantly, accommodate her and include her.

This weekend, Schuyler participated in solo and ensemble contest, playing a solo on marimba. The piece that was selected for her was of a challenge level appropriate to her abilities, and she worked hard on it. It was like anything else Schuyler does. When she was focused, she could play it note perfect. When she was distracted or anxious or tired or amped up or any of the other states of being that she runs through so quickly, like a lightening round on a game show, then the music slipped from her grasp. Going into the performance room to play her solo, we had no idea which way it was going to go.

It didn’t help that Schuyler asked us to come into the room with her while she played, but then was entirely distracted by our presence. We should have known better; we should have said no. We should have trusted that, given the chance to grab the moment and make it all her own, she would have discovered that she didn’t need us there at all. I make mistakes with Schuyler, and most times, they involve being more present than I probably should, more protective, less faithful to my belief in her abilities. It beats the alternative, I suppose, but still. It’s something that Julie and I both have to work on. We know that.

At one point, Schuyler looked over at us and smiled because she got through a rough spot unscathed. Naturally, when she looked back at her music, she was lost. She didn’t entirely recover, and fumbled badly on the last line. She stood in silence.

The judge looked at her. “That’s very good,” he said kindly. “Would you like to try the last line again?”

She smiled shyly and said yes, and played it flawlessly. When she was done, he asked her if she was nervous and then told her how well she did, and that he gets nervous all the time, and how it was a very big deal, the fact that she had the courage to stand up there and play for him.

I don’t know how much he knew about her before she stepped into that room, but it was clear that at the very least, he had surmised the short version. And when he told her how he admired her courage, I could tell he meant it.

When we left the room and went outside, we found the big list of names of students and when and where they were scheduled to perform. Periodically someone would come and post scores. A Division I would be awarded for the very best, and then all the way down to a Division IV. (I believe, anyway. I’m not actually sure if there’s a V; if there is, I’ve never seen one awarded.) We waited around for a while, but Schuyler was getting squirrelly and the hallway was becoming crowded. When we checked the board, we saw that the student before Schuyler had received a Division III. Suddenly, I didn’t think I wanted to wait right next to the board for her result to be posted. We stepped outside into the cool, clear morning air and just talked and waited. Schuyler tossed pebbles into a gutter. We tried to pretend we weren’t worried.

Julie and I took turns going inside to check the scores. After about twenty minutes I went in and saw that Schuyler’s score had been posted. I looked, then looked again, following the line very carefully to make sure I was looking at the correct rating. Then I stepped outside and called Julie and Schuyler to come in and see for themselves.

Schuyler had been awarded a Division I.

Sometimes we don’t ask too many questions. Sometimes we don’t pick apart the decisions made by the people in her life, or try to look too deeply into those processes. Sometimes we don’t need to hear how a judge might make a choice based on something besides technical perfection or demonstration of proficiency, but instead on something larger, more powerful, and less subjective. We don’t need to know what moved someone to do a kind thing for Schuyler, or to try to measure the exact thing that a positive mark might be recognizing. People make fun of the “A for effort” without realizing that sometimes, the effort is the thing. It’s not the often-mocked “everyone’s a winner” approach. It’s more an acknowledgement that for some, the effort really is Herculean, and the fruits of that effort deserve accolades.

So we celebrated. I pinned a medal on Schuyler’s blouse and took her happy photo. She may very well receive one of her own when she goes to school, but regardless, I wanted her to feel some recognition in the moment. The medal I gave her was one of my own from my high school days, when I performed in competitions and accumulated awards and made my self-important mark on the world as a trombonist, a mark that I thought would define me for the rest of my life.

Now I know better. I understand what it is I was meant to do with that life, and what accomplishments are truly worth celebrating. One of them was to help bring a little girl with a big monster to a place in her life where she could stand confidently in front of a judge and do her very best, and to show him what real courage and persistence is all about. I’ve gotten a lot wrong in my life, but I think I might be getting this one mostly right.

It’s worth far more than a medal, but that felt like a good place to begin. She earned it more than I ever did.



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