Last week, we had another chance to hit the road together. The occasion was the 43rd Annual Mid-South Conference on Communicative Disorders in Memphis, Tennessee. I was delivering the keynote address at the closing luncheon, and Schuyler was there because none of what I say means much of importance without her, and every bit of it makes sense when she’s there.
Schuyler excels at these conferences. She is rarely shy, always curious, and no matter how many planes we transfer to or how many hours we spend in sweating transit, she is always fresh as a daisy and ready for the next thing. We’re taking another trip next week, this one personal, and she’s already pumped and ready to go. Schuyler is an adventurer, in the truest, most Shackletonesque way. Her taste for the new is never satisfied. Routine is perhaps her most frustrating foe. Where most kids, particularly those with disabilities, may find a comfortable groove, Schuyler finds only ruts.
She makes friends, usually young student attendees or volunteers. This conference was student-run, so her options were almost endless. She gravitated to a handful, however, including one volunteer who revealed that she, too, has a chinchilla as we rode to the hotel from the airport. That was it. Cue the many, many photos of Schuyler’s chinchillas. (And maybe a restraining order by the end of the conference.) Schuyler makes friends effortlessly and holds them close, and she wins them over. I can watch her do it a hundred times at a hundred conferences, and to me, someone who can be painfully shy at the most inopportune times, it looks very much like a miracle.
I see how Schuyler is at these conferences, and I get a glimpse of what her life might be like one day. I see in Schuyler a natural advocate, and one possible face of disability for the world. I know it’s frowned upon by many to use the word “inspiration” when it comes to those with disabilities, but that’s just what Schuyler can be. It’s not so much in a “gosh, what a plucky little trouper” kind of way so much as “all of this just might have a happy ending one day”. Parents of kids like Schuyler see a possible outcome, and maybe they’re not quite so afraid.
I see Schuyler at work, and my own fears are eased, if only for a short time.
As I was delivering my speech, I could see, out of the corner of my eye, that Schuyler was working on something on her iPad. I didn’t think much of it; I won’t pretend that she pays attention to the entirety of a forty-five minute speech, even if it’s mostly about her. But when I was done and was leaving the stage, Schuyler handed her iPad to me. She’d written a message for the audience. She was thinking of giving it herself, but chickened out at the last minute. Schuyler wanted me to read it to them instead.
“Hello everyone. My name is Schuyler and I am here for my dad’s speech today and I can’t let my dad down. Thank you.”
As if she ever could.
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