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Two Simple Experiences

DSC_0055Sometimes I write about issues. Today, I’m going to write about simple experiences in the life of my daughter. Two of them, to be precise.

Schuyler’s participation in band over the last few years has been one of the most persistently positive aspects of her school life since she left elementary school and the protective walls of her AAC class. When she was in middle school, Schuyler was fortunate to have two band directors who were deeply committed to giving her a meaningful participatory experience. She didn’t become a child prodigy or anything, but she found a place where she could feel closely supported and safe and… not weird. Or less weird, anyway.

Now that Schuyler is up to her eyeballs in high school life, marching band has become something of a sink-or-swim experience for her. This has resulted in a few stumbles, such as when she took the field at last week’s football game with big floppy shoes that were not just untied but actually unlaced because she couldn’t do it and, for whatever reason, she couldn’t find anyone to help her while the band was getting into their uniforms. The new independent model of Schuyler 2.0 has some bugs to work out of the system, but she’s getting there.

This past Saturday, Schuyler and her fellow percussionists participated in a drumline competition. Julie and I have endeavored to give Schuyler as much independence as we can, even after the previously mentioned marching clown shoes debacle, but since the drumline wouldn’t be taking the bus from the high school to the stadium, one of us was required to be on hand for driving and general lurking about. I’d get to watch her from a short distance as she went through almost the entire experience, and without being That Dad.

What I saw confirmed my quiet high hopes for Schuyler.

Was she perfect? She was not. Far from it, actually. I watched Schuyler struggle to manage her equipment and even put on her uniform. And I saw just how much difficulty she has with her music as she tried to keep up with the players around her. Band is difficult for Schuyler. She works hard, not necessarily just because she’s such a conscientious band member, but for the same reason jumping into the deep end of the pool might serve as a good incentive for learning how to swim. Schuyler doesn’t want to drown.

The thing I saw when I watched Schuyler go through the experience of drumline contest was not that she got everything exactly right, but rather how she took on the tasks in front of her as they came. It didn’t matter whether or not she dealt with those tasks smoothly or just managed to get through them without too much drama. The point was that she navigated some tricky waters, and she almost never stopped smiling.

I watched Schuyler work hard and do some great things, and I watched her trip up a few times. Most of all, I witnessed her happiness, and her moment-by-moment pride as she got through the morning.

Later that day, the two of us went to lunch. Schuyler brought out her iPad, and when we got to the front of the line, she tried to order her food. I say tried, because when she touched the screen, it didn’t speak. The girl behind the counter looked on expectantly, with a glance at the line behind us, and believe me when I say that in the past, this would be the point where Schuyler would fall apart and ask whoever she was with to step in and either help or order for her outright.

But when Schuyler glanced over at me, I shrugged and said, “Let’s take a second to figure out what’s wrong.” The girl behind the counter could wait, and so could the people in line behind us. I refused to let anyone rush her, and honestly, no one seemed in a particularly big hurry.

Given a little patience and some breathing room, Schuyler relaxed and helped me troubleshoot her technical issues. We reset the Bluetooth connection for her speaker, cranked up the volume, and when the girl still couldn’t quite hear the iPad, Schuyler politely handed her the speaker and let her put it to her ear. When her order was finally taken, Schuyler took her speaker back and looked at me with something akin to smugness. A small problem stayed small, and that might seem like no big deal at all, but it might have actually represented something of a first for Schuyler.

So there you go. Two simple experiences in the life of a little girl with some daunting challenges and a big heart. A life well-lived is constructed of such moments.

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