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A Complicated Girl

After waffling back and forth for a few weeks over whether or not she wanted to go, Schuyler attended her first high school dance over the weekend. It was billed as the Winter Formal, but also had an optional “Roaring Twenties” theme, so I think it mostly played out as a general “wear what you want” kind of thing, at least for the young ladies. The resulting fashions ended up ranging from elegant to funky to “I snuck out without my dad seeing”.

Schuyler was unsure whether or not she wanted to go, and she was unsure what she wanted to wear. She’s an outgoing, gregarious girl when she’s in familiar surroundings, but she can be shy and hesitant when dropped into uncharted social waters. (Very much like me, actually.) In the end, a couple of her friends talked her into going. She was excited, and she was nervous. We talked her through the whole “here’s how to slow dance, here’s how you ask someone if they want to dance, etc.” routine as best as we could, and then we released her into the wild, which is, as any special needs parent will tell you, just as nerve-wracking as it is for typical parents, except roughly one billion times worse.

pensiveJulie and I sat in a Taco Cabana for the next few hours, receiving the occasional text from Schuyler. We responded and encouraged as best as we could, and she navigated the evening. When it was over, we picked her up and took her to McDonald’s, where she wasn’t miserable, but was certainly circumspect. Schuyler had expectations of how things would go, and those expectations were confounded. She was processing. A few days later, I think she still is.

The story of Schuyler’s first high school dance isn’t mine to tell. She did post on Facebook the next day, in response to people asking how it went, so I feel like it’s fair to share that small bit.

“I had a ok time,” she said. “No one danced with me last night.”

Schuyler’s evening was complicated. That much I can say. It was complicated for all the reasons that are obvious, and for all the ones you never think about. It was complicated because she looks like any other fifteen-year-old girl dressed to the nines at a high school dance, and it’s complicated because she’s not like any other girl there, or most places. It’s complicated for the things she understands about her peer relationships, and it’s complicated for the nuances that escape her. Her feelings about boys are complicated, and her inability to adequately express or process those feelings are also very, very complicated.

The whole thing is complicated for us as her parents, too. Complicated because we dream more than anything else that she might have an independent life in the coming years, but also complicated because we know the statistics, that eighty percent of women and thirty percent of men with intellectual disabilities have been sexually assaulted, and half of those women have been assaulted for than ten times, and that only about three percent of sexual abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported. It’s complicated because we want her to make her own mistakes, but not be devoured by them. It’s complicated because we want her to understand the grand, rough world but not be afraid of it.

But maybe be a little afraid of it, because it can be unkind to the point of cruelty.

Schuyler is the most complicated person I know, by a very wide margin. Her impending adult life and the relationships waiting for her are confusing to her, but none of it is any clearer to us.

“Do you think you’d ever want to go to another dance like this?” her mother asked.

“No,” she answered simply, but without hesitation.

We’re okay with that, although I suspect she will probably change her mind and try again. She’s a complicated girl.

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    February 3, 2015 |
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    February 3, 2015 |