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The Invitation Game

Sometimes I learn things about Schuyler the hard way. Important things. Things I feel like I should have figured out by myself. Often they’re things she keeps to herself, little pieces of inner sadness that she silently holds in her pocket until the day comes when she hands one to me. I don’t think she shares so that I can make those tiny sadnesses go away; at least I hope not, because otherwise I’m failing her miserably. I think Schuyler just wants to be heard, and for her anxieties to be aired once in a while. That seems fair.

Schuyler spent the last three days on her band’s spring trip down to San Antonio. Schuyler was nervous about taking a long trip like this by herself, and we knew she wasn’t quite ready to be totally on her own, so I signed up to chaperone. It was a good balance; a parent would be around, but I’d be busy chaperoning a group of boys and wouldn’t be constantly available to her. She would have the freedom to go off the rails, but not irreparably so.

For the first day, that’s pretty much how it went. Schuyler was a bit like a pigeon, flying free and independent but circling back now and then to her home roost. During the five or so hours on the bus, she sat in the middle of the bus with the rest of the students. I’m not sure what she was doing, other than drawing and texting me now and then. She seemed content. In fact, if I had to assign a grade to the entire trip for Schuyler, I’d say it was seventy-five percent successful. That’s not bad at all.

Later that first evening, the band took over one of those “pizza and games and honestly, we’re kind of phoning in the pizza” places. (There’s a little irony in the fact that its name rhymes with “Inedible Pizza”. But I’ve said too much already.) I could Schuyler’s social anxiety beginning to kick in, and by the end of the night, she’d attached herself to the chaperones. She was happy, very much so. But I think at least some of that happiness was mixed with relief at not having to work so hard.


The second day, the band spent the day at a Six Flags park. We knew this would be a lot harder for Schuyler, and we were right. She saw friends and would interact with them happily, but when they went off into the park, she always came back to the adults and myself. We encouraged her to go with her friends, but it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, and we didn’t push it. I enjoyed spending time with her, as always, and she really did have a good time. But it bothered me. We had wanted this to be a trip where she truly connected with her peers, and while she was getting along with everyone and wasn’t having trouble in her room, those deeper connections weren’t happening.

Towards the end of the day, she saw a group of kids whom I knew she really liked and who are genuinely nice to her in return. I thought this was going to be it, but when they walked off, she came back to me.

“Hey, don’t you want to go with your friends?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said without hesitation.

“So why don’t you go with them? There they go!”

She just shrugged, and we sat down on a bench. She seemed a little bummed, really for the first time at the park.

“Schuyler, what do you want?” I asked. “What would make you happy?”

Schuyler looked up at me with matter-of-fact and unsentimental eyes, and answered with seriousness but only a little sadness.

“I wish someone would ask me to go with them,” she said.

We talked a bit more about it, with me trying to pretend that it was no big deal and my heart hadn’t just broken into pieces. But she didn’t have too much more to say about it.

I saw it now. No one had ever actually asked her to join them. In absolute fairness, I’m not sure anyone was getting invited by anyone else, and I tried to explain this. The kids just gravitated to each other with ease and familiarity. They felt comfortable in joining each other without being asked.

But for Schuyler, the invitation has come to matter. She’s been gently excluded so often, usually by kids who feel real affection towards her but who haven’t built close friendships. It happens, in part because of her social anxieties but also because being a peer friend with Schuyler is work, particularly where communication is concerned. It’s good work, and the dividends it could pay off are rich, but it’s not easy work. It doesn’t happen much.

Schuyler understands on some level that her friendship is going to be appreciated by select people, and she’s been burned before. She wants to be invited in, she needs someone to look at her and say “Hey, we want you to be part of us.” And I should have seen it. I didn’t, to my shame.

When we got on the bus yesterday for the return trip, she asked if she could sit up front with me. I said yes. Well, of course I did.

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