I feel like I’ve been noting a lot of anniversaries lately. Well, here’s another good one. I realized this the other day as I saw yet another Hurricane Katrina commemoration special on tv. It was exactly ten years ago, coincidentally as the storm was making landfall on the Gulf coast, that we left Austin and moved to Plano. Ten years to the day. It hardly seems possible.
Austin to Plano. If you know anything about Texas communities, or about my snotty liberal politics, you might conclude that this relocation was perhaps… unlikely. Austin is a blue fortress deep within red state territory; Plano, on the other hand, was ranked as the fifth most conservative city in America by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research in 2005, the year we moved here. It’s not a bad place to live, I hasten to add. It’s been voted several times by CNN Money magazine as among the very best places to live in America, although I suspect that’s the kind of opinion you might have of Plano if you work at a media entity that has “money” in its title. It’s a nice enough town, but never a place I thought would be my town, exactly.
But Plano had the right school situation for Schuyler, a class designed specifically for kids who use assistive speech technology. And so, like so many parents have done, we moved here, chasing services. Austin failed Schuyler in a big way, so we packed up and left our jobs and our lives, from a city that we’d moved to before for exactly the same reason. I never knew there was a name for what we were doing until I saw it in an article online. Nomad parenting.
There’s a term for it, as it turns out, because it’s pretty common for families of kids with special needs. I remember when I wrote about this once before, the response I got from other parents made me realize just how often families like ours find ourselves chasing opportunities. Or perceived opportunities, I should say, because if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that the future hasn’t read your plans and isn’t interested in making them happen. Like everything else, you pay your money and you take your chances.
After all these years, I’ve come to question the wisdom of nomad parenting, although I guess it’s easy to do that from a place of some success where Schuyler’s school situation is concerned. If we’d stayed in Austin, she would have continued to be very poorly served, and while I don’t always agree with the approach her special ed team at her current school has taken, she has nevertheless benefitted from excellent teachers and a school district that brings real resources to bear for kids like Schuyler. If she were still slipping through the cracks, I’d probably be feeling pretty nomadic again.
It’s not that I’ve fallen in love with Plano, or that I think I’ll live here forever, or even for that much longer. But what I’ve come to realize is that what I’m chasing isn’t services. It’s not the perfect educational fit or the most ideal community that I’m looking for.
I guess for me, I’m simply looking for the place where Schuyler will be happy. I suppose I’m looking for my own happy place, too. Those two are bound together, I know. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see how complicated and elusive that might be. Now that she’s a teenager, Schuyler’s best bet isn’t The Perfect School. And when she transitions to her adult living situation, her own level of success is going to be driven by factors depending less on the services she receives and more on the life she wants to build and the willingness of the world to make that space for her.
Ten years ago, we chased a dream for her, and that has been both more successful and more complicated than I ever imagined it could be. If another parent of a young child with a disability were to ask me if I thought nomad parenting was a good idea, I wouldn’t have an easy answer. Ultimately, I’d probably tell them that there are no guarantees, as with life itself, but in the end they need to follow their hearts and hope for the very best, and to look inside themselves for the real opportunities.
Also as with life itself, I suppose.
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