Maybe it doesn’t quite feel like it this year, with all the anxiety and tragedy and fear in the air, but December is typically a month that many of us associate with a kinder, more peaceful atmosphere. I’m not a religious person, and I live in a region that doesn’t exactly turn to a winter wonderland for the holidays. So holiday spirit doesn’t necessarily always come naturally to me. But as in so many parts of my life, I take my cues from Schuyler. And Schuyler, little agnostic heathen though she might be, is nevertheless the Queen of Christmas. In the face of both a hard world and the obstacles of her own disability, Schuyler sees through it all, to something better within.
Part of her happiness comes from the fact that this is the birthday season as well. Both her parents have birthdays beginning around Thanksgiving, as well as a few other relatives, and her own birthday falls just a few days before Christmas. (Her middle name was chosen as a reflection of that, as she was actually due around the New Year. She adores the fact that her middle name, Noelle, means “Christmas”.) Schuyler loves birthdays. I think she mostly just enjoys commemorating the people she loves. Birthdays to her are like saying “Today, we’re simply going to celebrate the fact that you exist.”
When things get dark or complicated, as they have recently, Schuyler looks for comfort, familiarity. Her understanding of things like terrorism and racism and gun violence may be limited to some degree by her cognitive impediments, but like most kids with some degree of intellectual disability, Schuyler understands enough. She knows when the images on television are real. She gets why her school practices what to do in the event of an active shooter. She sees things on the news, and she watches for a little while before going to her room to escape from it. She understands enough, and honestly, much of what she doesn’t get is a mystery to the rest of us as well. How can people be so horrible to each other? How can they bring so much ugliness into the world? I don’t have any answers for her.
So this year, perhaps more than most, Schuyler wants to celebrate the humanity around her and to spend time with the people she cares about. In a few weeks, Schuyler will turn sixteen, and she wants to have a party. Birthdays for her are tricky because hers falls just a few days before Christmas, when most of her friends are already gone for the holidays. This year’s birthday felt important to her, and she agreed to push it back until after the holidays so that her friends can attend. So we have a little breathing room this time.
Her list of invitees is coming together, and her plans are shaping up accordingly. Her friends are almost all from her special education classes or Miracle League, and she tries to be sensitive to their needs. No bowling, for example, as one of her best friends uses a wheelchair. That was a big one for her. And really, her plans don’t involve anything grandiose. She might just want to go to the mall with them. The important part for her is simply to spend some more time with the people she loves.
Love is a big thing for Schuyler. She doesn’t understand how it works, not always, and she’s not always great at distinguishing between the differing levels of friendship. I don’t know that I see that as a negative, even though it certainly makes things more difficult for her. She’s got a big heart. That’s one thing about her that has never changed, and God, I hope the world doesn’t beat it out of her.
The world isn’t an easy place for kids like Schuyler, but at times like the holidays, it can perhaps be a little more straightforward. I think one reason Schuyler adores this season so much is that for at least a little while, the rules become a little more clear, and a little more fair. It doesn’t matter so much if disability makes things harder, because during the season of peace, the people around her perhaps try a little harder to be kind and inclusive. The world in which she lives, one that fascinates her even as it sometimes disappoints, it makes a little more sense at this time of year. And if I’m paying attention, her straightforward love for that grand rough world begins to make a little more sense to me, too.
The world’s gift to Schuyler is a playground, one that might sometimes hurt her or keep her down, but which has the courtesy to at least never bore her. Schuyler’s gift back to the world, and to those of us lucky to walk through it with her, is her belief in its capacity for goodness and fairness and maybe just a little bit of gasp-worthy wonder. I’m hopeful the world might live up to that belief, if only for a little while.
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