I know that perhaps from the outside, it seems like such a small thing. Twice a year, for about six weeks, Schuyler participates in a disability soccer league, courtesy of her local Miracle League. She does baseball once a year, too, but soccer is where her heart really lives. It’s not because she’s particularly talented at it; she’s pretty good, although she puts as much energy into dramatically expressing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat as she does in actual play. Schuyler loves Miracle League soccer because for six weeks, she gets to join her friends, many of whom she keeps in touch with but none of which she actually sees very much outside of soccer. She joins them on the field, and for an hour each week (and another in practice), they’re not the sum of their disabilities. They’re just a bunch of rowdy kids playing soccer.
I confess, I’ve worried so much about Schuyler finding her tribe, but in some ways, she’s had them around her all along. I think I always envisioned a close group that hung out after school and communicated regularly and folded each other into their daily lives. I realize now that I’ve been looking at it through neurotypical eyes. Schuyler’s tribe was never going to behave like I did with my youthful friends. Their particular obstacles are incredibly complex, and the logistics of something as simple as a trip to the mall to hang out are complicated. In the world of Schuyler’s disabled friends, electronic communications and social media have become something of an equalizer, and that’s where they navigate much their tricky relationships. They’re all finding their way, with tools I never dreamed of at her age. Schuyler’s Island of Misfit Toys is part of an archipelago.
When soccer season rolls around, all those complicated interactions become more clear. They’re standing together on the field, and they’re playing some damn soccer. It doesn’t even matter if they’re on the same team. A good portion of any pregame consists of kids on opposing teams running and hugging each other, and they sometimes give each other high fives during the games. Sometimes. They’re not immune to competitive feelings, but that doesn’t dominate their interactions. Their games are usually gentler and friendlier than typical soccer leagues, if perhaps a little sloppier, too. Social interactions that off the field are extremely challenging for most of them are granted a context by the game. Soccer is a bit of a monster tranquilizer, if only temporarily.
I see how much Schuyler and her friends enjoy the game, and I perceive how the parents around me seem to set aside a small portion of their anxieties for an hour and just watch, as I do. None of us are in denial; when the game is over, you can see the parents sigh and pick up that thing we all carry with us, like an invisible duffle bag filled with inexhaustible love, equally bottomless anxiety and just plain old weariness. We do what we do and we know we’re luckier than anyone understands that it’s our place in the universe to do it, but that hour, man. Just to sit and yell for our kids and chat with each other as if everything is going to be okay. Perhaps everything will be okay after all. And perhaps Miracle League is as much for us as it is for our kids.
Like so many things that are important to Schuyler these days, Miracle League isn’t going to last forever, or even that much longer. She’ll age out soon enough. But after she turns nineteen, she’ll still have options, such as volunteering as a buddy for players who need extra help. And the friendships she’s making now will endure, I think. I try not to worry about that like I once did. I just need to let go of what I think it’s going to look like as she gets older, and start to have a little faith. She’ll find her people. I have to believe that.
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