posted Tuesday November 26th, 2013
This morning Sophie and I toured a charter school in downtown Phoenix, our first visit out into “the field” as we look for a junior high for her.
“That was fun!” she announced when we got in the car.
“Really?” I thought to myself. “Because I feel like I’ve been through a meat grinder.”
The school is wonderful in so many ways — K-12, with a warm, family feeling and nice facilities. The staff are clearly devoted.
And it was obvious that none of them had ever encountered a kid with Down syndrome. (Or if they had, not much.)
We’d been to the auditorium (where Sophie begged to get up on the stage; I said no); to the dance studio (where I’d given in and let Sophie perform her role from the Snow Queen for the education director and special ed teacher); to the gym, cafeteria, and math/social studies classrooms when I pulled the education director aside and said, “So, I hear Sophie would be the first student with Down syndrome at your school.”
“Oh yes,” she said, laughing nervously.
“So what do you think?” I asked. Sophie had made it up the long staircase, but barely. She kept sneaking her thumb into her mouth. She identified equipment in the science lab, shook hands politely with teachers, stared back (not impolitely) at the kids who stared (not impolitely) at her. In all, a mixed bag of behavior.
But still, I figured this woman would talk about how smart Sophie was, how witty, how well she’d fit in. She didn’t.
“Oh boy! Well, um, yeah,” she fumbled. More nervous laughter.
I interrupted. “It’s okay, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”
And I was sorry. The tour continued; I stayed behind for a moment to compose myself and snapped a photograph of a quote on the wall outside an English classroom:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — J.K. Rowling.
I have not read or seen Harry Potter (I know, I know) so I’m not sure of the reference, but the words rang in my head. This junior high thing is all about choices, and I’m the one who has to make the choice. I am the steward. If I screw up, Sophie suffers. (And other people, too, potentially.) Yes, Ray is part of this, but really, it’s me.
And I don’t do well with choices. As we walked down the stairs I thought about the last time I had limitless choices — just after graduate school. I had no boyfriend, no job, just a few boxes of books and cassette tapes. I could move anywhere, do anything. I sent out resumes, interviewed for jobs, trained as a bartender (that didn’t go well), even got a few offers. In the end, I froze. I came home.
And in the end, it was the right decision.
I want to make the right decision for Sophie. But there are too many choices — and none are right. I’m beginning to feel like Goldilocks.
Walking down those stairs, I knew this school was not the right choice. We were all quiet (except Sophie) as we walked back to the office. As we approached the door, the education director interrupted the silence.
“You know, when you were asking before about a student with Down syndrome going to this school….”
“Well, I guess what I meant to say is that we’ve never had the experience before. For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened,” she said. “The thing is, we’d all be learning together.”
I looked up and smiled at her. I felt better. Better enough, at least, to fill out the lottery form before we left.
I pulled up to Sophie’s elementary school and jumped out to help her out of the car. She held her arms wide. “Hug!” she said.
I wrapped my arms around her, Olivia the Pig backpack and all, and held on tight. Then I sent her off to her sweet little school and tried to remember, as I pulled away, how hard it was to make the choice to send her there.