They’re talking about school next year. My kid is going to school. Not the special ed preschool he’s attended for the past three years, but school-school. Big Kid School. Short bus school. Maybe even mainstream school.
I don’t want it.
When Eric was born I got this idea in my head that someday he’d be another Corky. (Remember Corky? He was the lovable ground-breaking character on the 90’s TV show Life Goes On — who had Down syndrome.) My hopes for Eric? College. Understandable speech, or mostly so, anyway (Corky’s pretty deliberate in his speech and if it’s a little garbled we all made allowances for that—after all this was Corky we were talking about, the symbol of hope to parents everywhere that their Down syndrome kids could make it in the mainstream world). A website. A blog. A kid who was, yeah, different, but he tries. And we’d all be proud of him for that.
I know kids like that. Kids who are doing wonderful things. Kids whose parents forego vacations so they can hire tutors and therapists not covered by state programs. Kids who ride horses and take gymnastic lessons. Kids who read. Kids who write. I admire those kids, and I admire their parents. They found something that works.
What works for Eric is TV. Cookies. Pancakes. Fruit. Food in almost any form (that’s surprising for such a tiny guy, but I always figured that most of what he eats just goes right through him, much like instructions and admonitions—in one ear and out the other). Diapers. Bare feet. Anything that vibrates.
I shudder to think about what it would be like to inflict Eric’s sweet mischievousness on a classroom of other kids. I wonder about acceptance, both his and theirs. For a kid with issues, he’s pretty intolerant of anyone else’s eccentricities. Some people just like to be the only thing in the orbit, I think. Eric adores being the audience to the knockdown dragouts staged by his older brother and sister, or to their pretend Nerf gun warfare, but in other venues (most of them) he prefers to be the star. Could a classroom absorb that level of self-absorption?
It could if they played Metallica.
Eric is a metalhead. “Enter Sandman” is his anthem. Give him a mosh pit and a Bic lighter, let him grow his five-year old wispy blond hair into an appropriately shaggy mane, and he’s totally there. Groupie. Fist-pumping. Heavy metal makes him come alive, the big bass vibration somehow sustaining him, infusing him with energy way beyond his cognition, taking him to a level of simply being.
Is there Metallica in Big Kid School? I am pretty sure there isn’t, but it’s the things like that I wonder about. Worry about. How much his differences will be not only tolerated, but appreciated. Loved. Celebrated. He has a family that loves him, that knows him. But out in the world he doesn’t communicate, just does what he wants in unfamiliar situations until someone has an issue with it. It’s a system that works for him, but I can see problems ahead.
It’s always scary sending your kid out into the wider world. The issues I’m exploring now with Eric are universal issues that every parent thinks about: will my child be happy, and will he be loved, out in the world? It really just boils down to that. And I’m not yet convinced that he’s ready, or that I’m ready, for Eric to face whatever it is he needs to face out in the world of Big Kid School.
I think he needs another year of preschool. Another year of safety. Another year of chances to figure out the potty-training thing (or at least to begin caring about it). Another year to get a little bigger, a little faster, a little smarter. There will be people in Eric’s life forever, people who will help take care of him and help him over whatever hurdle he’s facing at the moment, but I think Eric should be able to meet them partway.
The irony? Eric doesn’t really care. He’s made of Teflon: nothing much sticks to him, and he skates through life just enjoying it, waiting for the music to start. It’s all good for Eric.
And I’m pretty sure the music in Eric’s private world is all Metallica, all the time.
Take my hand
Off to never never land…