Silverman: Life Outside The Bubble

By Amy Silverman
March 19, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Amy Silverman)
Sophie, dressed for a day at school.

School at any age can be fun. It's also a place with rules of engagement, which can be difficult – particularly if you are different, like Sophie, who has Down syndrome. Her mom, commentator Amy Silverman, shares her view from the carpool lane.



After two tardy slips in less than a week, I was determined to get Sophie to school in plenty of time to make the bell, and in my rush I didn’t notice that she’d left the house in patent leather party shoes and sweatpants.

It wasn’t until she’d leaned over from the backseat for several goodbye kisses, handing me the rest of her cranberry juice and climbing out of the car, that I noticed her glasses slipping down her nose or the fact that her Olivia the Pig backpack — the one she dug out and insists on using, even though it was her backpack in first grade, or maybe kindergarten — looked ridiculous on the back of a fifth grader.

Just half an hour earlier, we were giggling and taking photos of her outfit, Sophie posing like a fashion model — or what she thinks one looks like — in a silly poodle tee shirt, with our pet poodle on the floor behind her. That was in the bubble of our kitchen.

The school is a bubble, too, a place she feels comfortable, it's been “home” for the last six years. But as I saw Sophie head to the playground, I cringed.

Almost immediately, she bumped into a gaggle of girls, fellow fifth graders, kids she’s been in school with since kindergarten, girls who used to invite her to their birthday parties.

I watched Sophie stop next to the girls, hesitate, lean in a little. I watched them completely ignore her.

It happened in a matter of seconds. I rolled down my window, wanting to yell to her — but what?

“Hey Sophie, no time to stop. You better rush to class.”

“Hey Sophie, don’t worry about them! Just keep walking! That’s what I did when I was in fifth grade.”

“Hey Sophie, I love you.”

In the end, I didn’t say anything. As quickly as I rolled it down, I rolled the window back up, embarrassed. Other cars were waiting. As I glanced back one last time, I saw Sophie hesitate another few seconds, looking hopeful. Finally she shuffled toward the playground, her party shoes a little too big, her hair in her eyes.

It was that hope that was so hard to see, hope that has been beaten out of all the other fifth graders, who have figured out their rankings on the social hierarchy and know better than to cast a wishful gaze in the direction of someone more popular.

Those girls didn’t laugh at Sophie, or say anything mean. They just looked past her as though she wasn’t there. I'm guessing if they hadn’t, she would have asked a million questions, invited them all for sleepovers, offered them my cell phone number and a paintbrush from her collection. Too much. I get it.

But what does Sophie get?

It won’t matter next year, when all of the kids leave for other schools. All of those girls — a huge percentage of the entire fifth grade, in fact — will be going to the academy across the street, the one the district started to compete with charter schools, the one that requires As and Bs. The one I could sue to get Sophie into — if I wanted. Some days, I want to. That day, pulling away from the school, I did not.
 
Amy Silverman blogs at girlinapartyhat.com.