Amy Silverman: Sisters
The school year is almost over. And for some siblings the learning and growing is not just in the classroom. Mom and essayist Amy Silverman talks about the relationship between her two daughters.
“Hey mom, is Sophie coming to my presentation this year?”
Annabelle’s words hung in the air alongside the ballet class sweat and indie rock that fills our late afternoon car rides.
I took a deep breath. Annabelle is in 11th grade. She attends a prestigious performing arts school with a project-based academic curriculum. The third-quarter presentation is the culmination of a year’s worth of work, 15 soul-crunching minutes of public speaking and Socratic inquisition.
Families are invited to attend, but as you might imagine, distractions are not welcome. Which brings us to Annabelle’s little sister, Sophie.
Sophie is almost 15, a freshman, and grown up in many ways. In just as many ways, she is not. She attends a different school from her sister, a big one with a special education department equipped to address the needs of a kid with Down syndrome. At Annabelle’s school, the choir students are warned against locking their knees during long performances, for fear someone will pass out; one year, a kid was so nervous he puked on stage. At Sophie’s Title 1 school, the choir kids shimmy and sway; the sound system doesn’t work so well but everyone acts like they don’t notice.
For a long time, Sophie wanted to attend Annabelle’s school. It’s a public school, and legally I could insist her way in. But I want Sophie to go to a school where she’s wanted. So she goes someplace else.
This year, Sophie’s spring break fell in the middle of Annabelle’s presentation week, and Sophie can’t stay home alone.
I cringed and answered my older daughter.
“Well, yeah. I think so. Is that okay?”
Annabelle exhaled hard.
“Yes!” she said. “I need her there. Sophie calms me down.”
Sophie took the event seriously enough to put on a velvet dress, but despite a lot of warnings and reminders, she didn’t sit still during Annabelle’s presentation. She fidgeted, looked at her phone, got up at one point and walked right in front of the audience to take photos.
Annabelle didn’t seem to notice her sister at all as she rattled off the details of a physics experiment and the conclusions she drew from it. Her delivery was perfect; her teachers were impressed.
After the presentation, Sophie jumped up to hug her grinning sister. Outside at a makeshift photo booth she grabbed a sign that said, “Proud of this kid!” and held it up, pointing the arrow at Annabelle, waiting for me to take a photo.
All three of us were smiling as I snapped the picture.
Amy Silverman is the author of "My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A story of Love, Science, and Down Syndrome." She blogs about Sophie at "Girl In A Party Hat."