Does anyone need a giant white cheer bow?
This morning Sophie was ready early, waiting by the back door, yelling at me to hurry up so she could get to school and see if she made the freshman cheer line.
“Now remember, you might not make it,” I said as we climbed in the car. “How do you feel about your chances?”
“I know,” she said. “Good.”
I’ll be honest: Even though I warned her all along that she might not make it, this morning as we drove to school, Sophie and I both thought it was a sure thing. Last night Sophie’s nanny (who had been at most of the practices and the try-out) dropped her off and announced that Sophie had nailed all the cheers, that she smiled and that she was one of the loudest.
“All the judges seemed to really like her,” she told me. And with that, I let down my guard, the first thing they teach you not to do at that How-to-be-a-Parent School that doesn’t exist.
I didn’t worry about Sophie’s extra questions during try-outs, or the time she’d made herself the leader at practice, or the fact that she told the coaches it was not appropriate to make the girls run in 110 degree heat. Or that no matter how hard she tries, and no matter how well she learns any kind of dance or cheer routine, she’s always a beat behind.
I knew she was going to make it.
I kissed Sophie goodbye. “Text me a selfie if you make it, okay?” I asked. “I want to see your face!”
She nodded, grinning.
I dropped her with her aide and Sophie rushed off to the activities office. I drove away, already composing a blog post in my head, ready to accept all those virtual high fives on social media.
I still had mixed feelings about cheer — and no desire to attend a football game — but after a few glimpses of how well Sophie interacted with the other girls, how well (aside from not wanting to run, and she was not alone there, and the part where she made herself the leader) she followed directions and learned — and performed — the routines, I was thinking that she had a real chance, and thinking about what an important piece of her development this could be. Of how she might actually make a real friend this year. Of how this school would truly be practicing inclusion, like the district’s special ed director had assured me they would when we spoke last year.
To be fair, that man never guaranteed that Sophie would make cheer. And I would never, ever expect that. But now I need to call myself on my own shit because maybe, this morning, I was expecting it.
A few minutes later, Sophie texted me a selfie. In it, she’s crying. Below it, she wrote “Nope.”
Sophie is okay. And if not, she will be soon. She has drama, ballet, jazz, and swimming after school. She’s in dance and choir at school. She wants to sign up for the Spanish Club.
She can still be in Special Olympics cheerleading.
I will be okay, too. I have to be, right? I’m the one who assured the cheer coach last week that all we wanted for Sophie was a fair shake, a chance to try out. That we’d understand either way.
And now I have to understand.
I’m itching to email the coach and ask how close Sophie got, what my kid did wrong, what she can do better in the future, and — while I’m at it – why on earth they wouldn’t include a kid with so much energy and enthusiasm , who tries so hard, who works twice as hard as anyone else, who knew all the cheers and smiled and wore the giant bow. Why they didn’t include the kid with Down syndrome when all I see on social media are cheerleaders with Down syndrome.
I want to ask everyone at that school just what inclusion is supposed to look like, both in and out of the classroom.
Instead, I’m going to try to say nothing. That is not my strong suit. But we’ve only been at this school for a hot minute, and I need to give this some time, gather some context.
And look, I fully realize that I’m completely biased here. (And possibly slightly unhinged.)
Sophie will be okay.
And if I’m not, that’s okay, too. In fact, it’s probably better. Because it’s my job to ask the hard questions — even if for now I’m only asking myself.
Amy Silverman is a writer, editor, teacher and — most important — mother. Her daughter Sophie has Down syndrome. Sophie is 13 and fully mainstreamed in the eighth grade in a public school in Tempe, Arizona, where she lives with Amy, her father Ray and big sister Annabelle, 15. Sophie is a cheerleader — both at school and with Special Olympics. She also studies ballet and drama and has appeared in performances with Center Dance Ensemble and Detour Company Theatre.
For many years, Amy has explored what it means to have Down syndrome in the 21st Century on her blog, girlinapartyhat.com. Amy has also written about Sophie (and a lot of other things) for New Times, the alternative newsweekly in Phoenix, where she is managing editor. In addition, Amy’s a contributor to KJZZ, the National Public Radio affiliate in Phoenix, and her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life, in the New York Times, Washington Post, salon.com and many other places. She co-teaches the long running workshop Mothers Who Write and co-curates a live reading series, Bar Flies, both in Phoenix. Amy’s first book, “My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome,” was published in Spring 2016 by Woodbine House. To learn more, visit myheartcantevenbelieveit.com