It was Sophie's first day back to school after our two week vacation and I dreaded it. She's in the seventh grade at a less-than-desirable middle school here in Los Angeles. When I was looking for a middle school well over a year ago, I wished that I had made a documentary simultaneously. I would have called it "We Don't Have No Class for Your Mentally Retarded Daughter: My Journey through the Los Angeles Unified School District." The first part of that sentence is a direct quote from an office assistant at one of the more reputable middle schools in LA; in fact, it was our home school, right around the corner from our house. Needless to say, Sophie didn't go to that school, and after much trial and tribulation I found something reasonable.
But it's really only reasonable and certainly no place that I'd think about sending my two boys to. It's in an edgy neighborhood and has very low ratings (meaning the children test very poorly). Over 90% of the kids are from "disadvantaged" homes, and Sophie appears to be in the extremely tiny minority of children who are non-Hispanic. The facilities are clean but distinctly old and shabby. To top it all off, the school is on a Track B schedule which means that it's year-round, a cockamamie solution to LA's lack of facilities for school-age children. Sophie goes to school for four months and is then off two, then four more months and then off two. It's pretty disruptive but was really my only choice.
I basically had to "settle," and not a day goes by that I don't think about it and feel vaguely and sometimes resoundingly dissatisfied. . One of the things that I've struggled with over the years is Sophie's social isolation, the fact that she really has no life or friends of her own, other than those imposed upon her. Or so I thought.
The kids in Sophie's class have mild to severe disabilities, Down Syndrome, mental retardation (they still call it that) and autism spectrum disorders. Sophie is the only one who can't talk and actually needs the most assistance.
So when I walked Sophie into the bungalow that houses sixth, seventh and eighth grade special needs kids, I wasn't expecting anything. But what happened is that as soon as we walked through the door, EVERY SINGLE CHILD IN THE ROOM (and there are ten of them), turned around or stood up and pointed at Sophie and smiled and exclaimed in their loud, semi-verbal, developmentally disabled voices, "SOOOPHIE's HERE! SOOOPHIE's here!"
They were not just happy to see her; they were thrilled. They MISSED her! And she stood there and looked at this small crowd and smiled and hummed. It was all I could do not to burst into tears myself. This humble school and these children were filled with warmth and love today and it all spilled over onto us. And I am grateful for that.