• Lily came out of her interview at a small, elite New England liberal arts college sure that she’d had a good conversation but frustrated by the content. She knew she was supposed to “take charge” of the interview, so she asked a question about how well the college accommodated students with learning differences. She wanted to know, specifically, how she would go about fulfilling a language requirement given she’s dyslexic. The interviewer reassured her that the academic dean was always willing to go to bat for students with documented disabilities. Some professors wouldn’t “get it,” the interviewer said, but college policy would always back up LD students. With accommodations, Lily would be able to fulfill her requirements, just like everyone else. “Besides,” the interviewer told Lily, “it’s no one’s business.”

    I shook my head as Lily gave me the report. The phrase “no one’s business” evoked the kinds of things people who considered themselves enlightened would say about “different lifestyles” when I was growing up. Upon learning that so-and-so was lesbian or gay, a free-thinker in the ’70s might say, “I don’t have a problem with that. It’s no one’s business, whatever two people choose to do behind closed doors.”

    How far we’ve come as a country in terms of sexuality. Our goal isn’t to tolerate but to embrace. Full equality means that workers put same-sex partners on health insurance policies, high school students take whomever they wish to the prom, and little kids grow up celebrating family as two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, a mom and a dad, or any combination thereof. Ads, TV shows, films, music — all forms of popular culture normalize the range of sexuality at long last.

    In the best of all possible worlds, every college admissions interviewer would openly ask students about their learning styles. Kids wouldn’t just submit standardized tests. They’d submit learning profiles. The goal wouldn’t be to see if institutions of higher learning adhered to the law.  It would be to make sure that every professor, lecturer, and teaching assistant had undergone rigorous training in multi-modal learning.  Every syllabus would offer a variety of assessment techniques.  All students would be choosing courses based on what would maximize their chances to master material and produce good work.

    Hip schools have come to promote LGBTQ safe spaces, pasting rainbow-colored stickers on classrooms, offices, and meeting areas, making it everybody’s business to protect against discrimination and danger. I’d like to see LD communities developing a similar icon, something that would immediately signify that kids with learning differences are welcome and safe.  The ADA may have reached its 20th anniversary, but we still have a long way to go when college admissions officers think they’re being sensitive when they tell students “it’s no one’s business” if they’re LD.

    I felt terrible telling Lily to steer future interview conversations away from dyslexia and accommodations.  What did she want the admissions folks to know about her?  That she is a tremendous student? That she is a budding documentary filmmaker?  That she has tons of experience working with young children and is interested in human development?  That she loves to spend time outdoors?  Only after an institution has admitted her should she bring up dyslexia, because, as the admissions officer explained all too clearly, we’re living in an academic world of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

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  • I slowed my pace Saturday afternoon. I fell back to savor the view. Six long, suntanned legs in step, striding along a wide, dirt path. I wasn’t straining to hear the conversation, but I couldn’t help hearing the laughter. I just wanted to look.

    In my arms: Sam’s black trousers, rumpled white button down shirt, black belt, black tie, black socks, and dust-covered black shoes. It’d taken him a few trips into his cabin at camp to find everything he’d need to wear for the concert that night. I cradled the outfit, remembering trips to Macy’s and Target to secure each item, several of which have been pressed into service for years.

    A summer of firsts. This isn’t Sam’s first time at music camp.  It’s actually his fifth. But it’s the first time his sibs have been able to visit. Instead of going away on their own adventures, they’ve spent the summer close to home. Lily’s been working in a produce market. Max has been punching in at Economy Hardware and training for soccer. They’ve both been getting ready to apply to colleges (emphasis on the getting). Sam will take an extra year before he’s at this stage. He’s going to boarding school in September for another go at junior year before rushing headlong into college madness. While he finishes off music camp this week, Lily, Max, and I will visit colleges.

    Sam will leave home first. It’s a year earlier than I’d anticipated. I thought I was done with my grieving, having had my fill of middle-of-the night waking this past spring. I was wrong. It’s all right at the surface again, and I am mourning the loss of time with gifted, goofy Sam. But I’m not the only one grieving.  Lily and Max are having to figure out the letting-go themselves. “It’s like missing a piece of a puzzle,” Lily tells me.  “When we’re together, it’s like, ‘Ahh. Yeah.  There’s that missing piece.'” As with everything else in our family, things are complicated.  The celebrations.  The milestones. The losses. There are inevitable feelings of comparison and competition that are known to all families with children, but these are magnified exponentially with multiples. Who talked first?  Walked? Rode a bike? Started dating? And now: the first to leave home?

    The competition evaporated — at least for a little while Saturday — as the three fell in together.  I wanted to stand right next to Sam and hear the full report. But instead, I hung back. I marveled at the three sets of long legs with the same intensity that I counted toes after their birth. I thought about the almost 18 years of work Mark and I have done to create a family where these three can delight in such close connection and also claim what each needs and knows.  I loved.

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