Just be yourself. Every parent has said those words to their child at one time or another. Just be you and everyone will love you! For many years of childhood, those words can ring true. Then come the preteen years and our children must wonder what the heck we were talking about. It's hard to tell a child who stands out that just being themselves will work out when they are living the opposite. My son Jack is one of the most unique, insightful, hilarious, and creative individuals I have ever met. Those qualities are not always appreciated by other 12-year-olds. Throw in the fact that he also has some social and learning difficulties, and the tween decks are even more stacked against him.
Jack was born a comedian. When he was an infant, his angelic face drew many an admirer on our errand travels. During one such encounter, an elderly woman gazed into his face cooing with adoration. He responded by blowing a huge raspberry in her face scaring her half to death. He then broke out his mischievous grin. To this day, his wit is quick and infectious. On a recent math test his teacher left a note that he must try to refrain from doodling on his work. Upon closer inspection, he had turned a hexagon into a gravestone that said RIP Poly. "Huh?" I wondered aloud. "Because it's a polygon," he responded in complete seriousness but with a twinkle in his eye.
When Jack was a toddler, his inner artist began to blossom. I would find Jackie treasures all over the house and in our yard. My candles would be stacked in an artistic tower. There would be mosaics of sticks and pebbles in the garden. The front doorknob would have a smiley face drawn on it. He would yell in protest as I threw out a piece of trash and moments later it would be turned into colorful caterpillar. Nowadays we are more used to Jack's sudden moments of artistic inspiration. We stop at the side of the road and wait as he jumps out of the car, camera in hand, because the sun is hitting the trees just right and "God is shining through at us, and I have to take a picture of it!" Not long ago, I found myself on the floor under the kitchen table cleaning up yet another dinner spill with frustration. I looked up and dangling from a corner was a paper spider in a yarn web winking at me. Jack sprinkles his joy everywhere. Sharing life with him is like having your own private tour guide through an alternate magical universe.
And then there are the Jackisms. Just his simple thoughts on life, many have grown to become
cherished family philosophies.
"People are always moving so fast, and they're missing all the good stuff."
"When someone is sad or angry, they just need to be hugged. It's hard to stay mad when someone is squeezing the yucky stuff out of you."
"Kind people feel warm like sunshine, don't they?"
Out in the world, he is not afraid to share his love and wisdom with others. To a grouchy lady ringing up our groceries he said, "Are you having a bad day?" She smiled and responded, "I'm sorry, does it look like it?" Jack kindly answered, "A little bit. But that's okay. Everybody has them. Tomorrow will be better."
At a holiday party he sat down next to an extended family member with autism and said, "Do you speak with words?" When he didn't answer, Jack said, "That's okay. I know how to speak without them too. Sometimes life is better when you know how to be quiet."
How lucky am I to be this boy's mother? To share my days with him? It's hard to stay in a bad mood with your very own ray of sunshine living in your home. It's hard to be unhappy when you are joined by someone who finds beauty and inspiration everywhere. I often think about the lucky people who will share their lives with him in the years to come. I also think about the unfortunate people who will miss out on knowing him. He doesn't always fit in so easily, and so many discount those who are different.
Jack is currently in middle school -- right in the thick of conformity. Not long ago, Jack came home in tears after someone on the bus told him, "No one wants to talk to you because you're weird." I tried to comfort him as best I could. At the end of our conversation I kissed his forehead and whispered to him, "He doesn't know the magic he's missing."
To Jack and all the magically different children who are struggling to fit in -- we need you. You color our world. You will write the songs and stories that will inspire us. You will create beautiful art for us to enjoy. Thank goodness we will have your comedic genius to make us laugh when there is so much to cry about in the world. You will create the things we never knew we needed, but then can't live without.
Right now, you are in a time in your life when children are afraid to be different. It seems that fitting in is the most important thing. This time will be hard for you. You are too bright and sparkly to hide. But stay strong and be brave because your time is coming. Don't let the insecurities of others cause you to hide away your gifts. They are afraid. Afraid to be themselves, and therefore afraid to let others be themselves too.
Before you know it, the tide will turn. The same kids who were trying to be like everyone else will soon be trying to stand out. That will be your time. Your talents and what make you unique will be right there -- perfectly ripe for the picking. That will be the moment to start manifesting your magnificence.
And to the children who are scared to be themselves, especially the ones who have hurt another because of their fear, or those who lead the popularity pack -- we need you too. You have been chosen by popularity's fateful hand or are more readily accepted by others. This is a gift, an opportunity, and also at times a curse. It is a chance for greatness because other children look to you to lead the way. It can be a curse because you may feel greater pressure to be a certain way. Guess what? If you lead by accepting and appreciating others for their differences, then more will do the same in turn, and you too can have the freedom to be your true self and be valued for who you really are. Whenever we don't take the time to get to know and appreciate each other, we are missing out. Each person has a light, a gift to share with us. Don't miss out on the magic of another human being. We don't want to miss out on yours.
Earlier tonight as I worked on my laptop in bed, a quiet boy snuck up alongside me and placed a folded paper on my keyboard. He knew I had been through a difficult and emotional day. He kissed my hand, said, "Ta ta for now!" and somersaulted out of my room. I opened the paper. It was a hand drawn comic strip featuring a maniacal looking character who first slips on a banana peel, then falls off a cliff, then gets pinned under a giant boulder, and lastly ends up laying in a hospital bed wearing a giant body cast. Underneath were the words, "Things could always be worse. I love you. Jack." I chuckled to myself. Aaahh, the magic they're missing.