Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Teach Your Parents Well
One morning this week, Jack’s hair dried in a wind-swept fashion that gave him a real mod look. Like a stage mom, I ran to fetch the gel to enhance the style. As I was tugging on the pointed wisps that fanned out against his cheek, Jack asked, “Why are you putting gel in my hair?”
Me: Because your hair looks very cool today. You look like Zac Efron.
Jack: Everyone has that look at school.
Me: I know, and it looks really cute on you.
Jack: Ya, but I don’t want to look like everybody else. I want to look like me. Don’t you want me to look like myself?
Me: Of course I do.
I stopped the primping and felt a lump in my throat. Since he was a toddler, my husband and I have been talking the talk:
“Be true to yourself.”
“Stand up for what you believe in even if it’s not popular.”
“Be an individual.”
“Listen to your own voice.”
There I was trying to bend him into the mold. And it wasn’t the first time.
Up until this year, I picked out his clothes every morning. I thought the horror of mismatched clothes would be perceived by school personnel as neglectful parenting.
One day he said, “I don’t like the clothes you pick for me. You always try to make me look fancy.”
Jack: Ya. I want to wear t-shirts, not polo shirts. Just plain t-shirts. Is that okay?
What was I doing? Why was I robbing him of the opportunity to be himself?
When I was growing up, I perceived the world as a tunnel of thorns. Everything was personal. I realize now, most of it wasn't.
Jack, on the other hand, has comment repellent built into his skin. One day, some boys called out to him from a tree they were climbing.
Jack looked up.
“Ya, you, Retard!”
Jack: Ha! That is funny! [started laughing]
Boys: We’re talking about YOU!
Jack: I know. You are really funny! [continued to laugh]
Unable to bother to him, they moved on to taunt other kids.
When I picked him up, he recounted the story. I was ready to hug him and wipe his tears. But his voice was normal -- upbeat and unshaken.
Me: Why didn’t it bother you that they said that to you?
Jack: Because that’s what they think. It’s not what I think about myself.
These are the moments when the paradigm shifts. I realize I am the student and one of my greatest teachers is sitting right next to me in the front seat.