My dear son,
You are only 6 ½ years old. You came home from school yesterday with a shiner on your eye. You were playing chase and inadvertently slammed your face into a classmate’s knee. You were so sad. Sad, not because you are physically hurting, though it did hurt. You were sad because you knew that today when you went to school, people would notice your eye. You would be different. You told me so. “Mom, can you please keep me home from school until it’s gone? No one else has an eye like this. I will be the only one!”
You are only in Kindergarten and you already know what it is like to crave conformity.
Someday you will be in your mid 30’s, with a couple of kids, and you will know the world as I know it. Or sort of but similar to me you will understand things that you yet do not comprehend. Because I am your mom, I wish I could explain everything to you right up front and tell you where all the keys are that will unlock your mind and allow you the freedom, the total freedom, to be just who you are. But, I can’t do that for you. I am your mom and I am also a therapist and so I know a little bit about this process. And I also know that you must experience these problems. You must go through the process of painstaking agony at being “different” than the rest in order to get more comfortable with being uniquely you. I know that you have to go through it but I still don’t like it. I want to tell you (and I maybe did) that one day you will want to be different, you may even choose to be different.
You may have looked at me like I had green hair.
You may have said, “why would I ever want that.”
I may have felt my heart break just a little.
But I see you tonight go into the bathroom (because it has a lock!) and make your 4 year old brother a birthday gift of drawings that you neatly place inside a Tupperware and then wrap up with scotch tape and paper. I see you gift him this artistic creation. I see his joy. I then see him lock himself into the bathroom and create for you the very same gift. Complete with Tupperware sealing and scotch tape. He gifts you your “birthday” present even though it isn’t your birthday. You thank him, sort of (and I am pleased). You are gone in an instant, on to different things. He deflates ever so slightly because he can sense your gratitude is apathetic. He wanted to be just like you. But he can’t reinvent the wheel and your gift can never be exactly recreated and to him, that was a small puncture to his ego. Yet he quickly moves on to wrapping up more paper goodies for me, for our baby, for dad and he rebounds and recovers. He has no way of knowing that this was a small training exercise that will prepare him for worse blows.
It’s not lost on me that you want to be like all your peers and your brother wants to be like you and baby brother wants to be like both of you. We like to be like other people. Being different doesn’t feel right. It’s in our DNA. We are encoded with this program that says, “copy everything everyone else does!” Don’t believe me? Just look at your baby brother intently and then make a show of sticking out your tongue and watch what happens next!
So, I take note and I don’t continue my agenda of trying to make you see the world through my lens. But I still tell you that different is good. Because it is. But I also tell you that conforming is natural. Because it is. And, I bank on hope that this is the right approach to take.
So you are off at school now with your black eye. Well, deep red today, purple tomorrow, black the day after that. For the next few days you are going to be different, son. Classmates will ask you questions. Peers will jest you. Bullies may make fun of you. You may hurt. You may feel embarrassed. You may cry. You may feel alone. You may feel like you don’t have a friend in the world. But I will be there. I know you will rebound and when you do, you’ll be a little bit stronger for it. You’ll need that strength to deal with the ongoing thwarts to your ego that will be essential ingredients to your developing identity. So to that end the means have justification. But, I also hope you will keep this experience in mind so that when someone else is different, you remember that it feels bad to be told so. And all I can do is hope you pay it forward, son.
Someday, please pay it forward. That way your experience gets to also have a humanistic purpose.
P.S. I will be available all evening for extra hugs and lots of comfort.