Someone recently, very recently, said to me of parenting that there will come a day when you can't fix everything for them. At 3 and 3 months, it's still relatively easy for me to fix things for my little ones. However, I am seeing that day arrive and I can already project my upcoming heartbreak at watching my children struggle with things I cannot fix for them.
This morning, my very smart, very enthusiastic son was so excited to bring his "Human Machine" DVD to Preschool. In fact, he was trying to remember things from the DVD on the way there. He asked me, "What is it that makes your body cool down?"
"Sweat," I answered.
"Yeah, sweat. When my body gets hot, I sweat and it cools me down," he said matter of factly.
But when we arrived, the teacher wasn't all that thrilled about the idea of watching a science DVD discussing the Human Body. I mean, they want to watch cartoons like Bob the Builder. Upon realizing they would not be watching his DVD, Ethan broke down in a fit of pain. He was so upset and disappointed. I wanted to make it better, but I can't make other kids think the heart and the brain and bones and muscle are the most amazing things in the world. I just can't. And it's in moments like these that I get a small glimpse of what it's like to be different.
Don't get me wrong. I know what different means to a kid. I was the poor kid in the small town with the parents everyone thought were druggies and white trash. I was the kid that wore shorts two days in a row even though they were dirty because it's all I had. I know what it means to be different, and I know that it can hurt. And I wish there was some way I could prevent it for my children.
But that's the thing. As parents, there's only so much "protecting" we can do. At some point, they'll have to face the world and take the criticism because no one is liked 100% of the time by 100% of the people. All I can do is foster my children's differences and hope to instill that their uniqueness is something to be cherished even if sometimes it would feel better to be "normal."
I see the idea of not being normal to be an issue with Ethan. He's just so into things most kids aren't. And maybe I'm jumping the gun here, but I don't think there's anything wrong with being prepared. If he is the gifted kid, he'll likely be a little different than other kids. And that's okay. I just hope that he doesn't mistake his uniqueness for something to be pushed aside and hidden.
As parents, I think it's hard to instill the idea that what other people think doesn't matter. After all, how many of us don't care at all about what other people think? I would be willing to say that the vast majority of us look for approval from either our spouses, our parents, our co-workers, our bosses, etc. So how can we possibly tell our kids that what other kids think doesn't matter when we're playing the same game in the adult arena?
I think the difference is that we're not trying so hard to fit in because it's easier for us as adults to get away from those that don't see things the way we do. It's easier for us to align ourselves with like-minded individuals. After all, if we work, then hopefully we're working in a profession we like. If we're married, then hopefully our spouse has the same interests as we do. But when you're in elementary or secondary school, aligning with like-minded individuals can be a little hard. I mean, you're all packed into the same school, whether you like it or not.
And so as I ponder the idea that there will come a day when I can no longer provide the same level of protection from that big, bad mean world out there, I also try to remember that right now, my babies are young. Right now, I can still protect them from just about everything. And I plan to hang on to that knowledge and know it, like almost everything involved in parenting young children is fleeting. Right now, I can encourage and foster their individuality, and I plan to do exactly that!