Forehead to forehead
I am lost in the blue depths
"I love you, Mommy."
Joey turns eleven tomorrow.
No child develops the same as any other, nor consistently in all areas at a given rate. Sometimes when I think of growing, I can still hear Mr. Rogers singing "Everything grows together... because you're all one piece..." But that doesn't mean you develop all the same, at the same rate. In some ways, Joey is 15. In some ways, he's still 5. But in all ways, he's all Joey, just the way he is.
It is shame we live in a world that can't just accept people as they are, as they develop, in their wonderful uniqueness. We do a lot of lip service to the idea, and there's lots of kids' shows that address the idea (some well, some not so much); but in the end, as we grow up, we move away from valuing people as they are, and towards a sort of dark prejudice and fear of people who differ from us. People who are, in some way, unexpected. New. Unknown.
Middle school is the vortex of this change, from "we're all in this together" to "exclusive secret club". Yes, it starts early- kids are quick studies of their parents, neighbors, family, and friends, after all. But the real abyss yawns at that moment when we feel that transition begin, from a child to an adult, and we try to make our own space in the world, construct our identity as something separate from the world of our parents and families.
It is well known that Middle School is Social Hell.
As we stand upon its brink, we know that we start at a beginning- a moment when balances must all be correct, lest we slip from the edge and into the dark. Will my guidance and example be enough to see my child through the maelstrom? Or will he be lost in the tempest, emerging as a stranger I hardly know? And if he emerges a stranger, who will that stranger be? Being unexpected, as we know from our social skills group, is not always bad. It is just not expected. Different from the expected.
I could return to the rant about needing social skills groups to help this whole age group navigate the storm, but that is not my point.
My point is that Joey is not ready.
We have spent the last three years treading water in a majority of skills other kids just "pick up", but Joey has to be specifically taught. Not that there has been no development of skills; but the pace is such that instead of moving forward towards being able to keep pace with his peers, he falls more and more behind. He may be the king of long division, but how many kids want to talk about it all afternoon?
Joey is dealing with growing frustration in trying to connect with people around him. He loves people. He likes to talk with them, be with them, play with them. However, his attempts to generalize conversation skills has been... not quite successful. If he gets the words right, they still sound canned, and the script only takes him so far. If he deviates from the script, his topics and words are so unexpected, the other person often has no point of reference to use to respond. If someone came up to you and, smiling broadly, announced, "Slay means to kill! Or to amuse immensely! Immense means really big!" what would you do? For most people, you would hesitate, trying to process what just happened and determine a way to respond. Some people smile while hesitating. Others frown. Other get this deer-in-headlights look. No matter what, Joey knows what that hesitation means. He feels it. He has been "unexpected." Weird. Different.
He is becoming aware, via his classmates, that being different is becoming problematic. He is entering upon a world where Different is Bad.
And that is a lesson that I want to counter. Because you know what? Different is not bad. Unexpected is surprising, and surprise can be fun. It gives you a new perspective. A new take on the world around you. Something new to think about... if you allow yourself to accept it, think about it, enjoy it. When you separate "bad" and "unexpected", you might end up at a surprise party.
Joey turns eleven tomorrow. And that part of him that is still five- it wants chocolate cake.
The part of me that is still five wants some, too.