We took Jack to get a haircut last week. The haircut went well. Maturity/Age have made them not only bearable, but I dare say pleasant. In the prepping for the haircut, Jack opened his world to me. He let me see what he sees. He let me know what it was like to be him... and it was heartbreaking.
"Jack, we're getting your haircut today"
"I want you to shave my head, like Billy (a classmate)"
"Well, Jack, you're Irish. We don't do well with shaved heads. We get pretty bad sunburns."
"But Billy shaved his head"
"He's Hispanic. He can pull it off. You're not shaving your head, Jack"
"But Billy shaved his head"
"If I shave my head like Billy, maybe some of the other kids might think I am Billy... and they might accidentally sit with me at lunch."
When I was in high school, there was a kid named Matt in my class. He was the class president, prom king, and all that jazz. He was the nicest human being I had ever met. Humble. Kind. Handsome.
I went to his house one afternoon to attend a bible study... because I wanted to be him so badly.
Jack opened the door for a teachable moment. I was so proud of him using third person perspective that I almost blew it. I almost missed it.
I've assumed this entire year that Jack has an inability to take another's perspective. He doesn't "get" when he is being made fun of. He doesn't "play" social games, or participate in student hierarchies. He doesn't mind if another child excludes him for being poor, white, fat, short, dumb, nerdy, or whatever. I've always placed the power of inclusion on him. Jack will find kids interested in what he is interested in... because he's so "self-directed"... he's so "autistic".
When I was 11 or 12, my parents bought me a bike for Christmas. It was a giant, yellow, beach cruiser. I cried because it was so "uncool".
As an adult I talked to my parents about "the worst Christmas gift ever". They said they purposefully chose that bike because I was such an independent soul. I was so different... and reveled in that independence... reveled in that artistry... reveled in that self-confidence.
And I told them how hard I had tried to simply fit in.
It wasn't until college that I found self-confidence in my independent spirit.
I just wanted to fit in... I just wanted to belong.
So, Jack, here I am publicly apologizing for selling you short.
Here is your new lesson.
Here is your teachable moment.
You are growing, my boy. You are maturing. I take responsibility for tackling what is going to be a very "complex" or "adult" issue.
Jack, everyone feels alienated. I bet Billy and Matt even felt it.
It won't be until later in life that you accept your uniqueness. That comes with experience and maturity. Unfortunately, that road also comes with a lot of solitude and longing.
Changing your haircut, or getting a new bike, will not help you "fit in". It will not change who you are.
I had plenty of friends that accepted me for who I was.
And so do you. I see you talk to them. I see them listen to you. I see them have lightsaber battles and play minecraft with you. I see them include you.
So, Jack you may never "fit in"... But, know this, you will always belong.
Jack and his "friends" at the La Brea Tar Pits - February, 2014