Monday, March 9, 2015

The Day I Stopped Caring If My Son Was Cool...

When my first born, Jackson, went to kindergarten, something birthed inside of me...  This desire for him to make lots of friends and be well liked by his teacher and peers.  I don't know why I cared that much or gave it much thought.  Jackson was an easy going kid - super chill and laid back.  He played well with other kids and had a lot of friends in his care-free pre-school years.  But having just moved to a new city, we didn't know any kids that first day of school.   I remember during his Kindergarten year, spying on him on the playground at lunch and recess.  Not often, but still.  Did he have friends?  Did he get picked first or last for soccer teams at recess?  Was he well liked?   Sometimes I saw him playing an intense game of soccer with a big group of friends.  Other times he waited in line for a good old game of 4 Square.  And other times he sat on a bench and talked with a new kindergarten buddy who had a broken arm and couldn't play, just so his buddy wouldn't feel lonely while everyone else played.  Jackson had always just been a good kid.  Like I said, very easy going and chill.

However, I quickly discovered that his way of doing school was very different than MY way of doing school.  As Jackson went into 1st and 2nd and 3rd grade, it became very clear that Jackson loved to do what he loved to do.  One day it was tether ball.  One day it was hand ball.  Another day it was basketball.  And maybe the next it was soccer.  Whatever he felt like playing that day, he did.  It wasn't determined by WHO was doing those things.  It was just about what sounded like fun to him on that day.  This blew my narrow mind and sent me into a tailspin.  "Um, but what about your friends?  Why don't you hang out with your friends and do what they're doing?"  I would ask, perplexed.  "Well, sometimes I do.  But sometimes they want to play basketball and I really feel like playing tether ball."  "Tether ball?  Is that even cool?" I would think to myself.  When I was in grade school, I hung out with my friends.  I didn't care what I was doing, as long as it was with my friends.  Here was my son, doing what he thought sounded fun, regardless of what his friends were doing.  How was I going to get him to change his crazy, care-free ways?!?  ;)

I remember when Jackson was in Kindergarten, a mom from another class who I didn't know that well, made a comment in passing about another mom at school who was super nice, but her son was "a total nerd." Wait, did she just label a 5 year old a nerd?  Wow.  My heart broke for the boy and for the uphill battle I knew would be his, if he was already labeled by a peer's mom in Kinder.  My heart also wondered what was said about my boy?  Was he liked and accepted?  And so the after-school questions continued.  "How was your day, honey? What did you play at recess? With who? Why didn't you play ____?"  Pressure.  Expectations.  Pressure.

At age 4, Jackson started soccer.  At 5 he started baseball.  At 6 he started basketball.  At 8 he started flag football.  And at 9 he tried out for a musical and got a leading role.  (The Donkey in Shrek)  His role was hilarious.  He was funny and witty and clearly had talent.  It was SO fun to see him branch out into the area of musical theater.  While he had fun playing sports, and continued with baseball and flag football, he also continued on to audition for another show.  He LOVED it ALL!  It was a blast to see him thriving in his talents.

And then it happened.  One day Jackson came home from school and told me that a friend of his had told him that he really shouldn't be trying out for a musical because it wasn't "cool."  In fact, he told Jackson it was "lame."  Jackson wasn't hurt or upset at all.  He was actually perplexed.  "Mom," he said, "He's never even been in a musical.  He doesn't know if it's lame.  It's actually one of the most fun things I've ever done!"  Jackson wasn't upset.  He just thought his friend was wrong.  :)  And the friend actually didn't say it to be mean.  He didn't have a rude tone and honestly wasn't making fun of Jackson.  He was really just trying to help his buddy out.  "Stay away from what's not cool."   Except that's not Jackson.  Jackson stays away from what he's not interested in.  :)  What's cool?  Jackson could care less.  He wants to be happy.  And doing things where he has gifts and talents and that's fun? That makes him happy.

In that moment, the moment where he was told not to do something because it wasn't cool, I felt an overwhelming sense of release.  A release of the pressure and the expectations and the mom-fear.   My son is really dang good at singing and acting. And if that's not "cool," then for the first time in my mom-life, I did not care.  Truly.  I had a choice.  I could tell my son to stifle his obvious talent and passion.  Or I could release him to be free to be him.  No pressure to be anything less than that or different than that.  "Jackson, everyone has different skills. Everyone has different talents and abilities.  Everyone has different things that they love doing, and makes them feel alive.  The best thing each person can do is to discover what those things are and do them.  You enjoy baseball and football.  So you do it and you love it.  You are really good at acting.  So you do it and you love it.  Someone else might be really good at sports.  Or really good at playing piano.  Or at building things.  Or drawing.  There is no 'right' or 'wrong.'  There is just being you.  That's the best thing everyone can do.  Be themselves.  No apologies.  No pretending to be someone else.  Be you.  And be happy."  Boom.  Release.  HE has always lived in that.  But me?  It took me a few years to figure that out in regards to him.  So embarrassing.

Since that day, I no longer ask Jackson loaded questions about what he does at recess.   I still ask him -  but I do it because I'm interested.  Not because I want to pressure him toward something else or gauge how I think he's doing socially.  I gauge how he's doing based on HIS happiness.  HIS demeanor.  HIS perspective, not mine.  (DUH!)

Jackson is happy.  Really happy.  Whether he's playing hand ball or basketball.  Whether he's playing baseball or The Genie in Aladdin.  Whether he's playing those things with his best friends or with a group of people he doesn't know.  He is happy.  And there is such freedom in me knowing that his happiness is "enough."

1 comment:

  1. This hit me like a 2x4 across the face. My oldest can be a loner some times and just wants to play by herself and eat her recess snack in peace. I was popular and well liked in school, and haven't even realized that I've been desparate for her to be "cool" too. That's SO LAME!!! She's an amazing, sweet, hilarious, talented young lady and this post has challenged me to foster those traits, not my own expectations of what her social development "should" be. Once again, you have gift and have so blessed me by this post.