I was one of those awkward kids growing up – I was timid and shy, with poufy hair, glasses and braces. I was friends with kids from all the different “cliques”: the Church kids, the Stoners, the Student Council kids, even some of the Cool kids and the Jocks (whose members tended to overlap). In fact, one of my best friends was part of the “Cool Crowd”, and yet, despite that, I still never fit in with any of the groups, either. I was one of those kids who always wanted to fit in though, so I made choices that went along with whatever was “cool” at the time, often refusing to stand up for what I really believed in.
I think it all stemmed from growing up in a family where “What People Think”, mattered. As I became old enough to worry about such things, as a teenager, and into my early adult years, I made decisions with the mantra, “What would people think?” in the back of my mind. I was trying to make the “socially acceptable” decisions; decisions that would keep the peace instead of create potential conflict, or decisions that would label me as “culturally normal”.
Then this summer I had two things that happened, that really hit me. In July my son took part in a gymnastics camp, where one of the daily activities was swimming. I was worried for my son – with his sensory issues he still struggles in pools, and is very limited in what he can tolerate. He can barely put his face in the water, let alone swim. I was afraid that perhaps he would feel bad when he saw all his peers going into the “big” pool, while he was stuck in the “baby” pool. However, after the first day, his instructor told me that he had a blast playing in the wading pool by himself, and never once expressed any upset at not being in the other pool with the rest of the kids.
Then, the one day we were out in public and he was making the silly sounds he does (my son also has some vocal and motor tics) and walking silly. Basically, he just looked (to me) weird. So I put a hand on his shoulder and whispered, “Thomas, stop that. Walk normally please, or people will think you’re silly.” And he looked at me and said, “But Mommy, I like being silly.” And I just looked at him, and was so darned proud of him, and ashamed of myself. Here was my son at six years old, teaching me lessons.
My son is confident in himself. He is not ashamed of who he is, or of what his limitations may be. He does not worry about what people think of him. He is being who he is – with Thomas, what you see is what you get. What a beautiful way to be. I realize he is only six, and that as he gets older this may change – but I pray it does not. That day his simple words made me evaluate myself.
I realized that while I obviously still have a ways to go, I have changed. My life is now filled with decisions that are different from the cultural “norms”. How am I different? Let me count the ways! But remember that they are not separate from each other. Each stance I have chosen for myself (or we have chosen for our family), has expanded into other areas:
1. I am a Christian, and not just that, a Catholic Christian! While this may not seem like such a big deal in some areas, in our highly Protestant region, it is. What’s more – I’m not silent about my faith. I share it, I talk about it, I try to make it central to my life. My Christian convictions lend to conservative views on hot topics, and I am not ashamed of that. I’m even visual about my faith – I wear my cross and yes, all those skirts you see me wearing, are a (recent) personal conviction of my faith. I even cover my hair sometimes.
2. I am a stay-at-home mom. In today’s society, where roughly 80% (and possibly more) of mothers work, this is definitely not a “cultural norm”. This also means that we buy almost all our our products like clothes, furniture, appliances etc… used. We try very hard to never use debt. Compared to the rest of society, we rarely eat out. We might go to a movie once a year. A date night out happens maybe two or three times a year. We drive older vehicles and we have an older home. We only have one cell phone and *gasp* – it’s not even a smart phone! (I cannot begin to tell you how many people are shocked that we only have one cell phone, they look at me like I have two heads.) Nor do we have an iPad or similar items. Is it hard at times? Yes. But I think sometimes the hardest things in life are the ones with the best rewards.
3. We do not eat foods with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives; and, just recently, have largely given up gluten (more on that in another post!). Trust me, this one has gained us some eye-rolling. This choice (colors, flavors and preservatives – also known as the Feingold diet) started in an attempt to help our children with some of their behaviors, but it turned into a firm desire for a healthier lifestyle. As we started learning what really goes into our foods, the chemicals we are ingesting on an alarming basis, and their very real threat to our health, we were shocked. We (the general public) truly have no idea just what we’re consuming every day. So, we are the “Meanies” that do not let our children eat Skittles, store-bought birthday cakes or other artificially colored childhood favorites – and we’re okay with that. And honestly? The kids could care less.
4. We practice homesteading. This has largely come about due to #2 and #3, trying to find ways to save money and eat healthier. For now the largest aspect of our homesteading is gardening. We have a yearly-expanding garden plot where we plant a variety of vegetables that we use throughout the summer, and then harvest and freeze/can the rest for winter’s use. I already have next year’s garden planned, where we will plant potatoes, beets, corn, carrots, green and yellow beans, cucumbers and peas. I also plan on starting an herb garden next year. We also recently started a compost. Someday I would love to have chickens, to raise our own eggs (I’m still working on my husband on that one!). I would love to expand my areas of homesteading to include making soap, natural cleaners etc…
5. Last but not least, we homeschool. This choice came from many reasons, including the desire for a Christian education, the the ability to customize our son’s learning to best suit his abilities and needs, the poor outcomes of the public education system, among others. While this is a fairly radical decision, especially when I am the daughter of an elementary school teacher, it is one that for the most part has garnered us much respect and appreciation.
In reflecting upon those lessons I learned from my son, I’ve realized that every day I live a life that reflects my true beliefs, though I know others around us don’t always understand, or agree with our choices. I am proud of the changes I have made. I don’t want my children to grow up worrying about fitting in, I don’t want them to grow up denying who they really are, for the sake of being “culturally normal.” I want my children to grow up to be self-confident in who they are and what they believe in. I want them to grow up with the courage to dare to be different.