Why do we look for comfort in sameness? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot this week. I hear myself say, "she’s one of my people”, or “she’s like me” and the moment it comes out of my mouth, I groan a little bit inside. As a kid I felt different, I wanted to be older, I didn’t always relate to my surroundings the way I wanted to, and often felt out of my element. I felt both timid and shy, but then also like I understood more about what was going on around me than anyone knew.
The power of observation and listening instead of talking should never be underestimated.
I still can’t say where my sweet spot was, I just knew that life kept getting better as I got older, and what held it all together was that I expected each day to be a little better than the last. I learned to be kind, listen, and pay attention to what other people were feeling and seemed to need.
We have to come a ways through childhood before EQ, instead of just IQ is recognized as important.
All of these things were good, but the trouble, at that point of my life, was my definition of better. Was I going to wake up more popular, feeling smarter in school, or a stonger athlete? That is certainly what gets you recognized in the world’s eyes. Well, ironically, as I grew, those worldly markers actually seemed to fall into place for me well enough…I always say college was four years of no bad days, and aside from a gnarly ankle injury, it was pretty much the truth. Things stayed on the up and up for awhile but little by little, as life tends to do, adulthood caught up with me, and reminded me what I felt like I knew when I was young;
What is great about each of us is what is different, not the same.
Parenting is an amazing journey, one I have been on for almost 20 years now, stretched across four awesome kids. The last 12 have tested my strength and intuition as the gut feeling I had when Matthew was only six weeks old created its path to an Asperger’s diagnosis when he was six. Ironically, Asperger’s isn’t even in the DSM anymore (does that mean he doesn’t have a diagnosis?). I bring this all back to Matthew because when he struggles, our whole family struggles, because that’s how families work. And these challenges are a pretty daily fixture lately. Some of the things he struggles with, like making friends and eye contact, aren’t easy on any day, but it becomes particularly difficult with the onset and awareness we gain with adolescence, and he is standing on the edge of it and staring it down. I think it’s hard to learn to honor our uniqueness at this age, under any circumstances, but gaining understanding of a diagnosis gives it an extra rough edge. I can see the reality of something being “incurable” in his 12 year old brain hitting him hard, and I have to remind him that he is the same kid he has always been, before his awareness of doctors and diagnosis peaked, and that even more, he doesn't realize how far he has come, because up until just recently, showing up for speech or OT or neurofeedback was just normal to him.
The message that keeps coming back to me loud and clear the more we talk is how can I teach him to work from his uniqueness if I am not doing that myself? I can’t teach him to embrace his different, if I can’t accept what is different about me. No striving to be the same, looking around to see what everyone else thinks or does. I have to teach him it’s ok to take the long way around, as long as you are listening to your own heart. It’s ok not to want the same things or do the same work as the others. Every story and path looks different.
We find connection not in our sameness, but when we have the courage to share with the world what is different about us and let them learn from it and see what they can add to it.
The vulnerability lies in giving people a chance to show compassion, kindness, or understanding because sometimes they won’t, and it hurts like hell, no matter who you are. But resilience is built by being knocked down and getting back up, even if we need a hand in the process…and mine will be here outstretched and waiting to grab his and pull him up, because he has proven that he capable of walking solidly on his own two feet. He is not a diagnosis, he is one of the most emotionally intelligent human beings I have ever met and I drew the lucky hand of guiding him because I have been training for this stuff my entire life.