Just when I had almost forgotten how hard it was to be a kid sometimes, Derrick recently gave Adam and I a snapshot into his mind…and an affirmation of why I feel homeschooling can be so important for those who are able to take advantage of it.
Adam drives Derrick to and from school each day. It’s part of their one-on-one time that we feel is so important for Derrick. So, a few weeks ago, Adam noticed that Derrick’s mood quickly changed when he jumped out of the truck and started walking to his class in a portable near the back of the school. His shoulders drooped, he stared at the ground, and his pace dragged gloomily.
After watching him for a few days to try to figure out what the problem might be, Adam asked Derrick why he was acting so down in the dumps. To which he responded in a truly 8-year-old way, “I dunno. It’s just boring walking by myself I guess.”
Adam suggested that he try smiling at people he passes by or even saying “hi”, to which Derrick responded in an equally 8-year-old way, “Um…what? You’re crazy, Daddy.”
Every day after that, Adam would ask him if he’d smiled or spoken to anyone on the way to class. The answer was no, of course. So we were left puzzled by this bizarre situation. This kid, for his entire educational career, has gotten in trouble almost daily for socializing too much in class. This kid, who can’t keep his mouth shut for more than 30 seconds at a time and never stops moving, smiling, singing, whistling, dancing ever suddenly is stymied by the most basic elements of socialization – the smile?
Then, two nights ago after a family meeting, Adam and I both asked him if he’d managed to crack a grin yet during his solitary walk to class, and he melted into a pool of sobbing child before our eyes. His button nose crinkled as he howled miserably. We looked at each other in surprise, realizing we’d need to dig a little deeper to figure out what the real problem was. It went something like this:
“Derrick, what’s really wrong here? I can’t imagine you’d be crying because you think it’s boring to walk to class by yourself. What’s up, kiddo?”
“(bawling) People will think I’m weird because I’m walking by myself. (wailing) And if I smile, then they’ll really think I’m weird. And it’s so lonely.”
I was shocked at first, but then I remembered what the pressure to fit in felt like at that age. I remembered how important it felt that nobody thought I was weird or different. I bristled with the understanding of how tragically damaging this “schoolyard socialization” is to a child’s developing sense of self. I remembered how I felt at his age when my friend and I were picked on mercilessly by the other kids who thought we were weird.
I was downright livid.
How is this “socialization” supposed to help him in the real world? Why should he feel burdened by a need to fit in? That is most decidedly not the value structure we want for our kids. They have the right to be the person their heart tells them to!
“Derrick, first of all, there’s nothing wrong with walking to your class by yourself. It’s just walking to class – trust me, dude, there’s no deep meaning to it all. And it only takes you two minutes to get there. How lonely can one kid possibly get in two minutes?” He cracked a smile.
“Why do you think anybody would think you’re weird if you smile at someone? Is it weird to be friendly?” Adam added. Derrick shrugged his shoulders and rubbed his fists into his eyes, still in tears. “What if someone smiled at you first? Would you think they were weird?”
“No. I’d think they were nice. (sniffle)”
“So what kind of person would think it was weird to smile at each other?”
“I dunno. (sob) Nobody, I guess.”
“Exactly. You’re a friendly kid. There’s no reason why anybody would think it’s weird for someone to be friendly.”
Our conversation continued, meandering through different pathways of helping him to wrap his brain around the situation (interrupted occasionally by a whiny Caroline, who was easily placated with a juice box). There’s no reason why this awesome kid, so full of sunshine, couldn’t share some of his happy with the people he passed by on his hundred yard walk every morning. He needed to know that. He needed to know that anyone who would think he’s weird for being friendly isn’t a person whose opinion he needed to value in the first place.
Is that person his friend? Nope.
Damn, I forgot how hard that lesson is to learn.
“I just want to be homeschooled,” he wailed. We are planning on having him join his sisters at home for the next school year already, but still, we wanted to know his thoughts.
“Because I just want to be me.”
Amen, little man. Amen.