I have a great kid at home who's one of the most fascinating individuals I've ever known. And she's only 7.
Kids this age and younger who wear cowboy boots with gym shorts are cute. Kids who love to insert the otherwise unpronounceable state fish of Hawaii into the conversation any chance they get, then sincerely ask you what it was like when Abraham Lincoln was alive, are amazing. Everybody likes them.
Someone at her after-school care center told me the other day that if my stepdaughter ever went to another center, she'd want her to call the old place every day, just to hear her say something.
The girl's take on life is honest, refreshing and, at times, surprisingly wise. It's also a bit different. But it's a good different. It's an I-like-to-give-flowers-to-dogs different, not an I-like-to-water-torture hamsters different.
And isn't life boring enough that we all need more "different" in our lives?
But a question arose this morning I've been anticipating and, for the most part, dreading. What happens when other kids start needling a kid who's unique?
For example, on St. Patrick's Day, she decided — most appropriately — to wear a giant green hat to school. What's not fun about that? If you can't wear a giant green hat on St. Patrick's Day, when can you? Personally, I don't want to live in a world in which you can't wear — at least once a year — a giant green hat.
Now I admit that, when I dropped her off at school that morning, I looked around to see what other kids were wearing. Of course, many wore normal, green clothes. Many didn't. I started to worry a bit — but that's just me and my cynicism about other people and their inability to embrace someone who's different. Then I spotted another kid with a giant green hat, and a kid with a green wig.
Whew. I felt relieved, but also guilty, thinking that it somehow made it OK for my stepdaughter to look different. Of course, those kids hadn't wrapped their faces up in a green scarf to where only their eyes were visible. She sort of looked like a Lucky Charms' leprechaun after joining Al-Qaeda.
But still, that's just the way she is, and that's the statement she wanted to make. But while I drove her to school the next morning, she said some kids made fun of her big hat and Irish/Al-Qaeda scarf. To my knowledge, that was the first time someone made fun of her uniqueness. But, as she's getting older, it wasn't unexpected.
When she was in kindergarten, she obtained a big white cowboy hat that almost covered her entire head and half her torso. The next morning when she got dressed for school, she put the hat on as sure as she put on her shoes. There was no hesitation whatsoever. As I walked her to her classroom, some of the kids on the playground stopped dead in their tracks. A couple said, quite sincerely, "nice hat." She responded — and I'm not making this up — by tipping her hat to them, stone-faced.
I almost snapped a vertebrae spinning my head in the opposite direction so she wouldn't see me laugh.
The hat was a hit. She wore it a few more days, then moved on to something else. But the point is that her peers weren't old enough to be infected by the conformist germ. Now she's getting to that age where you're sort of expected to be like everyone else.
After my stepdaughter told me a couple of kids snickered at her, I almost asked my wife if we should start thinking about taking measures to protect the girl. Then I thought there's just no way to do that. One, it's like telling her she's not OK. Two, the world needs more characters, period. Too many parents are all about having their kids fit in, to the point where they quash their personalities. As a former child who had some of the same struggles and later regretted the times I did try fitting in for the sake of fitting in, I wouldn't recommend that to anyone. Besides, the kid is just too dang cute in big hats.