(Ariel, the Intellectual)
My friend Wesley wrote a wonderful post recently on the occasion of her daughter Barrett’s second birthday, where she spoke of Barrett as “someone to reckon with.” I loved her birthday tribute, and I love that phrase: Someone to reckon with. It made me think of my own children.
From a very early age, Ariel and Benjamin both made it clear that they would live life on their own terms and that they were not here to fulfill my dreams, but their own. Even when they were very young, I could see that they were people to be reckoned with. I soon learned that rather than try to subdue their strong will, I should think of that strong will as a positive force that would serve them well in a cold, hard world and to see that force as something that could be channeled in creative and constructive ways. And since they usually took “No” as a challenge, I always looked for ways to say “Yes.”
When Ariel was three, she loved to play dress-up. We had all kinds of stuff in our dress-up box—from plastic animal noses to hats I’d bought at yard sales to elf ears (that wouldn’t stay on). But one of Ariel’s favorite things was a pair of big, black, plastic fake eyeglasses. And someone (it may have been me) told her once that those glasses made her look like an intellectual. Well, she took a shine to that word and decided that she wanted to be a full-time intellectual. At first, I thought it was cute. She wore them as she played around the house and liked to say, “I’m an intellectual!” Except that she said it, “I’m an int-LEK-shull!” I laughed until the day she insisted on wearing them when we went out. And after that, she wanted to wear them everywhere—to the doctor, the grocery, the Walmart, the library. And she would not give in.
So I gave in. I said Yes. And she wore them everywhere, completely undeterred by the stares, the laughing, and the gentle teasing that strangers sometimes gave her. When they teased her, she just smiled, pushed the glasses up her nose and said, “I’m an int-LEK-shull!”
And I must admit that I sometimes cringed. I’m a shy person, so I don’t really like anything that draws attention my way. And you can be sure that a very cute little three-year-old wearing oversized black plastic glasses draws attention. Lots of it. A few people told me that they would never let THEIR children look silly out in public like that. But, see, that’s the thing—she didn’t think she looked silly; she liked how she looked. She looked like an “int-lek-shull.” And she really didn’t care what other people thought.
My mother-in-law (who died when our children were very small) used to say, when she’d see Ariel or Benjamin assert themselves, “It’s hard now, but you’ll be glad of their strong wills someday. When they get to be teenagers, they’ll hold fast to that strong sense of who they are and they won’t go along with the crowd.” My mother-in-law was a very wise woman.
And she was right. My children have very much forged their own paths and have kept a steady course on those paths, even when the way has been rocky or difficult to follow.
From the time Benjamin was very young, he has had a love for birds. He’d listen to birdsong tapes for hours and learned to recognize birds by their calls. And now, at age 19, he is quite the avian expert—we often rely on his expertise when we’re hiking. But as you may imagine, a love for birdwatching is not considered the very coolest and hippest thing to admit to when you’re a teenager. But he openly talks about it and even posts his bird shots on his Facebook page, where he has over 200 friends. He doesn’t care what others think.
If you have been reading my blog for a while, you may know that my children often comment on my posts. And when my children comment, you may have noticed that they call me “Mommy.” But if anyone suggested to them that it’s strange for young adults of 19 and 20 to call their mother that, well, they’d probably smile a quizzical smile, shrug, and say “Why do you have a problem with it?” Because that’s what they’ve always called me and what they probably always will. They don’t care what anyone thinks about it.
I have learned so much from my children—about confidence, about staying true to yourself, and about not giving so much heed to what other people think. May Ariel and Benjamin always be confident, no matter how much others try to steal their joy and belittle them. May they always be true to themselves, in a world that’s often false. May they always know and recognize the real truth about themselves. And may they always consider and ponder what others say about them, but never believe the lies.
And may they always be someone to reckon with.
(Benjamin’s First Car)