Growing up I would say that I was considered to be weird or didn’t quite fit the mold of what some would consider a black girl should fit into. I was an avid book reader, still am. I remember being in between duty stations (I was an army brat) and we were at my grandmothers house. Some of my cousins were fascinated at how well I read and the type of words I could recognize at such an early age. I think I was maybe 8. My cousin set me up on the washing machine and handed me a newspaper. Then my cousins would just ask me to read it. They’d sometimes interrupt me to point at certain words and look at me in awe as I said them.
I’ve also always loved to write. English or Language Arts have always been my favorite subjects. As a teenager and young adult I’ve written several short stories and I’ve had a few poems published in a compilation book of poetry. I used to think someday that I’d be an author of some sort but I didn’t quite find the genre I was passionate about writing.
I often got called a nerd or accused of wanting to be white. I spoke proper English and in complete sentences so I was frequently accused of talking like a white person. I couldn’t figured that one out. Not all white people talk proper or speak in complete sentences so there was always a question mark there for me. I liked school and didn’t like missing school. I was there everyday unless I was sick or had a family emergency. If my parents signed me out for an appointment and there was still time to go back to school I would ask them to take me back. Senior skip day? I was one of the few present. Like who gets a freebie day to skip, so to speak, and still shows up to school? This girl. Boys often called me stuck up because I wasn’t super interested in dating and often didn’t respond to the way they’d try to talk to me. And honestly most of the guys I liked didn’t like me back.
I got picked on a lot. Even by my own family. I got bullied on the bus. To this day I can’t even recall everything the bullies said because I’d ignore them intentionally and then get off the bus as quickly as possible. I didn’t always dress like everyone else. I got my first pair of Nikes’s when I was about 13 I think. My parents had 5 kids and Nike’s were really expensive back then so I saved up my babysitting money and bought my first pair. They were black and white. Lord help you if you stepped on them! Lol.
I was different and often didn’t relate to a lot of my cousins my age or black kids my age. Not all of them of course, but growing up a military brat moving around all of the time I was exposed to different people and different cultures and that’s what I related to. Moving to an area that was predominantly black when I was halfway through my 6th grade year was eye opening. I remember coming home from school telling my mom that I had never been surrounded by so many black people in school!
Fast forward to now having two kids with ADHD and my oldest daughter being diagnosed with Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism, at age 8, you could say I have some pretty unique kids! My oldest daughter required a lot of my attention especially during her elementary school years. Raising her during this time was exhausting, overwhelming, emotionally draining, funny and inspiring.
She did not fit in with most of her classmates and didn’t have a lot of friends. She still doesn’t. Interacting with her peers is difficult for her because well, she’s weird. And I can say that cause I’m her mom. She was really into animals and would talk about them all day depending on which phase of animal obsession we were in. She stayed in the dinosaur phase the longest, which was my favorite phase. She loves things like avengers or anything marvel. She is not girly and didn’t like wearing dresses. There’s a slew of other quirky things about her but the point is she’s different. As soon as I felt she would understand that she was different I started telling her that. I’d have conversations with her and say “You’re weird and quirky and funny and smart and all of that’s ok! Don’t change. Keep being who you are no matter what. I love you just like this.” As she got older and people would tell her she’s strange or weird she would smile and say “I know.”
My second daughter is all girl all the time! Exact opposite of her sister. From a very early age she was all diva. I think she got that from her Grandma Becky! She loves lip gloss, getting her nails done, pink and dressing up! Sometimes I’d take her to the grocery store all dressed up in whatever little princess outfit she was in. She was just so cute but it was mostly because she refused to take it off and I didn’t have all day to fight with her about it. Unlike her sister, she’s a social butterfly. Kids flock to her. She’s friendly, intelligent, hilarious and super sweet. But she talks incessantly. I mean it is nonstop! She’s always got a story or something to say. She can go all day. I consistently have to fight the urge to yell “Hush!” Honestly I have more times than I can say. She knew she talked a lot. I told her so but I tried to steer away from making it a negative thing as much as possible. It didn’t stop her from coming home one day really upset with her feelings hurt.
I was at the bus stop waiting for her. When she got in the car I could tell she was upset. I asked her what was wrong and she said “Mommy this girl made me feel bad. We were hanging out and she says to me loudly in front of everyone ‘Oh my gosh Ari you talk so much. Can you be quiet sometimes?!’ I know I talk a lot mommy. I just can’t help it!” My heart broke for her. I’m sure she was embarrassed and hurt. I said to her “Ari, yes, you talk a lot. Sometimes it can be too much for some people. But that’s ok. There are people who love you just the way you are. Mommy’s loves you just like this and I think it’s one of the best things about you. You’re smart and it’s ok that you talk a lot. If people don’t like it then don’t be their friend. Pray for them and remember that you’re loved just as you are. It’s ok to be different.”
My point in sharing all of this is we are all unique in some way. We all have things about us that not everyone will get or like. People may even say mean or cruel things to us but we have to learn to accept and love ourselves in all of our uniqueness and pain. The difference between my story and my kids is I wasn’t celebrated in my uniqueness or weirdness. No one really told me that I was loved just the way that I am. Even growing up in church I never got the concept that God loves me just as I was because you had to look a certain way at church. Girls always wore dresses. You had to be present at every service all the time and you were criticized for missing one. I felt more judged than accepted. It’s taken me years and well into adulthood to finally embrace who I am and to love myself. I love me! So it was important to me to tell my kids early on that they are loved for who they are even with their quirkiness and flaws. I don’t always get it right. I’m sure I’ve said or done something that has hurt their feelings but I always try to go back and apologize then remind them that they are loved. There’s nothing wrong with being different.
We should remind ourselves of this as much as possible. Being different changes the world. There are so many people who stepped out of the mold the world was trying to force them into and they have created amazing inventions or advancements in science. Being uniquely you is beautiful. Embrace it and encourage those around you, especially your kids or children you influence, to do the same.