Teaching My Kids, It's OK to Be You

Drawing by Ian Kelewae

I want my kids to know that it's OK to be themselves, who ever that may be. In fact, it's not just OK, it's great. It's necessary, especially in current times. We need our kids to be in touch with their inner voice and to know when and how to use it. We need our kids to be individuals and not just follow the masses blindly.

When we first moved out to our quaint little town, I was too busy working to really understand the social situation here. It wasn't until I lost my job and went back to school. I was home more often with Ian taking care of him and continuing with my studies. It wasn't until then I realized, this city girl lives in the rural suburbs and that's when the panic started to set in.

Nothing this chick can't handle, just that it's different here. I was worried that me and my artist husband were not going to fit in which really made me worry about our son Ian who was starting school. We did things different and I didn't want Ian to feel different because of our choices. I wanted him to feel like he was just like every other kid. I never said this or made a big deal out of it but kids are really smart and thinking back to it, I know he probably could feel it.

I tried my best to be what I thought was "normal". But even then I felt a little like a pariah, but I never let on. The thing that concerned me was that I could see my nervousness in Ian. I know he so badly wanted to be a part of, what ever it was to be a part of. He wanted to live in the same development his friends lived in. Play the same sports. I was trying to "normalize" our family so that we didn't stick out too much like a sore thumb.

I went back to work and I was out of the loop again, somewhat. We had made some friends and the normalcy was there, somewhat. I felt stabilized, like we had made a home here and we belonged. But at what cost? I have to admit, I wasn't totally being myself. My quirky, odd, cool ( I wish, my hubby's the cool one), smart self. Instead, all this time I had been trying to fit in so that my son could fit in.

And then it happened. My husband did this awesome mural at one of the entrances in our town. It was all over our county's newspapers because it was so controversial. There were people who loved it and people who hated it. I was too busy to get involved until things had slowed down at my firm, I finally had a chance to take notice of some things. First of all, this cute little town that I was trying so hard to conform to was filled with not so cute folks.

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Some people were so nasty and out to say horrible things about my husbands work because he used spray paint and it was not historical. While many loved it, those who had other opinions managed to get their voices heard in newspapers. So, I too had to share my opinion, my real opinion that is and get heard in the newspapers as well. It was very interesting and it brought out my feistiness, which had been missing due to my unfortunate conformity for the past few years. It felt good to be me.

But then something else happened. I had started this new job right when Ian was starting 5th grade which was a new school. His whole world had changed and I had missed it. I was so busy with work, I didn't notice that his circle of friends were changing. The boys he once called friends were now on the road to becoming jocks and that just wasn't Ian. One friend that was a really good friend was going down that same road and my little guy was just trying to go down the road of being himself. He thought like we did, you can be who ever you want to be but your friendships stay the same. A friend is a friend is a friend, right? NO!

My fears were coming true. In the long run, it didn't matter how much we tried to conform, if you are not true to yourself, it's you who loses out. All this time, I just wanted him to have a normal experience growing up here, but at the same time we were teaching him how there's a world out there filled with variety. I needed to be comfortable being me, no matter who stuck around and who left and so did he. I later learned that it was tough on him. I also learned that Ian is amazing and so strong. He stuck it out and stayed true to himself even though so called friends wouldn't even let him sit at the same lunch table with him. And because of that, he made real friends. He told me, it's just a matter of finding your people, they're everywhere, you just have to be patient. He found his people.

He's in 8th grade now, still with the same "crew". They're a bunch of good guys. I'm so inspired by them. When I drive by downtown, seeing them hang out, I see a group of teenage boys who are all equals. No one is the leader. No one is the follower. Just teenage boys hanging out, being themselves. The way it's supposed to be.

It's OK to be you. In fact, it's important. We all need to have a voice. This world needs more creators, inventors and innovative thinkers.

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