From an early age, I struggled with my self-esteem. My high school years were filled with worrying constantly about what others thought of me and doing my best to fit in.
At a high school reunion a few years back, I realized that every other person in my school was doing the same exact thing that I was, simply trying her best to fit in. Some just disguised their angst a little better than others. The only time I felt really comfortable was when I went on stage in the character of someone else – anyone else but me.
As the parent of a child who is different – my 14-year-old son has Tourette Syndrome and OCD — I worry constantly that he will be ridiculed and ostracized because of his peculiarities. And with Jake starting high school in the fall, that worry is even bigger. He will be attending a new school with new kids who have no idea who he is. I am equal parts excited and terrified for his new beginning.
But here’s the funny part: Jake is absolutely ecstatic. He’s proud of who he is and always has been. Does he tic? Yes. Does he care? No. Not at all. Somehow this mother, who never really liked who she was, who never felt up to par when she was 14 years old, somehow this mother gave birth to and raised a child who is proud of differences.
I’ve always taught Jake that he’s perfect just the way he is. I’ve always made certain he believed that. But then I’d turn around and pray to God to “fix” Jake and make him “normal.” I was a hypocrite. I was the one who needed fixing because I had never dealt with my own issues from high school. These weren’t Jake’s issues.
Thank God, literally, that my prayers weren’t answered because Jake has taught me a beautiful life lesson that my parents tried so hard to teach me – there is no normal – there’s just me. And it’s taken a child, a very special, very different child to open my heart and help me see myself for who I really am, not who I hoped I would be, or who someone else thought I should be.
So when Jake starts school this fall, I hope the students and faculty are ready for him because he’s certain to change a few perceptions about what’s normal and what’s not.