It’s bedtime. The lights are out and you are snuggled underneath your comforter with your loveys that remind me you are still my little boy, despite how your toes stick out from under the blanket and your pj top is a bit too tight because of your last growth spurt. It’s that time of night when it’s safe to whisper the thoughts and feelings that are too hard to face in the light of the day. We snuggle. I wait. And, many nights, you talk. Tonight what you have to say breaks my heart. Through your watery big brown eyes you tell me your secret.
“I feel invisible mom. The kids in my class don’t see me or hear me. It’s like I’m not even there.”
Oh Son. Oh my sweet precious son. You are 7-years-old and in the First Grade. You should never have to feel invisible. My eyes well up with tears along with yours as you share your heart with me. I know you desperately want close friends, playmates, kids your age to talk with easily and run around together on the playground. I know you look at groups of kids playing on the carpet during free time or on the blacktop at recess and you long to be seen, to be invited in, and naturally mesh with the group.
But, for some reason you can’t understand, you don’t. The photo above is the last time Daddy and I remember you without these worries. You were three and carefree! And then life got hard. How can I explain to you that your thoughts and pragmatic reasoning are often that of a mini-adult, yet your emotions are a roller coaster of extremes and you can’t quite seem to interact like the other kids and don’t understand this world of social scripts and norms that make us “fittable”? How confusing, frustrating and lonely this must feel for you. You tell me “I’m dumb, mom” when in actuality all those tests we made you sit through (I know, I know – some of it was stupid and boring) revealed you are cognitively gifted beyond our wildest imaginations. No part of you is dumb. Not one single cell or mitochondria (I know you love your mitochondria). Not even the friendship making part is dumb. How do I know? I’ve seen you comfort a crying child, write sweet notes to kids you care about, and make classmates laugh out loud with one silly face. I’ve watched you encourage another’s work and appreciate when you see quality work being done. No, you will not compliment idly (for that would be entirely impractical); but if you see something done with excellence – like a proud Yoda, you are quick to point it out with an approving nod and wide eyed reverence.
I know you long for someone to point you out. You are exceptional my son. With that exceptionality comes hardship. The grown-ups in your life see you struggle and we know you aren’t trying to be a “bad kid”. We know there are times you are unhappy and confused as to why you don’t seem to fit in this world. And that makes you angry and sometimes that anger comes out in ways that screams “See me!!! I need help!!” (Although, next time, let’s not throw a chair across our classroom, mmm-kay? Maybe start with something smaller? Less…injurious? A shoe maybe?)
Now, let me make this clear. We want to give you the tools to connect with others, tolerate those big feelings of yours and let go of some of that rigid perfectionism that traps you. BUT, we do not want to change who you are. Because there is nothing (Eyes on mine dude – now, get me? NOTHING.) wrong with who you are. You deserve to be seen just like any other child. You are seen. You deserve to be celebrated and cherished and enjoyed by those around you. You are celebrated, cherished and enjoyed.
I wish I could make this world an easier place for you to live. I wish I could take away the crazy loud crowds of the lunch room, the boring worksheets, and the complex ins and outs of school yard friendships. I wish I could let you spend your days with your art supplies, microscope and science books and kits, your bike, a bucket and a shovel to excavate for precious rocks at the creek and, of course, your myriad of building materials. (Although I’d rather not give you the video games – for the love of all that is holy and decent, please no more Minecraft! I know, I know, wishful thinking. We can’t escape it, can we? So, no, I won’t take away your world where you are in control and constantly creating, but I reserve the right to limit it when you get too stuck. It’s mommy’s job to help you get unstuck. Just call me the “unstickerer.”) I wish I could protect you from this feeling of invisibility and inferiority that haunts you when you walk into those school doors. Can I tell you a secret? You aren’t the only one who feels this way. Many kids feel invisible, inferior and/or out of place. Even adults can feel this way. Sometimes mommy feels this way too. Actually, sometimes mommy feels this way a lot. You are not alone.
Please know Daddy and I are trying. We have sat in meeting after meeting with your teachers, psychologist, education specialist, social worker, principal, assistant principal, speech therapist, special education coordinator, pediatrician… all of us trying to find a path for you to show your brilliance and learn to interact with this world around you that doesn’t always make sense and sometimes makes you down right furious! It’s okay. It makes us mad too. I know we get mad at you when you are lost in your own world and not listening or throwing a fit because something isn’t just so. I’m sorry when I throw my own fits because you are having a hard time. I know that makes about as much sense as a dinosaur wearing underpants! (Although we do love that silly book, don’t we?) Mommy is learning how to deal with this world through your eyes too. I need you to teach me. Show me. Tell me what you see, hear and feel. Together — you, your Daddy and I – we’re a pretty smart bunch. I think we can figure things out.
I need you to remember something important. Our feelings aren’t always reliable. Sometimes our brains trick us and we think, and then feel, things that are not true. Things like being invisible. Just because you feel invisible, and as if you don’t matter, does not make it so. Use that smarty pants brain of yours and challenge those thoughts. Because you are not invisible. You were created by God to be extraordinary. All of us are in different ways. He sees you every moment of the day and understands you when no one else does and even when you don’t understand yourself. There is only one YOU. The world would not be the same without your presence. And one day, when you are older and wiser (although you’re pretty darn wise now), you can help make people visible – seen and heard and understood – just by telling your story. The story of a little boy who felt invisible but kicked that lies butt and said to the world, “Here I am. Let me show you what I can do and who I can be.” And you will have two parents, totally embarrassing you along the way, who will cheer you on like crazy. Because you are extraordinarily visible.