Pepper is authentic. Fully, unabashedly herself. Her drum beats differently and she stomps her feet to its rhythm with gusto. This has always been her operating state and it is mix of fear and inspiration for me to watch.
Being eight is different than being three and it seems the world is less forgiving and kind to uniqueness as we grow older. The crazy patterned outfit of a preschooler is not greeted with the same endearing looks when you are in middle school.
But, is that just my perception? Slighted, swayed and altered by the lens I wear from my past.
One of my favorite parenting gurus/advisors/writers talks about the history we bring to the task of parenting. The unique role that our upbringing and life experiences contribute to how we parent. And, how we have healed, or most importantly – not healed – from these experiences.
I was raised by great parents. There was divorce, mixed families and step-parents. There were struggles and demons of addiction. But, cemented, rock solid in the middle was love. Always love. And, that never faltered. The acceptance of who I was as an individual was paramount and the assumption that I was loved was a given. My firsthand example of parenting was a true mix of love and imperfection. Faults and forgiveness. Patience and emotional intelligence. It so much a part of who I am and how I parent.
My deepest darkness sits hard when it comes to social interactions and being authentic to myself. My pre-teen years are a hazy memory of constant bullying. Daily fear and a desperation to “belong” and overcome the cause of my strife to become something I wasn’t. Something who wasn’t teased. Something that wasn’t ridiculed. Someone and not something. I was so busy trying to change myself to the impossible mold that any thought of authenticity was completely foreign.
So, I struggle to watch Pepper’s interactions.
I see her surrounded by a handful of peers. Her energy is big and all consuming. Her creativity bursting. She pounds the sidewalk chalk into colorful powders and begins to mix and dabble them together. Soon the powders are on her arms and traveling up. At first it is a delicate and deliberate application to her eyelids and cheeks. But, the energy becomes unhinged and the canvas covered with a crazy array of color. After the work is complete, the movement jumps to a higher gear. The legs begin flailing, the arms swinging and the voice a few decibels higher. It is a performance art that is manic and wild. And, she is thrilled. Her smile is magnificent. She is a joy to watch.
It is her peers that cause me pain and concern.
Some become enraptured by the maelstrom of energy Pepper is whirling in. They jump in and join. The fine line of personal comfort is danced as Pepper works to cast her net wider and bring color to others. I remind that we ask before we touch, we seek permission before we include and never assume that curiosity means interest in inclusion.
Others watch. The behavior is like a show. A performance. One that is incredibly interesting, very colorful (literally and figuratively). But, there is unhinged energy that can be unsettling in its unexpected nature.
And, many pull away. Quietly shuffling aside and finally dropping from view completely. The radiance was too bold. Too bright. Too big.
I am a bystander. On the sidelines but ready to intervene if needed. I ache as I watch the reactions of others. I see her in all her intensity and boldness and wonder.
I wonder if she sees their reactions. My guess is she doesn’t. Another hiccup that her sensory issues cause.
I wonder that if she did see their reactions, would she care? Would it diminish her joy and exuberance? Would it dampen her authenticity?
I wonder if I am reading too much into it. Am I pulling from my history and turning my self-consciousness and struggles of inadequacy into a false mirror of what I see?
Do I warn her of the possibility of “friends” causing deep hurt and pain that isn’t easily soothed? Wounds that are deep and aching. Holding your cards close protects the heart.
Or do I have faith in the process? The child with skills beyond my own. Coping mechanisms that are innate and learned, a seemingly perfect fit for her needs and issues. A hope in the goodness I have witnessed in the children who surround her.
Faith in the drumbeat that hers alone. Faith that someday it will find its band, its accompanying rhythm.