I was driving home after delivering Journey and her two carpool mates to school when “Applause” by Lady Gaga came on the radio. (One of the sixth graders who rides to school with us is obsessed with a particular pop music radio station, and I had not yet tuned the dial back to my usual NPR news.) I started to cry. What was that about?
I thought about Becton. He had come home yesterday and stated, “I’m never riding the bus again.” “Why?” I asked. “Because those people are so mean.”
I tried to get more specifics from him, but Becton refused to answer. Instead, he made us all miserable with his bad mood and demands. I persisted in questioning him, telling him that talking about his feelings might make him feel better. Eventually, after I removed his access to the iPad, his frustration grew to the point that he was willing to share. He said that two of his peers made fun of him for liking Lady Gaga. He said they laughed when he told them his first best friend was a particular girl in their 4th grade class.
I responded in the usual way a mother responds to such things. We discussed whether or not I should speak to the parents of the children who had laughed at him. We discussed his right to love who he loves. I affirmed Becton for being who he is…
Becton and I both love Lady Gaga – probably for different reasons. I love the way she challenges the status quo. I love her activism. I love that she is not classically beautiful, but beautiful in spirit. I love that she works so hard. Becton, I imagine, mostly loves the costumes, music, and dancing. He’s amazing with the dances. He studies the videos and learns all Gaga’s moves. If you could only see him dance, you’d notice how he goes into the dance and becomes the dance. He is in another world. He loses whatever inhibitions a typical nine-year-old might have in the moment.
My other children have danced, some formally in dance classes and recitals, some informally at home. But the other four always looked like they are concentrating on the movements or aware of the audience. Becton is different.
In reading about Lady Gaga, I found a statement she made when answering a question about her high school experience. She said, “I used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric, so I started to tone it down. I didn’t fit in, and I felt like a freak.”
Becton already feels some of this. I wonder if he will decide to “tone it down.” I wonder if he will embrace his differences with the result being that he feels like an outsider. It’s hard to know exactly what to say or do as a parent of a kid who isn’t like the others. Do we teach him to conform so he will fit in? Do we teach him to do his own thing, regardless of the consequences? Do we try to help him choose his “battles”? That is, do we help him distinguish when he should act like the others because it does not harm him versus when he should be himself because doing otherwise would damage his self-esteem?
Do we move Becton to a different school where there are more children “like him”? Or, does moving him to a protective environment set him up for more disappointment when he leaves school? Is there a particular age when we should be more protective versus less protective?
And then there are Becton’s other differences – being adopted and being a different race from the other people in his family. How do these differences impact how he fits in or doesn’t? It’s all just too complicated.
Then again, this is the life and the family John and I chose. So we have a responsibility to deal with whatever comes our way, including the differences that mark our children.
Lady Gaga recently did a show with the Muppets. And I am reminded of Kermit the Frog’s song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” “Green” is different from the rest. But, as Kermit sings, there are so many things to love about green —
“… green’s the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean,
or important Like a mountain, or tall like a tree
When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful
And I think it’s what I want to be”
We have a lot of “green” in our family: learning differences, mental health issues, and personalities that sometimes do not fit in with the crowd. But isn’t one of the goals of parenting to help our children get comfortable with being “green”? If my grown children come back to me and say, “I am green and it’ll do fine. It’s beautiful and I think it’s what I want to be,” I will be happy.