When we lived on Long Island and our oldest was in first grade, we visited his school for our first parent-teacher conference. Expecting nothing less than a glowing review of our clearly amazing and gifted son, we instead got a shock.
“Look at this picture he colored,” the teacher gasped. “He made Abraham Lincoln orange.”
We stared at her a moment too long. Then I said, “Did you ask him why?”
“Yes, I did,” she huffed. “He said it was because he didn’t have a flesh-colored crayon. If he doesn’t start coloring pictures in like all of the other children, he won’t fit in and they will tease him,” she added, growing nearly hysterical.
My husband and I glanced at one another as it went further downhill.
But our difficulties didn’t end there.
Team sports were a no-go, and believe me, we tried them all. He had no interest in student government or theater. We moved to Weston, CT, and suggested mock trial, a program for which the town had earned a stellar reputation.
He stared at us in horror. “That sounds terrible,” he said.
The traditional outlets just weren’t a good fit for him and we were starting to become concerned, because we think no interests and free time equals a lot of trouble. He wasn’t even into video games, other than Guitar Hero, which he played to distraction.
Then one day, several years ago, he asked for guitar lessons. We sighed and agreed, and before we knew what was happening, something clicked and off he swam, into the pond with all the other ducks just like he was supposed to. And now, in the midst of his junior year, he is pursuing what we believe to be his life’s passion with a focus and intensity that impresses us every day.
There isn’t a week that goes by that my husband and I don’t think to ourselves, 'Thank God we said yes to guitar.' It is a pleasure to hear him play, of course. But we also know him as an out-of-the-box kid who thrives in creative environments, who naturally resists what he’s “supposed” to do, which as parents, felt predetermined: play soccer and baseball, get good grades and test scores, join some clubs, go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids.
But he had other plans and was determined to chart his own path, even at the tender age of five. Now that he is so close to adulthood, it’s difficult if not impossible to imagine him behind a desk all day. His entrepreneurial spirit and desire to discover emerging talent while expanding his own musical skills ensures he won't ever be the round peg kids are "supposed" to be.
Our schools do a wonderful job nurturing traditional learners who excel in traditional activities. But it is so hard for kids who don’t fit that mold to feel as if they belong. Many kids come from families with the means to send them to private school and that’s a wonderful opportunity—for them. The rest of us, though, have to make do.
I don’t know much about what makes an arts program exceptional. But I believe Weston is the exception in that the music and arts opportunities provided by the district are wonderful. From jazz band to music technology to ceramics and beyond, creative types can thrive here and we are grateful for what the community's tax dollars provide.
Adolescence is so hard emotionally and for many it counts as the most difficult time in life. A kid who doesn’t count athletics or student government or other mainstream activities on his transcript is easily isolated, even among his friends. Even an invincible teenager might mistakenly believe that those feelings of loneliness might last forever.
The good news is, they don’t. What’s more, they don’t have to. Give them a creative outlet and watch what flourishes. Who knows what mighty oaks from little guitar heroes grow?