DIFFERENTNESS

When I was 7 years old, all of us girls had to gather on the square carpet in the middle of the Grade 2 classroom. We sat listening to some long-forgotten lesson, and was then asked to stand for role call or singing or some other equally forgotten thing. But what I could never forget was the humiliation I felt when standing. See I was painfully shy and painfully tall. I stood out like a reserved, fat-cheeked, dark-haired thumb and I hated it. I just wanted to fit in.

I solved my problem by seeing to it that I always sat at the back. That way, when we were asked to stand, the teacher wouldn’t see that I was standing on my knees and I wouldn’t stand out. She never noticed me anyway, so when the awkward tall one suddenly disappeared, she didn’t look for me.

Today I wish I’d gotten a chair or soap box or ladder or another kid to stand on. If I could have it all over again I’d stand tall and own my weirdness. I’d be proud of my inability to fit in and not feel so unspeakably alone.

But we don’t get a second chance. We live with things and we accept things and we tell ourselves we become better.

I’ve done an exceptional job of fitting in. I’m wonderfully and extraordinarily ordinary in every way. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’m happy. It’s just that sometimes I wonder if I was always meant to be ordinary or if I moulded myself into ordinariness.

My brother’s elder daughter, Katie, is a complete weirdo. Deeply, deeply strange this kid. I visited them a few weeks ago and while she and I were watching some ridiculous dancing TikTok thingiemabobs, we chatted about things at school and about her friends. She seemed down when I wanted to talk about school.

I’m too weird, she said. I wasn’t prepared for my heart to break.

So was I, I said. And thought of the thousand better things I could have said.

Where does one find the words to persuade a 10-year-old that weirdness is wonderful? That being an adult is like being squeezed into a hydrolic pressure mould that presses everyone into the same shape? That to be a weird adult is a magical, powerful thing…that everyone want’s to be different and special.

At 10 years old she wouldn’t believe it. At 6 and 7 and 10 they just feel the sharp edges of weirdness.

So if I may, let me ask: if you happen upon a weirder-than-all-understanding kid, tell them they’re cool…tell them they’re special…tell them to get off their knees.

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