Because of my experiences being teased as a timid kid, I've coached my sons not to apologize for being who they are. But sometimes I still catch myself worrying about their boisterous personalities as if I were looking at them through the eyes of my old classmates.
My elementary school days were not idyllic. I was called many things, but "spaz" was amongst the most popular. Kids called me this because I was, well, a spaz. I didn't stand up for myself. I cried in the bathroom often. I took whatever friendship handouts I could get.
These experiences deeply inform my parenting. Over the years I have coached the boys to speak up for themselves, like what they like, be who they are and don't apologize for it. When my advice was helpful and one of the kids found success on the playgound, it almost felt like a success for my timid younger self.
What I struggle with is a tendency to view my children though the eyes of my old classmates – the way I imagine those kids must have seen me.
My oldest, Maxon, takes guitar lessons and is in the band program at Bluebond Guitars and Music School in Queen Village. In his most recent lesson, held on the second floor of the music store, he made up his own song with his teacher accompanying him on drums. When he came downstairs, he gave me a sample of his new oeuvre.
As he danced and shouted out the lyrics like a miniature Henry Rollins, all I heard in my head was one word: Spaz. I saw my young self, noodle-limbed, singing and dancing around, trying to provoke laughter but only provoking derision. Everything inside me wanted him to stop, to protect him from other kids making fun of him. I was a breath from palming his shoulder and telling him to cool it.
But no one was mocking him. The other students, staff and customers inside the store were smiling, nodding their heads with his beat. Nobody thought he was a spaz.
His teacher sent me a video from inside the practice room. They were both having a blast as Maxon freestlyled his own lyrics. This, from the kid with the melodic voice who told me he would never sing. If I had mollified him, would I have unwound the confidence he just displayed moments before? I am happy that we will never know, and grateful to the Bluebond staff who encourage him to play, invent and develop as a musician.
As a parent, I find it's hard to recognize certain feelings for the old devils they are. Sometimes they seem like the right instincts. The emotions attached to my elementary school days are skilled at making me feel like a wounded little girl who needs protection.
Like me, our boys can act goofy, but they play on an entirely different playground, one where they've been taught to speak up for themselves, be who they are, like what they like and not apologize for it. I have to remember that my children aren’t me, and their friends aren't the kids who called me "spaz."