We had a recent struggle with our youngest not doing so well on a spelling test. Came to pass that he’s finally bumped up against something in school in which he’s going to have to finally exert some effort. We knew this day would come, and hoped it would happen sooner, as it had with his older brother, but at least now we could deal with it, and hopefully give him some skills that will take him far past fifth grade.
As happens with issues surrounding school, however, something far more significant than academic achievement came out of the spelling struggles.
A fairly typical theme of modern society is how many of us grapple with fitting in. What does that mean, fitting in? For me it has always been trying to find a group of people who get me, and when you don’t fit neatly into one social group or another, fitting in is not such an easy fit.
In the quest to figure out what was keeping our youngest from doing well with his spelling, we also uncovered the internal anxiety he has regarding finding that group of people who get him. He’s athletic but not all about sports. He likes playing video games but gets bored with them after a while. He’s academic, but only wants to work so hard at school. He has a whole family of stuffed frogs who are truly part of our family. They each have personalities and are as much part of our family dynamic as our two cats.
And all of these things that make our youngest who he is – the parts about him we would never want him to change – are things he does not want to share with his friends. He fears his athletic friends only want to play sports all of the time. He fears his gamer friends just want to play video games all of the time. He fears his academic friends won’t think he’s smart enough. And there’s no way at all any of them are going to know about the frogs. No 11 year-old has stuffed frog friends, he worries.
As I did my best to let my son know that how he felt was perfectly normal, and that we has not alone, I could not stop thinking in the back of my mind how the sad irony is I’m sure most of his friends feel similarly, just with their own hang-ups. I talked to him about when I was young, about how I always felt alone in a crowd, that it wasn’t until much later in life that I started truly baring my sole to friends about my fears and anxieties, that I wouldn’t be accepted if they knew about my hang-ups. Of course my friends all had their own hang-ups and worries.
What I did not tell my son was how, sadly, the greatest unburdening of my friends’ collective souls never really came until our 20th college reunion, where a group of six of us convened. In an alcohol-loosened gushing stream of honesty, one-by-one we conveyed our feelings of being lost, and how we perceived the others to have had their [stuff] together.
But by the time my son and I finished talking about his fears and insecurities I was confident that he knew he was not alone, and that he cold always turn to his dad whenever he did feel alone in a crowd, and that at least one person would always understand him.