Breaking Free From Conformity

“Alike” is an animated short film directed by Daniel Martínez Lara & Rafa Cano Méndez
alike.es

(The link above is from YouTube. Just search on “Alike” and you will find the video.)

How many of you have watched the animated short, “Alike”?

It’s an absolutely beautiful visual feast.  It’s so simple yet so much is conveyed.

I know for me personally, it struck me on many levels.

Like most parents, I walked into parenthood with my head held high, full of my lists of what I’d never do, what I would do and absolutely who my child would turn out to be.  I had dreams of what kind of influence I would have on him, what sacrifices I would make so he could attend the best schools, because of course, any child of mine would be a genius.  I had his entire life laid out for him while he was still inside my womb, kicking me ferociously.

From his very first breath I’ve embraced his beauty, his sweet smile, his kind soul.  He hit all of his milestones on time and always did it laughing like “look at what I can do, Mom!”  His constant joy was so phenomenal to witness and I was blessed with getting to watch it every single day.

I remember the woman who ran his Montessori preschool yelling at me when he was only 4 years old, about to turn 5, in his final year before kindergarten, about my son’s inability to blend two letters into a sound and if he couldn’t do that then he would never learn to read.  I remember thinking, so what?  He’s not in kindergarten yet and I pay you a small fortune for him to play and have fun, not learn to read.

I remember doing the educational evaluations for private school before kindergarten and how the evaluators told me he was bright but to never put him in the top schools here in town because he’d never hack it and would hate me forever.  (Yes, that actually said that.)

I remember putting him in a high brow private school for kindergarten, knowing he’d do just fine, but being scared he wouldn’t be able to get in (they happily took him).

I remember frustrating conversations with his kindergarten teacher where she would IMPLY that he was not intelligent enough to be at that school, but when I would ask her point blank if that’s what she was getting at, she’d always change her tune and tell me how smart he was and how he just needed to work harder on his sight words, but at least he held his pen correctly.

I remember him advancing to 1st grade where the teacher quickly talked about his struggles with automaticity (a word that prior to that first conversation I had never heard before) and how she would start tutoring him for 20 minutes before school would start if I would get him there by 7:30 two days a week.  I remember the first time he climbed in my car at the end of the day and said, “Mom, I’m not as smart as my friends.”  I remember pounding spelling lists into his head while he fidgeted and wiggled and was sad but put up with it so I wouldn’t get angry with him because I thought too that he wasn’t trying hard enough.  I remember his dragging pace through every letter of every word as he tried desperately to read the most basic of books that his teacher sent home (it took almost an hour to read a 7 page book with less than 5 words per page), and then the awful book reports he had to write.

Do you have ANY IDEA how difficult it is to write a 1 page book report on something akin to See Jane Run?  I mean, seriously?!?!?!?!  Every single week the same dramatic nightmare!  It was awful!

Then the wall….

The desperation with which he cried.  The hopelessness with which he cried.  The complete shock that overwhelmed both my husband and I.  Every parent of a dyslexic child feels it.  You watch your child shatter into a million pieces and you shatter with them.

Overwhelmed.  Broken.

Then that thought crosses your head.  He’s only 7!  A 7 YEAR OLD SHOULD NOT FEEL LIKE THIS!

Then you ask your school, the gate keepers of conformity, why?

These gatekeepers look at you and give you a plethora of reasons.  For me, it was that they were unsure if it was developmental or not and they didn’t want to unnecessarily alarm me.  They would know by 3rd grade, as they’ve “had their eye on him since kindergarten and it’s clear something was not quite right” and they would say something then.

My child would be broken by then, perhaps irretrievably so!

Needless to say my rage and passion took over.

That’s when the conformist in me realized I needed to do something different.  The deeper I’ve climbed down this rabbit hole, the more I’ve understood that school is a box of conformity, created for the masses, not the individual, and that our little learning different children will never fit into that box.

Which was so freeing.

Easy?  NO!  Freeing?  Yes, at least for me.

So how does a person who has conformed her entire life raise a non-conformist.  How do I break free from this mold?

That’s an everyday exercise.  There is no one magical answer.  A lot of it has to do with the things I say to my child.  I no longer demand specific grades, I just say “do you best.”  I celebrate the 70 on a reading test with fanfare, because it is celebration worthy.  He has done well so far and holds his own, but I know there are some really big bumps ahead, where peers will ask him why he didn’t get such and such grade, or why it takes him so long to read, or why he gets pulled out of class, and I’ll deal with those bumps in the road as they come.

I tell him he is dyslexic, but I also tell him that’s an aspect of him, like having brown / green eyes, and that it does not define him.  I tell him that yes, I focus a great deal on dyslexia, but that is not a reflection of him, that’s because schools need to do better, and I will ensure, at least for him and hopefully for others, that he is not judged or mistreated for the way that God made him.

I talk a lot about how God creates our paths for us and how we are each made by Him, in His infinite wisdom and in that wisdom we are all perfect and necessary.

More than anything else I tell him that he’s loved.

I let him be a YouTuber.  I buy him “non-boring” shirts and dress the way he pleases.  I let him wear super bright clashing colors (no, he’s not color blind) and this solid black wearing mom smiles and keeps going (and my ability to do that is learned and yes I do still cringe).  I let him grow his hair long, then shave it all off and start all over again.  I let him be who he wants to be.  I don’t force him into a box.  I don’t force him to conform.  I may cringe, but I celebrate him.  More importantly, he knows I let him be who he wants to be, and it sets him free.

Like the little colorful child, turning gray and unhappy with conformity, when the father sets that child free it sets his mind free and unleashes his colorful beauty once more.

“Alike” is a beautiful lesson on how we should celebrate the beauty of imagination and the joy of a free spirit.  Whatever this animated short says to you, it speaks to me of dyslexia, school and how I need to raise my child free from constraint, free to be who he is, and acknowledge and appreciate the incredible beauty of who he is.

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