Our four-year-old woke me up at 3am because her pillows were “wrong” and “I need you to fix them.” I tried to wrestle sleep into submission until 5am, until it became apparent I needed to stumble to my computer and tell you a bit about what happened earlier this week to my sweet, fabulously unique Hazel.
It was a beautiful afternoon on Wednesday, so instead of immediately diving into homework and continuing the daily grind we fled to the park for shenanigans we know and love. Hazel wasn’t her usual self; she was circling back around to me way more than usual. Everyone has bad days and I knew she’d find her footing and dive into play as usual. But as she came back around she said in a voice only small mice and moms can hear, “I need to talk to you about something that happened at school today.” After a few questions, she let me know there was a note left on her desk that said people should be friends with everyone except her.
Hazel is eight years old and in the third grade. She has good friends and knows she is loved deeply in our family. She is both safe and celebrated to be herself in our home. But I have zero control over if everybody else chooses to unravel in a matter of seconds what I have spent years trying to instill in her.
We talked about how that made her feel, what she chose to do next, and how the teacher handled the situation. I shared my sorrow that those mean words were directed at her and that they hurt her heart. I filled up her “snuggle tank” for a bit. But I didn’t know how to undo what has been planted in her heart about who she is and how people see her. That seed may get watered and tended through the years by people who do not have the strength or wisdom to let her be different than the mold they are more comfortable with. I realized I could not undo the planting of this hurtful seed, but would have to be the vigilant gardener that comes in and weeds regularly to ensure that Hazel flourishes and has what she needs both in the seasons where she is a budding beauty as well as in the long, cold winters where all the growth and hard work is under eye level.
Being a mom is by far the hardest thing I have ever attempted. There are needs you see and those that fly under the radar. There are times you nail it and times you flub it up so badly you praise the good Lord above that you are not on a reality show. So when Matt challenged me to write a blog seven years ago he asked what I wanted people to know. I confessed that I had always assumed I was doing it wrong, but it is a really hard gig and I wanted to communicate in a way that helped people feel free to be authentic in our filtered, polished, social media-obsessed culture, and to know that it’s normal to be overwhelmed by this high calling.
After dropping Hazel off at school the next morning I went to run the 32,751 errands for the Harry Potter birthday party for our oldest daughter MC. After leaving Kroger a text came from a friend, saying she was so sorry we had to walk through something this painful. That’s when the dam broke. Tears started jumping out of my eyes at such a rate that my attempts to text back were impeded by my temporary loss of sight. Passersby would have heard loud crying and saw me searching for restaurant napkins to construct a dam for the rivers of tears, snot, and whatever drool may come next as I struggled to breathe through the monsoon of sad.
This was one of those moments that really isn’t pretty enough to share with the outside world. It blows any cover of having your junk together or nailing it on any level. Yet this was precisely my problem with social media and the structures we have set up to define our worth and approval ratings. So I turned my camera around and took a picture of myself mid-cry, mid-snot, and pleaded with you to fight for those who ask Hazel’s question of the day, “Mom, I’m different. Is that bad?” Your quick responses of love and coming to our defense and aid with kind words, real guidance for the days and years ahead, and offers of bodyguard services brought deep joy, love and comfort into a day that began with fear, hurt, and pain. There is no ample way to express to you that you literally saved the day and came around someone at just the right time.
I will be writing more about Hazel’s question and how I feel we answer it differently with our words than we do with our actions as a culture. Last night as I was fading off to sleep I was thinking about how impressive the variety of the creation is all around us: in nature, in innovation, and most impressively in the people around us. What if a painter only used one color? So much beauty would be lost. The beauty is in how the colors dance together and express something greater as they stand next to one another than if they stood alone. I want Hazel to know that we both need and want her color to be as rich and deep as it was intended to be. And I want that for every one on the pallet.
Whenever we pull up to the park and Hazel sees people already playing, she says, “Look, mom! NEW FRIENDS!” If we allow people to squash that beautiful optimism and genuine love then we all play alone. And tag is no fun alone.