Yesterday was Ewan’s first day of school. There were no phone calls to come get him or to calm him down. There were no emergencies or meetings and in one breath of relief, I realized all seemed to have gone exactly as planned. Then I met him at the bus stop. Eager to hear what he thought of his new school, I practically pounced on him in my excitement, and asked, “So Ewan, how was your first day?”
He shrugged and replied, “It was ok. I like my teacher.”
Smiling, I said, “That’s great! Did you like the other kids?”
With a melancholic manner, he replied, “No, they won’t talk to me mom. They aren’t interested in what I have to say. I tried to talk to them at lunch but they looked at me funny and ignored me. I just want to talk like everyone else!”
My heart dropped to somewhere in the location of my kneecaps. These are the things you know are happening, but just don’t have the strength to hear. I slowly said, “Ok…so what did you do?”
In a rush of anger and anxiety, the words tumbled out, “It made me sad so I went under the table and cried. The teacher told me she would talk to them and make it better. But it’s not better. I’m not interesting and they won’t listen.”
I paused, at a loss of what to say. Finally, I managed to see through the grief swirling around my head, and said, “Ewan, I really do think it will get better.”
He looked at me then, and said, “But when?”
I had no answer for him because I cannot know and I cannot guess just exactly when it will get better. It might be hours or days or years or a lifetime. I simply do not know. And this is the quintessential question isn’t it? He’s asking me in a way that implies he needs to know how long he must trudge through the muck and the mire to get to the land of the plenty. He’s asking me when he’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. When will it get better? I cannot know when or how it will get better, but I have to believe that it will.
Before, Ewan seemed pleasantly aloof—with just enough interest in other people to make connections but not overly concerned with making friends. As he has gotten older, the urge for friendship has grown and now he is actively reaching out to his peers for connection. Yet they don’t always reach back.
The problem for Ewan is that, well, he’s Ewan. He has the most refreshingly honest and child-like way of seeing every little aspect of life. An honest and child-like way that just isn’t cool. It’s not cool to be curious and happy and excited about national debt. It’s not cool to think bugs, volcanoes, outer space, geography, or the water cycle is the most scintillating dinner table topic in the world. It’s not cool to love life and to love learning. Last night, I came to a very heartbreaking realization. If Ewan’s going to survive the social scene of life, he must be a little less Ewan and a little more everyone else.
He must learn to do what everyone else has learned to do: to hide and to deceive. He must learn to conceal the innocent charm that surrounds his every word and his every step because the old adage, “Just be yourself,” doesn’t apply here. Even Ewan recognizes this as he said last night, “I need to be a different person for them to like me.” I want to tell him that he’s wrong, that he CAN just be himself, just like anyone else. But in my head I know he is right and while I can appreciate the reasoning, I hate the message. I want him to be all Ewan all the time yet, in reality, he can only be all Ewan some of the time and someone else at others. He must listen to the oldest of lessons: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” He must evolve and change from the child he was, to the man he must become. Ewan, the child that speaks with such profound sincerity and in the most candid way, must learn to become a more guarded and cautious speaker. For him to be accepted by the hordes of fourth grade boys and girls, he has to play his cards a little closer to his heart.
And I dread every second of the conversations we must soon have.
For so long, I have taken such great joy in hearing him speak. Every word and thought has been a miracle. My husband and I and a line of speech therapists going back to 2003 have fought for every single word that child has spoken aloud. Hours of therapy, thousands of dollars and the most technology has to offer has brought him out of the silence and into the world of nouns and verbs and adjectives. Right now, I feel the weight of a thousand hours of therapy sitting on my shoulders. Because today, I must tell my son to hold back the flood of words and thoughts. I must teach him the meaning and value of silence. We must go backward in order to move forward and, for this mother, it is a bitter pill to swallow.
It is truly the end of innocence for us all. Ewan is learning that the world is not as simple as we’d like it to be. He is learning the most complex lessons of social skills in the most heartbreaking of ways. And while he learns to hide parts of himself, I go back to Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” For all that Ewan must draw a veil over parts of himself, I shall always know him, the real Ewan, despite what he must show to the rest of the world.