I looked at the paper he brought home from first grade and something didn’t sit right.
Originally, two people had claimed that their favorite color was green. One of those was crossed out and an extra box was drawn atop the blue lovers bar on the graph. I felt something turn over in my belly.
When we bought our new house, we landed ourselves in a new elementary school district. We still reside in the same bigger school district, but we were going to have to send BigBrother to a new elementary school. As we moved in late March last year, we were approved to leave him in the school he started Kindergarten in through the end of the year. The transfer was all set up for the beginning of this school year, and he has been looking forward to the new school.
Or, he was. You know, until he got there.
He has friends — kids from our neighborhood, from various sports programs, from our old church, from preschool, from last year’s school — but none that are in his immediate first grade classroom. I can’t imagine that’s all that easy or all that fun, even for a child who never met a stranger.
I looked at the paper again. He got “in trouble” yesterday for talking in class four separate times. Despite his outgoing personality, he is a rule-follower to a fault and this talking in class is all very new. “My friends are distracting me,” he claimed. Tracing my finger over the blue crayon marks, things kind of clicked into place. I called him back to the dining room. I pointed at the “x” over one of the greens.
“Bud, do you want to tell me what happened here?”
“I decided that I liked blue better, so I drew another box for the blue column.”
“Do you really like blue better or did you just say that because your new friends picked blue?”
His face fell. “I like green, Mommy.”
I sat him down and got him a glass of water, buying time to think a little and to make sure my tone was one of love and compassion and not “this conversation is putting us behind schedule for the day and I don’t quite have time for that.”
“You don’t have to change who you are — or what you like — for people to like you. Mommy and Daddy think you’re great just the way you are. You’re smart. You’re honest. You’re funny. Anyone who doesn’t want to be your friend because you like the color green doesn’t deserve to be your friend.”
“I know.” He didn’t sound like he believed it though, the same doubt creeping into his tone that I feel when certain friends don’t want anything to do with me anymore.
I want to go on, of course, to tell him that anyone who doesn’t want to be his friend because he won’t smoke, or won’t cheat, or won’t pick on someone else, or won’t skip school, or won’t lie to his parents about where he’s going, or won’t be whatever is “in” when he gets to be that certain age where all of these things are of the Utmost Importance isn’t worth his time either. That he’s better than those who try to make him into something he’s not. That people will be jerks and there’s not much you can do about it. That peer pressure is a witch, just trust me on this one. But I take his hand and remind him that he is loved, that he will make good friends in his new school, that he is going to be okay.
I look him in the eye, seeing him not as a six-and-a-half-year-old but as the future teenager he will be, dealing with the same things on a much larger scale. “So, Buddy, what’s your favorite color?”
“Green. It’s green!” He smiles, one tooth missing, eyelashes catching an emotional tear that never quite fell.
I send him off to bother his brother and release the pent-up sigh that had been building for the entire conversation. Trying to help him understand these things now feels like overkill, like I’m making too much out of something so trivial, but I feel like I’m helping him lay the groundwork for what is to come, what is inevitable. Trying to teach him to be himself, even when there’s no one else like him feels almost impossible when I remember what I went through, what I go through. But maybe someday it will make sense to him and he’ll take pride in the self that he is, not the version others want him to be.
At the very least, he should probably go find the other kid whose favorite color is green. People who like green are the best. Because I said so.