I broke out in a full fledged, panicky, clammy, cold sweat as I waited in car line at middle school a few weeks ago. As my heart raced, and a bead of sweat began forming on my brow, I sat behind the wheel of my mini van wishing I was on Mission Space and all I needed to do was frantically scream that I wanted out and some nice Floridian teeny bopper would roll her eyes at my pathetic self and open the door to end my torture. Ryan was unaware of my near hysterical state as he sat next to me happily humming the theme song to Total Drama Revenge of the Island. In Ryan's hand, THE Project, an acrostic poem he had created on poster board, quite proudly, on his own. For those of you who had to Google "acrostic poem", like I did when Ryan received the assignment, an "acrostic" is a poem or other form of writing in which the first letter in the text spells out a word or phrase. In this assignment, Ryan had to use the title of a book he read, and each letter in the title had to relate to something that happened in the story. Easy breezy, right? Well, sort of, if you don't have a whacko for a mother.
I asked Ryan, "Did you like the book because you saw a little of yourself in the main character?". Clearly, I forgot who I was speaking to, "No, I'm not like that boy at all because my name is Ryan, his name is Jason. I live in Pennsylvania and he lives in another state. I hate writing, and he loves writing." Ok, ok, so for a minute, I thought maybe Ryan could see past the black and white print and "read between the lines" to find the gray. It wasn't until Ryan finished his acrostic poem that I realized that even though Ryan may not "see" the similarities in himself and Jason, he clearly felt them. Once I read Ryan's words, I no longer was patting myself on the back, I was kicking myself in the a**, terrified that my book choice for Ryan and this project, would not only have a deep and lasting impact on his middle school years, but, this poster, this "acrostic poem", may possibly have negative consequences that could potentially reverberate throughout the halls of high school too.
For those of you over 40 and who need to hold anything you read at arms length because you refuse to buy reading glasses at CVS, I will write out Ryan's acrostic poem in case the words aren't legible in the photo above.
Yearn to feel normal
Hawthorne is Jason's art teacher
Nervous about new experiences
Gifted with the English language
Bennu is a dwarf in Jason's story
Unusual behavior/habits QUIRKY
Trouble always searches for Jason
Talking was difficult
Yelling is what people did to Jason when he had no response
Phys Ed is what he hated the most
Clay caused Jason to flip and turned him into a laughing stock
Art is one subject Jason really hates
Loves to write
What, if, what if, what if?!! The panic was close to overflowing, so close that I almost screamed for Ryan and dragged him and his poster back in the car. I considered bribing Ryan with a donut and taking him back home and putting him in the bubble I often longed for, where I knew Ryan would be safe from prejudice, ignorance, bullies and a certifiably crazy mother. My hands were gripping the steering wheel so hard, my knuckles were white and I no longer could think straight. The other parents in car line, whose kids walked care free into school with no acrostic poem that linked a label to their kid, were angrily beeping their horns at me. The death grip I had on the steering wheel loosened enough that one particular finger was almost ready to shoot up in the air as I slowly pulled away. What could I do now? Ryan was walking happily through those middle school doors with none of the fear or the backlash that had me close to puking. I drove home with panic in my heart, regret in my mind, and Denial chatting annoyingly next to me.
Bravery takes various forms. In order to be brave, one doesn't have to put out a blazing fire, learn how to fire a semi-automatic handgun or drive a humvee. Sometimes, being brave means finding the right words in an acrostic poem and proudly sharing those words, with little to no fear, and the only back up being a hot mess of a mother curled up in the fetal position a mile down the road. Even though it kills me to say it again, Dan was right (ugh). All my worrying, sweating, and panicking was for nothing. Ryan's teacher said, Ryan "rocked" his presentation! Ryan said what he wanted to say, got all the words out, and not a "Rainman" was mumbled in the class. For a boy who often says so little, who often struggles to find his words, when Ryan does say something, it certainly is worth listening to.
Maybe that day Ryan taught his classmates what it is to be brave. Maybe, brave has a new face. Or maybe, middle school kids are just too young to "see it", so consumed with fitting in and being just like everyone else, brave doesn't matter. One thing is for certain, my brave boy and kids like him, are proving to anyone who is fortunate enough to read between the lines, that there is so much more to these kids than words in a psych report, words in an IEP, words in a book, or words in an acrostic poem. The day Ryan shared his words, he was, indeed, brave. Every day Ryan walks out the door into a confusing world that doesn't understand him, and rarely tries to, he is brave. Every sensory sensation that Ryan tolerates and doesn't run from, he is brave. Every social blunder Ryan survives and social cue he misses, yet keeps on going, he is brave. Accepting his differences and being just who he is meant to be, may not make the nightly news, but Ryan's bravery, his courage in the face of adversity, makes him an ally worth having on any battlefield. Dr. Robert Anthony, author and self-help guru said, "The opposite of bravery is not cowardice, but conformity." My courageous, handsome, little non-conformist, might just be the bravest kid I know.