When your child teaches you it’s ok to be different

My nine year old son surprises me everyday with his wise and analytical comments.

Let me preface this statement with a little bit about my childhood. I was born and raised by a very traditional Pakistani family in a very rural-ish American town in Iowa. We had a cornfield in our backyard and my mom wore traditional clothing which consisted of a long pretty tunic, loose flowing pants, and a scarf draped around her neck made of chiffon or something. She always wore a bunch of shinny golden bangles. She was distinctly ethnic, but to me it looked beautiful.

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I never distinguished myself as different or even remotely strange to the rest of humanity until I entered first or second grade. I do remember in Montessori school my brother and I spoke to each other in our “native” language of Urdu. It was standard and didn’t seem odd. We just swayed in and out of Urdu and English like it was second nature.

In fourth grade, it was Mrs. Ellinger’s class. I remember my mom coming in her traditional garb to cheer me on for my first play. The odd humiliation and sinking (please find me a hole to fall into) feeling started to set in. I was different than my peers. Though my tawny complexion and dark hair had done nothing to set me off, the moment I saw my mom walk in with her hair braided to her lower back and her pretty ethnic clothes, I realized I wasn’t part of the norm. Suddenly my mom didn’t look as amazing as I grew up thinking. I wish she had just worn a t-shirt and jeans. I had such warm and friendly “Americans” around me that I suppose I hadn’t really made the connection that I was not the same.

From that point, everything in my house and school life seemed different. Really? You mean I don’t celebrate christmas? You mean to tell me that spicy food that burns your tongue isn’t considered amazing? I distinctly remember my mom put a meat patty in my care-bear lunchbox and even before I opened the box the kids were already plugging their noses because they smelled something “nasty.” Boy! I wasn’t just different, I came straight from MARS!

I never really came to terms with my differences until reaching the cool college years. Then being different was a delicacy, it was what set you apart from the sea of blonde hair and blue eyes.

Insert my son’s wiseness. I sent a note in his lunch box with a piece of ethnic dessert. The note simply said:

“Dear Zain, I love you and have a great day–love, Mummy.”

When I picked him up from car pool he told me two things. First, the kids made fun of him for still calling his MOM “Mummy.” Secondly, a few of the kids asked him what he was eating and how “weird” it looked. Before I could console him or apologize he proudly told me, “Mom I told my friends I don’t care if you guys think it’s weird that I call my mom Mommy or that my desert looks weird. I like it and that’s all that matters.” Wow, wow, wow is all I could think at that moment.

I still asked him if his future notes should be signed with “Mom” instead of “Mummy.” He very proudly told me he still had the note in his lunchbox and that he didn’t want me to change a thing.