Back when I was teaching, I remember one student, Rachel, who was shy times infinity. I mean, the girl did not talk. Ever. Her classmates answered for her when I took attendance, and I didn't hear more than three words out of her until December. She wrote beautifully, and managed to have a social life. Maybe she was an accomplished mime-- that's my only explanation for how she managed to make friends without speaking at all.
Naturally, as her teachers, we were concerned. We wondered if this was a phobia, a reaction to something unspeakable, or if this was Just Rachel. Thus, we scheduled a conference with her father, Mr. Clueless McDenial.
"My Rachel is quiet?" he said, as if he had not had this same conversation every year of her schooling. "I can't shut her up at home. She's constantly talking over her brother and sister! I'm going to go home and tell her she needs to speak up."
Although this appeared to be the Most Pointless Conference of All Time, her father was right. It took about five months, but Rachel found her voice. She smiled. She whispered. She occasionally raised her hand. And around April, I found myself saying, "Rachel. Enough jibber-jabber. Get to work." (When I was teaching, I enjoyed using the occasional Mr. T colloquialism.)
Rachel just needed time to warm up.
I think of Rachel's dad now as I look at my own boys. The Owen and Joel I describe in these posts are My Real Boys--the boys I see every day, the boys I love. Yet, when we go out in public, my Impostor Boys come out from the shadows.
Real Owen will play by himself for long stretches, making imaginary rooms and tractors out of boxes. Impostor Owen will plant himself right next to me during play dates, taking away my oxygen and whining, "Moooommmmmmmmmmmy Pl-lay with me!"
Real Owen will give Joel pieces of his pumpkin muffin or say, "Love you, Mommy!" just because. Impostor Owen will rip toys out of his friends' hands.
Real Joel splashes in his baby pool and plays independently. Impostor Joel is only content when he is resting on my rapidly-growing-numb arm. Real Joel waves and smiles. Impostor Joel hides his head when strangers approach.
As I write these things, I realize that these "impostor" behaviors are just as much a part of my children as the positive ones. I also understand that my kids will naturally be the happiest and the most confident when they are in their own environment.
But here's my fear: I worry that the adults in my boys' lives--the teachers, leaders, other mothers---will only see the Impostor Boys, and never see my Real Boys. I worry that they, too, will be quick to judge, to label, to assume.
I hope that I can be like Rachel's father when I'm sitting in the parent conference, or the IEP, or whatever comes our way. I hope that I will know my kids--both their "real" and "impostor" aspects--and advocate for them. Mostly, I want to be enough of an adult that the conferences are not all about me, and my potential embarrassment.
And so, I hope that if a young teacher snarkily labels me "Clueless McDenial," I will rise above my need to defend, and instead work with her to raise my flawed and beautiful Real Boys.