Jack was always different. From a very early age, he had a mind of his own and was never interested in conforming to the group. And this caused me so much stress.
He’d be invited to a birthday party and refuse to join in with the games. He didn’t want to do as he was told or play by the rules. He had other ideas. While the other children followed instructions and did as expected, Jack would wander around exploring on his own.
Years ago, we were invited to a weekly drama class with several other families. We met in someone’s home. Jack refused to sit in the circle and pretend. He wouldn’t be a dragon, an old woman, an upper class gentleman… Instead he roamed our friend’s house exploring and playing his own games, and there was nothing I could do about it. All the glaring, frowning, bribing, cajoling, and pleading in the world wouldn’t persuade Jack to listen to my wishes and come and join in with the other children.
The other mothers would look at me with pitying eyes. Maybe they thought I was a hopeless mother, a mother who had no control over her son. Perhaps they got fed up with me and Jack who would never conform.
One day I cried, “Jack, can’t you do as I want just for once? Couldn’t you be nice to me just for one day?” He looked at me bemused. Be nice to me? I don’t think he deliberately tried to upset me. It was just his way. He was a bit different.
It was probably just as well we were already homeschooling by the time Jack reached the age of five. I can just imagine:
“Mrs Smith, we need to talk about your son. He refuses to do anything we say. He won’t sit at his desk. He wants to roam round and explore and that’s just not allowed.”
Now I might have done a disservice to Jack. I have mentioned the things that frustrated me enormously. I should complete the picture by adding that Jack grew into a very hard working, reliable, caring child. He might not have wanted to join in with the soccer games but he was willing to spend hours jiggling babies and making up games for toddlers, in order to give breaks to me and other mothers. He may have had his own way of doing things but he never failed to help with the household chores – hanging out washing or cleaning or doing dishes. He may not have been a good conversationalist, becoming tongue tied when anyone tried to talk to him, but he spent a lot of time talking to God.
And so I have always been very proud of Jack despite his differences. But I wondered about the future. Would he ever fit into the real world?
“Jack, perhaps you should try hanging out the washing without worrying about whether the pegs match… Jack, I know you like your routines and hate change but maybe you should make yourself do things differently every now and then….Jack, it wouldn’t hurt to join in with a soccer game occasionally. It’s a friendly thing to do…. And maybe you should practise starting conversations…”
When Jack came to the end of his homeschooling days he decided to do a university degree. How would he go working to someone else’s timetable? Could he complete assignments on time and fulfil the requirements? The biggest worry was exams. He’d never sat one before. What if he took too long gathering his thoughts and ran out of time to complete the paper? Would he get frustrated and stressed out because he felt someone was hurrying him along?
A few months ago, Jack completed his degree. He passed every assignment, every exam, every unit.
Since then Jack has been working a couple of casual jobs, nothing very interesting but he is working hard.
“What do you want to do next, Jack?” I frequently ask. “You don’t want to be doing casual work for the rest of your life.”
“I don’t know.”
I think life would be so much easier for Jack if he was ‘like everyone else’, if he was one of the crowd. But he isn’t. I know that God has a special plan for Jack, just like He has for each one of us. I know God delights in our differences. He doesn’t expect us all to be the same. So why should I? And so I have been praying.
The other day Jack came home from an interview with a careers’ advisor.
“How did you get on? What did they think you should do next?” I question as soon as my son steps in the door.
“I filled out a questionnaire and after looking at the results, they suggested I do a Masters of Teaching – Special Education.” Jack smiles and I can see the idea appeals to him enormously.
I think about it. Special education? Sounds perfect. No one has more patience than Jack. And compassion. Yes, I think he just might do it.
I think about patience. I have had to practise it a lot over the years. I still have to remind myself to be patient, to keep praying and not worry: God has everything under control.
Sometimes I wish all my children were ‘normal’, part of the crowd. Would it be easier to parent such children? Would they fit in better? Would I not have to worry about them? But then I look at them, especially Jack. And I realise it’s their differences that make them so special. It’s quite OK for them to be themselves. They don’t have to conform. God will help them find their place in the world. I can leave that to Him. I love my children just the way they are.
Yes, it is quite OK to be different? Aren’t we all different in some way?
I don’t have a child called Jack. Am I respecting my son’s privacy? Or is this someone else’s story? The story is true so let’s just imagine I have a son called Jack…