The other night I was snuggled up next to my daughter in her Elsa blanket, having our nightly chat before she goes to sleep. We pretend she’s going to stay in her bed, but mostly she just sneaks into my room in the dark, silently waiting for my heart to stop when I finally realize someone’s lurking in the obsidian space outside the blinding glow of my iPhone.
“Mom, I’m a little bit nervous about school,” she says quietly. We have less than two weeks before she starts kindergarten.
“Why, honey? What’s on your mind?” We’ve been talking about this school for what feels like a year. She’s been there twice, we drive by it often, I’ve shown her pictures, etc. We’re doing everything we can to create a step-ladder process for this big transition.
“I’m worried that the friends won’t like me.”
I have to remind myself to breathe. This is a pain I know all too well. I was homeschooled and didn’t go to regular school until 4th grade, right when kids often start to get really mean. I was bullied and picked on for everything from my height to my hair and of course my weight. In eighth grade, I went from not-cool-but-left-alone kid to loser on the school bus in just one year, when my mom gave me a Ronald McDonald haircut and put me in braces. Good ol’ Stuart Huff would sit behind me and delighted in the fact that he could stick pencils in my short curls and they would stay.
I knew I needed to try to explain to my child what it’s taken me 36 years to learn about friendship, approval, and acceptance.
“I get it, honey. I really do. I didn’t always have lots of friends at school. But what matters is that you know that not everyone there will be for you.”
She twirled her hair as I continued, “See, you’re like a pink crayon. And the kids at school will be all the other colors. Some will be blues, some will be greens, some will be reds. And some, hopefully, will also be pinks. Your job isn’t to change yourself to red or blue or green to get those kids to like you. Your job is to find the other pink crayons– the other kids who get you. The other kids who like things you like and think the same way about the world as you do.
“Sometimes there won’t be other pink crayons around, but that’s ok because you can find ways to have fun on your own. But never think that you have to change, or be better, or be different, or look different, or be more like someone else to get the other kids to like you. Some of them just won’t be the right friends for you. Some of them just won’t be a pink crayon. That’s all.”
She looked me in the eyes and said, “Mom, let’s play a game.”
As I moved on to book character trivia, I wondered if she understood the message I was praying she wouldn’t forget. I wondered if it was too confusing for a five-year-old, or if she’d ask the other kids what color crayon they are.
But she’s pretty smart, and she reminds me often of these sound bytes at random moments, just when I need to hear them.
So for anyone reading this, that’s ever felt like a loser or a loner, just remember that your pink (or purple, blue, red, orange..) crayons are out there. There are plenty of people who love you, just as you are right now.
You just have to find them.