A couple of weeks ago the boys brought home from school a small cardboard box, about the size of the old animal crackers box. It had a slot on the top, a handle and was brightly decorated with yellows and oranges. It was accompanied by a note that stated it was part of a special program through which the school was raising money for Cancer Research. Sounded like a great idea.
The next morning I saw one of the boxes prepared (they came flattened, this one was actually formed into the box) and heavy. My oldest son had taken all of the money he had been saving up (over $17 with a lot of change- unlike his brother, he does not feel the urge to spend his allowance in full as soon as he gets it) and filled his box. I was amazed at the gesture and found it made me proud to see how caring my son was. He truly has a big heart.
We put his donation box in his backpack so that he could turn it into his teacher on the day appropriated to bring them in. He was all smiles and seemed proud of himself and happy to participate. I did a little checking to make sure he knew what he was doing and he passed the test, he knew he was donating money to help people with cancer. He got it.
The next day I was sorting through the boys’ backpacks to find notices and confirm homework was done and I ran across the box again. Still heavy and still in his backpack. I asked him about it and he said he forgot to turn it in. Odd but I let it pass.
The following day I again found the box so I pressed him for a reason why he hadn’t turned it in. He told me that he wanted his brother to turn it in, that some of the money was from his brother and that he, my oldest, didn’t want to turn it in. He seemed shy, almost embarrassed, to go through with turning in his donation. He was willing to give but scared to take the action. I was confused.
After a few other attempts to get him to turn in the box I realized that the stress around this could and should be avoided so I had my youngest turn it in. No big deal but still puzzling. I never got more clarity from my oldest as to his hang ups around turning in his donation, something he seemed so proud about earlier, but I also didn’t want to get into a psychological analysis of anonymous gift giving and all the aspects that may be involved with his situation.
It did however make me think of the Wizard of Oz, for some reason. From the personality traits that the characters in the movie represent I was pegging him as the Cowardly Lion. I found it dismaying that he lacked the courage to take that last step, to turn in the fruits of his labor and take a little recognition or extra attention, if that is what he was afraid of in the end. He definitely had a heart and he has a brain (when he chooses to use it properly- fodder for another discussion) but seemed to lack the courage to pull it all together.
After this line of thinking I began to think of my youngest. He too will sometimes amaze us with his kindness and caring. He also does very well in school and exercises his intellectual capabilities. And he shows courage, sometimes more than we would like- he is quite flamboyant at times. So what is his hang up? Is he looking to go home?
And with this I realize that trying to categorize our kids, like so many other things in life, is not fair to them or to us. There are no templates to which we need to assign our children. There are no types that they have to be tied to.
Sure, there are plenty of assumptions and analysis we can do to figure out what kind of person they are and it is hard to avoid tagging personalities and characteristics to some universal guideline. But we need to avoid becoming so rigid in this that we pigeon hole our kids. Don’t limit their abilities, their future, by putting them into a box. Don’t assume, presume, or any “ume” that they need to do this because they are that type of person. Be flexible, let them have the freedom to so whatever and be themselves.
Perhaps they will be the new category, the new type, the one that can’t be labeled under the current system. They could be the next Einstein, or Jordan, or Rembrandt. Let them explore what they can be, and be there for them to help along the way. Be supportive and guide them but guide them toward a expanding their horizons.
Granted, all of this comes with limits- we are not about to let them skip school to pursue their dream of being the world Wii champion- but hopefully you get the point. They don’t have to be a character from Oz, they just have to be a kid with a future.