odds are

**

I remember once leaving an appointment with a photographer when the girls were little. The photographer had been something of a strange bird – an artsy type who lived and worked on an old mill. While her photographer’s eye was incredibly astute, her social skills were ever so slightly off kilter.

As we got into the car, Luau looked over at me and said, ‘Well, she was a little O-D-D, huh?”

We rode quietly for a few minutes as I tried to puzzle through what O-D-D might stand for. Obsessive Dompulsive Disorder? Oppositional Defiant Disorder? What the .. ? I finally turned to my husband and asked what the heck O-D-D was.

He looked at me as if I had three heads (which happens more than I’d care to admit), then whispered the answer, so as not to be heard by the girls.

“Odd, Jess. She was odd.”

We dissolved into laughter.

**

“You’re peculiar.”

“I take that as a compliment.”

~ Albert and Lionel in the King’s Speech

***

The other night, a friend of mine was upset. In a school assignment, her older son had been asked to find a word that described his younger brother, who has autism. He’d chosen the word odd.

To her, the word had felt like a punch in the gut. ‘We work so hard to get him to understand his brother’s behaviors and quirks’ she said. ‘If I can’t get my own son to understand all this, how can I get the rest of the world to see how special my boy is?’

I felt her pain and I knew her frustration. As a matter of fact, I was pretty sure that I knew exactly what she was feeling. I’d had an eerily similar conversation with Katie a while back.

Katie had called her little sister ‘weird’. I had bristled at the word and immediately sat her down for a heart-to heart. I chased my maternal tail attempting to find a way to talk to her about it. I did my best to sound like a grown-up as I explained to her that her choice of words had been extremely hurtful and that Mama was very uncomfortable with that kind of talk.

In typical Katie fashion, she took it all in, then looked at me and said, ‘Mama, she IS weird. It is what it is.” I was about to pounce when she shrugged and added, “But she’s great weird. She’s Brooke weird. She’s OUR weird. And we love her.”

As always, Katie was a hell of a lot smarter than her Mama.

Our kids are odd. As Katie said, it is what it is. We can explain their behaviors – the WHY of what they do – until the cows come home. But the reality is that those behaviors are, well, kinda strange.

My nearly eight-year old girl asking strangers what Mary Magdalene would say to Jesus ‘if Jesus ate the wood chips’ is odd. Tough to deny that one. Needing to wear headphones to make it through a meal in a restaurant is out of the ordinary. Allowing Brooke to lead us in a team cheer before our family dinner every night ain’t exactly normal. Yes, we really do.

But odd doesn’t have to be negative. The challenges that come along with odd may downright suck, but odd itself can be pretty damn amazing.

The photographer who took the photos of my children that day? She’s incredible. Her work is all over my home and will undoubtedly live on in my family for generations. People flock to her for her uncanny ability to capture the essence of their children in a photograph. The way that she knows and uses the natural light at the mill is breathtaking.

Andy Warhol was weird. But his weird was think out of the box and create something entirely different weird. He was shake the world up and turn it on its head weird. He was take another look at the most mundane items from a whole new perspective and find the beauty in them weird.

What if, heaven forbid, someone had convinced him to be ‘normal?’ Andrew, stop staring at that can of soup. For heaven’s sake, it’s just soup. Go play baseball! The world would be without an icon of a generation and a standard of modern art.

What if someone had told Albert Einstein to stop messing around with all that crazy physics nonsense and go outside and make some friends? Or hey, at the very least, get a haircut? Albert, for the love of all things holy, no one will ever take you seriously with that crazy coif!

What if Lewis Carroll had finally walked away from that fantasy world of his so that he could carry on a proper conversation with people his own age? Please, Lewis, enough is enough. You’ve got to live in the REAL world if you’re ever going to make something of yourself.

Ed note: It is often said that all three of the people above had significant autistic characteristics and would likely have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders had they been alive today. I have no idea about the photographer.

Our kids are odd. They are quirky. They are different. And yes, they are even weird. And while we want desperately to mitigate their challenges and to find ways to allow them to ‘fit in’ if they so choose, fitting in doesn’t necessarily mean (and may not be able to mean) not being odd.

I worry about the ramifications of overly homogenizing our kids. I worry that if we beat the odd out of them then we’re going to create a generation of functional yet miserable adults who eventually implode from the weight of a life that feels like a grand charade of normalcy. I also worry that in so doing, we could lose the next Warhol or Einstein or Carroll (or amazing children’s photographer).

As elusive as it may be, I’m convinced that there’s a balance somewhere. A fine, nearly impossible balance that will come from giving our children the tools to navigate the world around them – granting them a CHOICE in deciding how they will be perceived by the rest of the world – while also celebrating their uniqueness just enough to let them know that it’s OK to be who they are. Letting them fly their ‘freak flag’ (as an adult friend of mine on the spectrum likes to say) if they so desire, and standing behind them, cheering them on when they do.

If we can do both – if we can give them an understanding of societally expected behavior (and its power to drive how they are perceived and received by the world at large) while also teaching them to value their differences from that world, then the choice is theirs.

And just think, if everyone started celebrating their oddities – if everyone let their own freak flags fly – guess who would be the odd men out in the end.

 

 

 

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44 thoughts on “odds are

  1. I loved reading this. What a great perspective, and I giggled at the “our weird” statement. We have some of that in our house too. I will be thinking about this post a lot in the coming days.. thanks for your honesty!

  2. I will be thinking of this often, too. It’s funny because at church yesterday the title of the sermon was, “Why Be Normal?” :) I kept having to remind myself my son is different yesterday, when he was with his NT cousins at a Super Bowl party…but when I let him be him, he relaxes and better enjoys the company of others. And while our kids are “odd” and different, I once read it’s not an apples and oranges difference, really. More like the difference between a red and a green apple. We’re all still apples!

  3. So true, Jess, and I seriously love the fact that you have created for yourself a “fly the freak flag” category!

    Autism spectrum aside, the homogenization issue is entirely true (in my opinion). My kids were so happy to get to middle school where they could walk from class to class without having to be (literally) at “parade rest”. I think order is super-important in public schools but I imagine a fair share of 5th graders can barely do “parade rest” without bristling (and could get from class to class in an orderly manner without feeling like they had enlisted).

    Yep, keep the freak flag aloft.

  4. I love the freak flag. My own, and my son’s. And thank you for addressing “beating the odd” out of our kids; I was speaking with an ABA therapist who has adapted her approach over the years because she fears rigid, formal ABA in its purest, Lovaas-iest form “robs kids of some of their childhood.” I learn best sometimes from those around me, who are accustomed to seeing O in his headphones at church, or twirling a knob (unable to sit!) in Sunday School. They love him, just as he is.

    At least his brand of weird has an explanation; I’m wacky all on my own. ;)

  5. The day I stopped trying to stamp out autism and embraced my son for all that his is, was the exact same day the tantrums died off, the self injurious behaviors went away and our relationship began to develop.

    Jasmin

    • Wow – that’s amazing. Thank you for sharing. I will try to remember that in the tough times. And thank you Jess for yet another wonderful post.

    • Jasmin – another friend said something similar. He had a dream about a bear in a cage that he was always terrified would get his son. He killed the bear and realized that part of his son died, too.

      While things aren’t always easy for us or our littles, autism is inextricably part of them, and we shouldn’t try to separate that, even on the horrible days when our hearts ache for them.

      You are a wonderful, wonderful parent. Know that.

  6. MY grandchild is not odd! Well, okay, maybe a little. Um, yea. She comes by it honestly, though. I wore zebra before it was in! An autism mom friend of mine is always telling me I am on the spectrum. Proud of it, too! Hope your day is going oddly well! gail

  7. “I worry about the ramifications of overly homogenizing our kids. I worry that if we beat the odd out of them then we’re going to create a generation of functional yet miserable adults who eventually implode from the weight of a life that feels like a grand charade of normalcy. I also worry that in so doing, we could lose the next Warhol or Einstein or Carroll (or amazing children’s photographer).”

    And it is for this exact reason, that I don’t try to squash any of my children’s quirks. I want them to be exactly who they want to be and to be proud of themselves.

  8. I’ve said this for years. These are the kids I love to teach. For all the reasons you stated above. Many times, I find that their challenges give them an empathetic, sensitive perspective that others miss, but that is absolutely necessary as artists.

    Thanks for this. Yet again.

  9. I have often said that most autistic children (and adults) don’t really care if they are perceived as odd. My father and my son are two of the oddest people that I know, yet they are two of the kindest, most Christian people that I know as well. They are both on a higher spiritual plane. If other people (including my oldest son) don’t see that, shame on them. Great post!

  10. In our family we have always embraced our geekiness and saw it as a strength. In honor of your post, we will now refer to it as “Letting our Geek flag fly”!!

  11. My girl, Olivia, is five years old and is low-functioning autistic. (And she doesn’t walk. She’s our mystery girl.)

    My eleven-year-old son was at a birthday party when another party-goer asked him, “Why does your sister still drink out of a sippy cup?”

    I could see the wheels spinning in Jacob’s mind as he tried to wrap up Arthrogryposis and Autism and Intellectually Disabled into one succinct word. He responded, “She has….problems.”

    Reading your comments about Katie’s “weird” description reminded me of that moment. You and I both assumed the worst meaning when we heard “weird” and “problems”, but the truth is, our big kiddos didn’t wrap those words in revulsion or say them to imply superiority. As Katie said, “She’s great weird.”

    Jacob’s one-word description of his sister may not be the word I would pick, but I know it was covered with a life-altering love for his sister.

    Just to help clarify, I told Jacob (and his new friend) that Olivia has “special needs.”

    “Yeah. Special needs,” he agreed.

    Then I added, “We ALL have problems.” :)

  12. it’s one of the few effective ways to deal with words that marginalize: you have to appropriate them, make them your own. when i was in junior high, i became so fed up with everyone’s desperate need to be popular..and with the nerd label being constantly thrown at me…that i made it my own. i just decided that i’d be a nerd and label myself as such before anyone else could, beat them to the punch. it didn’t feel all that great really, but it was better than passively accepting it. also, it was accurate, the shoe fit. so i commandeered the word and got by okay.

  13. Most people could do with a little mind expanding now and then. So yeah, Brooke can help them with that by asking them questions they’d never have thought to wonder about. :) It certainly doesn’t hurt anybody, which is where I would put the line between “being your unique self” and “conforming to societal expectations”. Vive la difference!!

  14. “If we can do both – if we can give them an understanding of societally expected behavior (and its power to drive how they are perceived and received by the world at large) while also teaching them to value their differences from that world, then the choice is theirs.”

    Yes.

    And for what it’s worth, if someone spelled out O-D-D to me, I, too, would have tried to crack the code.

  15. I ADORE odd. I CELEBRATE odd. I feel truly blessed that ODD is a part of my life ( and lives within me as well). What a colorless mundane ho-hum world this would be were it not for all of the beauty ODD has gifted to us. Museums would be empty, technology would not be as advanced as it is, and probably nobody ever would have come close to visiting the moon!
    ( and yes, at this point- I also would have been trying to figure out what O. D. D. is! )
    I really loved this post!

  16. So, my son who is on the spectrum has been calling everybody weird for weeks now. Like you, I bristle at the word EVEN when he says it. However, as the conversation continues, I find out that it’s his resource room teacher (someone we love and adore) who has planted this “weird” in his head along with the fact that “weird” makes you wonderful and unique AND that if you’re not a little “weird” that you are just boring! So, she asks…would you rather be weird or boring? My son’s answer is WEIRD. Which, of course, is good!

  17. Fly that flag! Love this, I’ve been thinking about this issue as the Roc gets older, past the age when making crazy faces at strangers is deemed cute (from toddlers-that’s cute, not so much from tall 6.5 year olds…) Learning to embrace the odd, it’s hard for parents sometimes, as we are judged and know that our children are being judged, but showing our children that we celebrate the odd will go a long way in helping them celebrate themselves. Great topic Jess!

  18. It’s an interesting time in our culture when “Fly your freak flag” is a common phrase, Kesha sings about it and Lady Gaga cries because too MANY people are claiming to be freaks. Hey, “odd” is the “in”!

  19. This was yet another great post. I’m always sharing your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter because I love your perspective. I wrote a post recently about flying your “freak flag”, but in a business related sense. http://bit.ly/fd3DAP The concept is still the same: I feel that being “different” can often mean “better”. It’s okay to stand out in the crowd. I will embrace my O-D-D!

  20. well said, jess!
    and you had me cracking up about einstein getting a haircut. my kids got some O-D-D hair to go along with her O-D-D-ness and she works it.

  21. celebrating my magnificently odd little guy today. he WILL change the world by changing the hearts of everyone he chooses to be a part of his beautifully odd little world.

  22. This made me cry…I am in awe of you, the parents, of such amazingly weird, quirky, ODD, lovable children.

    The freak flag is still waving strong in my classroom. For me, it will always be purple in honor of Bud. And playing in the background would be our anthem: “Every Mile a Memory”. So many, many, memories were captured in 180 days.

    This is a busy time of year for teachers. We call it “prime teaching time” But, when I look back at my plan book from this time last year it’s full of sticky notes which remind me of all the “teachable moments” we had as a class. Lessons that will last a lifetime, and scraped our collective hearts. While each class for me is special, there was a “magic” to our room last year…and I’m so grateful we had the time together.

    While some people in education continue to frown on the idea of mainstreaming, I’ve seen the benefits first hand. Your entry helped me to validate every choice I made last year. I wouldn’t change a thing. Thirty years from now, the dates of the Revolutionary War, and how to properly do a factor tree won’t matter. Compassion, tolerance, and empathy, along with the ability to celebrate quirky at it’s finest will.

    Me? I’ll take weird over normal any day!

    • Ms. Walker-
      I hope you know how fabulous you are!!! Teachers like you are life changers and years down the road your “compassion, tolerance and empathy” will indeed be remembered!! Thank you for your open mind and heart and embracing the wonderful, ODD!

  23. Just to let you know, I’ve called myself weird now for years. I tell folks, “I’ve SEEN NORMAL. NOOOO part of THIS hillbilly wants to be NORMAL! In fact, if I every starting acting normal, HIT me. REPEATEDLY. HARD. Until I start being weird again.

  24. i love this!!!!! i just bought myself a little clutch that has “why be normal?” embroidered on the front. i’ve often called myself odd, weird, or a freak… and i have great self-esteem and confidence! i know that i march to a different beat, and that’s ok with me. my goal as a mom is to get my kids to be comfortable in their own skin also, because that’s when we truly achieve happiness.

  25. One day my son came home talking loud and fast. this has several different meanings gor him. was he anxious, was he without meds or was he excited. He said “mom I am special ” he then proceeded to tell me I get to use the computer durring class because I am special! I get to eat my lunch in the office if I want because I am special! I get to do half the questions because I am special! I get to wear my earphones when the class is loud because I am special. I kept watching his face he does not do sarcasm like most so was I missing it. Was he being teased at school? These are all IEP accodations. Had he add them all up or did some one point them all out and did they mean well? By the end of the list he was going to be required to respond. Eeeklkk ! And with his black and white views back stroking is hard. I could not say yes your special! Especially if he was being sarcastic! So I decided honesty! I said, is that a good thing ? And thankfully my special boy said”with a big teenage exasperated sigh, “Well duh” and ran off for another adventure!!

  26. I love this. (I really love the admonitions to the Warhol, Einstein, etc., in worried parent voice :)

    It’s so true. My son comes by his quirky honestly (just check out his parents). Even if he were not autistic, he’d probably still be “weird” because mom and dad are “weird”. I’ve been “weird” since I was a kid – geeky, science fiction loving, bookworm, etc., and a quriky sense of humor, LOVE Dr. Who (that explains a lot).

    His dad and I KNOW how hard it is to be weird, but how cool it is once you get past school-age. Finding that balance, and helping our son be comfortable with his quirkiness is something I’m already thinking about/worried about. I just want him to be happy with himself, and find friends who appreciate him for who he is – quirks and all.

  27. Jess same thing happened to me 3 weeks ago on a Thursday just before bathtime! Jacob was was doing his spinning up and down the hallway that he likes doing with no clothes on…when his sister (turning 16 in july) stuck her head out the door and said ” your weird thats why I don’t have friends over!” Jacob didn’t even acknowledge the comment but I had a LONG talk about it to her..4yrs ago when we told his sister he had autism she cried and said “I don’t want people to make fun of him” I reminded her of this conversation and said this is your little brother he loves u to the moon and back and discussed other things I was shocked she would say this as how close and helpful she is with him. Well she had a sleepover with a few friends a week ago and the girls had a blast with him Jacob went downstairs with them just before his bedtime I went down to get him and his sister said can he stay up a little longer we r playing hide and seek! She got it! And she and her friends were having a blast!!!

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