Hal is the youngest member of our children’s choir at church. As such, it’s sometimes necessary for him to step out of the choir room before rehearsal is actually finished. This could be because he’s just gotten too restless or it could be because they need to work on a song with the older ones. Either way, the ladies running the choir seem to always have a plan for him. This week, he made a miniature “paper doll”. He told me it was him.
I told him it was great and I really liked that he was wearing pink shoes. The shocker was when he turned it over. The back, in fact, shocked everyone. His big brother told him he was stupid, which earned a sharp rebuke and lecture from me. Later, his sister, standing in line for dinner with the youth group, expressed her shock without insult but a handful of teenagers bursting out laughing as he proudly showed his ‘doll’ was too much for him. He buried his face in his dad’s leg in shame.
It hurt to see him hurt like that. He was so proud of what he had done. What none of the other children had bothered to do was ask why. Why had he drawn what he did on the back? It’s simple, really. Take a look.
Those are butt cheeks. What possessed him to draw (albeit too small) butt cheeks? Isn’t it obvious? Do you see any pants covering the back of that boy? No? Me neither. Which means we’d obviously see his butt cheeks. And that’s why he drew them. Because that’s what we’d see. And even though it’s a bit off-color and most people won’t be able to keep from laughing, I’m proud of him. It shows intelligence and creativity and attention to detail and… humor. He knew he was being funny. In a silly little boy kind of way.
Sometimes I ache for him, growing up as the youngest of three. Worse, growing up five years younger than the next youngest. And, without a matching partner in any of our friends’ families. One of our closest sets of friends has two kids: a girl 2 weeks younger than Jane and a boy 2 1/2 months younger than Daryl. Our kids have been close friends for years, but when Hal is around, he’s the third wheel and is often treated as such. One of our newer sets of friends also has two kids: again, a girl in the same grade as Jane and a boy in the same grade as Daryl. Jane and the girl are friendly, not as close as they’ve been in the past, but Daryl and the boy are pretty much best friends. And Hal wants to be part of it.
Hal gets upset every time the boys get together and he’s left out. He doesn’t understand that he’s too much younger. He doesn’t understand that he’ll eventually make friends of his own. But even if he does, it won’t be kids from the families we currently socialize with. So when those families gather, he’s still left out.
I don’t know what kind of effect this will have on him long-term. I certainly don’t regret our decision to have another go at the kiddo roulette wheel. But sometimes I wonder whether this was fair to him. Whether we spent any time thinking about the impact of this gap on him. Whether we even had the capacity to understand it had we thought to consider it.
Take this doll, for example. If he had been Jane – the firstborn, he would have been met with nothing but praise and merriment. He would have only had adults to show it to – loving, supportive adults. He would have been validated, his creativity rewarded. But as the “baby”, he still receives the love and support, but he also receives ridicule and rejection from people he truly looks up to. Even if he believes the supportive adults, he is still left with the sense that something about his creativity was maybe not-quite-right. And that’s sad.
All we can do now, of course, is make sure he knows just how much he’s valued. And how much I love his tiny-butt-cheek, pink shoe wearing, googly-eyed selfie and every other wonderful thing he comes up with. And help him (and his siblings) navigate this tricky path we’ve laid for them. And teach his siblings that he is worth their respect. He has feelings too.