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Lessons from a Square Peg

27 comments | November 13th, 2012

(by Mir)

My standard answer, when people ask us why we chose to remove my son from public school and enroll him, instead, at a facility we have lovingly nicknamed “Hippie School,” is this: It took me a while to realize that public school was trying to fit my beautiful square peg into a round hole, and eventually we figured it out and put him where there are round holes and square holes and octagonal holes and even the option not to go into a hole at all.

The answer is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, sure, but it’s also the shortest way to encapsulate how it all went down. Because, truly, by the time my son was struggling to fit into a classroom, I already had 30-odd years of conforming to expectations (or suffering the consequences when I didn’t). There was a tacit assumption on my part that my son could also learn to adapt and that would work out just fine. Yes, I accept that my son is very different from me, and even that his mind works very differently from that of a “normal” kid, but for years I believed he would merely be slower to conform, but that “social acceptability” was the goal.

Man. Think about all of the societal constructs that brought me to a place where I had to UNLEARN the one-size-fits-all, get-with-the-program philosophy. Intellectually, I knew it didn’t make as much sense as I hoped it did. Emotionally, as much as I may have chafed against expectations as a child and young adult, I came to realize that I believed the path to fewer struggles for my son was for him to learn conformity. And it wasn’t until he failed—repeatedly—to slot his marvelous square self into that stupid round hole that I finally let go of all of that and admitted that it wasn’t working.

Then came Hippie School. I could write hundreds, probably thousands, of words about how it has saved him, changed him, stretched him, made him utterly more himself. He is more confident. He is happier. He is at peace with himself, more often than not. School is now a place where he is admired for his strengths and supported and cheered on in areas where he’s still learning. He mentors and is mentored by others. It’s a community; it’s a family, really—the best kind of family, the kind where you work hard and play hard and fight hard and always make up. I realize that this all sounds cheesy and I apologize. Back when I believed schools like this were all touchy-feely and specialized in teaching children how to braid hemp I would’ve rolled my eyes, too.

There’s a poster at my son’s school that says, “I have the right to be myself, and the responsibility to respect others for who they are.” Again: I know. Total cornball stuff, on the surface. All that poster needs is a kitten hanging from a tree branch, the cynical part of me whispers. I’ve seen that poster countless times and never given it a second thought, but yesterday I saw it and I finally got it. It’s not the anarchy of “I am who I am and screw you if you don’t like it,” which is, I think, what I used to fear schools like this one would be. It’s a very simple statement, a simple philosophy. I’m me, you’re you, and I would like you to take me as I am, so I’ll try to do the same for you. Basically it’s the Golden Rule of selfhood, right there.

Now, I’m not autistic, like my son, but I’ve certainly had my share of not-fitting-in experiences in my life. I don’t know many people who haven’t. Environments where differences are respected or even celebrated tend to be few and far between. So most of us simply… learn to pretend to be round pegs. Even when we aren’t, not really. For me it took watching a child who was unable to pretend to realize that it’s all bullshit, this “fitting in” thing. Are the majority of us going to have times when we HAVE to behave a certain way? Sure. My son knows that some situations require certain behavior if he doesn’t want unwelcome attention… but we’ve changed the game by making those situations a smaller percentage of his overall experience. And it turns out that if he can spend most of his day being exactly who he wants to be, it’s not nearly so hard for him to sit through a church service or a visit with people he finds boring or whatever. We meet him where he is, more of the time, and then if we ask him to meet us where we are, sometimes, he’s so much more willing and able to do that.

But at the end of the day, he’s still a square peg. And I can’t imagine him any other way, or loving him any more than I do. He is perfect—delightful, witty, weird, and wonderful. And not only that, but he’s taught me that we’re all allowed to be whoever we are, just so long as that doesn’t include walking over others to do it.

I think I may be an oval peg. (Almost round, but not quite.) And for the first time in a long time—thanks to my son’s intrepid example—I think I’m okay with that.

How about you? Do you feel like you can just be you? Have I beaten this peg metaphor to death or will you tell me what shape you think you are?

(Get more Mir here)

 

27 comments

  • birchsprite

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I’m definitely a wavy sided oblong myself!

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  • Dallas

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    Monkey is so lucky. It literally took me until I was in my mid-twenties (I’m about to turn 28 now) to understand that I had a right to be myself, and better, that if I was myself, people would like that person, that I had value just by showing up and not by pretending to be a round peg. I’m a square peg with polka dots and glitter shoes, yo. And that’s just fine!

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  • Tracey

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    Oh I love this. Our son is Dyslexic and I have a soapbox and bandwagon that I cart around with me on this topic. School was a nightmare and we prodded and pushed and nagged the school district, and our son, to find the right path for him. It worked but it wasn’t easy nor was it fun. He’ll be moving onto college next year, successfully having found his own path and way of learning.

    On the flip side of that is our daughter who has no other struggles except that she is unique and eclectic and follows the beat of her own inner vision and eschews conformity in all things. That’s not an easy stance to take but she holds her line and I applaud her integrity in being who she is and not what anyone else expects her to be.

    So, I don’t think the Peg metaphor can ever be beaten to death, in fact, I think it should continue to be shared and prompoted.

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  • Cindy

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I think maybe I’m a wavy star shape and I kind of want to borrow Dallas’ glitter shoes. That whole conformity thing has never been my strong point. And I’m totally OK with that.

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  • Katy

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I love this! Especially the idea of finding environments that support and celebrate differences. The “atmosphere” of a classroom and the teachers’ attitude are major factors in my job search, as I prepare to graduate and look to gain more real life experience in special education. If you don’t mind me asking – how did you find your Hippie School?

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    • Mir

      Posted on November 13, 2012

      Katy, we got really lucky — it was a friend-of-a-friend kind of thing where we first learned of it, and then when things got bad we started researching options and came across it again. Dumb luck.

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  • The Other Leanne

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    More and more, yes, I do feel like I can be just me and expect others to respect who I am, where I am. I work harder on the part where I don’t expect everyone else to be as fabulous as I am. It took 50+ years to get here. I would say I am a shape-shifter, because some days I can fit and some days I can’t.

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  • Angela

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I’ve always been an odd duck, my mother just said not too long ago, “Well, you always were different.” I think I’m a squishy peg that can force myself to fit into whatever hole is presented, although it may cause me discomfort. When I was a kid I didn’t fully understand that I was even doing that, and I certainly didn’t know why. Hindsight being 20/20, I know realize what was up with that, but I was just lucky that I was able to muddle through without too much damage. Like Dallas, I also didn’t realize until I was in my mid-20s that it was okay for me to just be myself and only then did I finally start feeling comfortable in my own skin. But now I love who and how I am, and I am alert to eccentricities in others, which I enjoy and encourage.

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  • My Kids Mom

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I was a bruised round peg. I conformed in school, but it left some sore spots that haven’t ever totally healed. I was always afraid the world would find out that I hadn’t originally been round, but that I was really an imposter in the world of round pegs.

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  • addy

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    An undefined peg here. More of a shape-shifter though not quite as good at it as Angela. Difference is the source of individual strength. Support as always needed – applause always welcomed.

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  • CuriousCat

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I am not round or square or oblong or star shaped. I am none of these things and at times, I am all of these things. I am just me, always have been, always will be. Like the Other Leanne, I too shape shift when I want or need to. In school, I fit in with other kids, or at least, understood the kids I didn’t fit in with. It never really bothered me. In life, it’s never really bothered me either. I am who I am and I have always recognized others as being who they are. I LOVE that poster. It sounds simple, yes. But it is an INCREDIBLY hard thing for most peope to do…accept the have the right to be who they are BUT also the responsibility to accept that in others. I am so happy for Monkey (and you) that he has found this place that makes that path, at least, a little easier to negotiate. If only Hippie Schools were the norm, not the exception.

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  • Mary

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I recently saw a documentary called, “The Other F-word”, about punk rockers becoming fathers. Highly recommend it. Many of them have gone through/are going through the journey from “I am who I am and screw you if you don’t like it” to “I have the right to be myself, and the responsibility to respect others for who they are.” I think that’s kind of beautiful.

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  • Anna

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I used to be a cube. Solid, unwavering, unable to “roll with it.” I have some soft sides to me, now. My dad is still a cube.

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  • Mom

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I am an oval too – it must be in the genes. As for the square peg of whom you spoke – no such shape, nor any other has ever been sweeter or funnier. Kudos to the man of the day: MONKEY!

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  • Margaret

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    That is exactly the analogy I use when I talk about why we left Catholic Schools!

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  • Amy

    Posted on November 13, 2012

    I’m a screw. I appear to be fitting in just fine, but I’m actually bending the situation to suit my will. I usually get what I want. Not because I’m a brat, but because I work for it and my husband has magical powers.

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  • Brigitte

    Posted on November 14, 2012

    I’m some kind of jaggedy non-shape, who has always “fit in” as best I could by being invisible, silent and non-participatory. In middle age, I’m better in some ways, but still often feel I can’t TRULY relax and be fully me even in my own home. Then again, that could be because the true me is so utterly selfish, lazy and hedonistic, basically like a cat. ;-)

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  • Brigitte

    Posted on November 14, 2012

    Ooh, I meant to say too, that for years I have frequently wished that our educational system could afford to be set up more like Hippie School, because I think even the most “normal” kids all have strengths and weaknesses that regular school just irons ito a bland uniformity.

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  • Valerie

    Posted on November 14, 2012

    Mir, you are preaching to the choir and I am singing along with your inspirational message. Ditto, ditto, ditto. I get up at 5:30 every morning to drive my square peg to her own hippie school 35 miles from our home. I never thought we would go private school, but I just could not make that kid fit in public school. As soon as I stopped trying, she blossomed into a quirky young lady who is comfortable in her own skin with her own rockin’ drumbeat. She will be a fabulous adult and I can’t wait to meet the woman she is becoming. Now I feel sorry for all those folks who think they are round pegs, because I am betting that round is way overrated and involves too much sandpaper.

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  • Korinthia Klein

    Posted on November 14, 2012

    Today I am a violin peg.

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  • kellyg

    Posted on November 14, 2012

    One of my favorite quotes is from “Not Even Wrong” by Paul Collins. It’s a book about autism and these sentences really resonated with me.

    “Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg.”

    Personally, I think every teacher should have a copy of this whether or not they work with autistic kids.

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  • Navhelowife

    Posted on November 15, 2012

    What a beautiful description of the precious soul that is within everyone. And yes, it is much easier to deal with what we don’t like when we have enough time to decompress and be who we are, in a real and purposeful fashion. As an adult, I have no idea what kind of peg I am, but I do know when I am off balance from too much pretending and not enough real living. It manifests itself in reading all the time, retail therapy, and that feeling of being so overwhelmed you can’t do ANYTHING. I’m so glad that you are showing Monkey a different way, and that you are seeing it yourself as well. Good job – you are doing good things!

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  • Melissa

    Posted on November 15, 2012

    I think I was an invisible peg in high school. I did okay for two years in public school hanging out with a few other invisibles. I went to a small private religious school for the other half, and again found the other outcasts. It bothered me occasionally, but for the most part it was okay because my parents always assured me that High School was NOT real life. Someone at work once said “You have a lot of… opinions, don’t you?” He meant it as an insult, but it made me proud of myself. I had come to a place where I didn’t mind if I stood out, and in fact was happy with myself for doing so. I will never be a “joiner”, and I am okay with that. I don’t have a dozen friends I call bestie and that’s alright too. I think that I have become a sparkly purple square peg- and not only is that okay, it’s fabulous!

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  • Jenn Kirby

    Posted on November 15, 2012

    I love you Mir. This reminds me of a thing I saw on Pinterest… something like “The problem with trying to pound a square peg into a round hole is not that it’s hard work… It’s that it destroys the peg.” One day I hope my Bub will be able to find a hole that fits just him. The thought of private school is what makes me want to sell houses.

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  1. Still learning | Woulda Coulda Shoulda - [...] today, it’s for him, for me, for every non-round peg who ever tried to be something else. Square pegs …
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