Most evenings, my family spends time reading together. We started the practice nearly 10 years ago, and it is an important collective family experience. As the boys are getting older, we have missed more nights of reading, but we still read as often as possible.
One of the books we read several months ago had a bigger impact on me than most. It is called Out of My Mind and tells the story of 10-year-old Melody who has cerebral palsy. While she has a brilliant mind, no one really knows it because she can’t talk or write, because of her lack of control over her muscles.
[Spoiler Alert] She does eventually find her voice when she gets an assistive communication device. Interestingly, not everyone is ready to hear it. She calls out a lot of things that make people uncomfortable, and Melody and the people around her must confront what it means to be different.
I highly recommend the book to most anyone, and particularly to anyone with a special needs child in their life. It is also great for kids to get an understanding about how someone who is different has the same feelings they do.
And like all great stories, there are connections to deeper truths. Due to outside pressures from family, community, and peers, it can be tough to find your authentic voice. I did not notice it growing up, but looking back, I did a lot of things to fit in. The things I did were what I thought other people wanted me to be or do.
And when there were bursts of authenticity, my peers and others around me did not always want to hear it. So, it has been a long road for me to liberate my authentic voice. And it is so easy for me to slip back into thinking more about what others think than what I need to say.
That is why we are trying so hard with our boys to make sure they are in touch with their authentic voices. And I think it is working. Our oldest is nearly impossible to embarrass, because he is so comfortable in his own skin. And those around him, including his parents occasionally, do not want to always hear what he wants to say, but he is not afraid to say it in a forthright (and usually respectful) manner.
Our younger son has found his authentic voice in a different way. He sees no contradiction in being a soccer goalkeeper, ballet dancer, and musician who is fascinated by science and business. Being deeply into everything that interests him is who he really is. And he is not afraid to wear a purple suede sport coat either...
While I still find it challenging to consistently be authentic, I am proud of how we have helped our boys find their authentic voices.