“World is made of many beautiful things, they are all so unique and each one having its own beauty. If every fruit tasted the same how boring life would have been. It’s wonderful to be different.” my mom said. Although, as always, bewildered inside, I nodded in agreement when she tucked me in bed and kissed me goodnight.
“Tomorrow is your first day at school, you need all the energy for the exciting day ahead, sleep tight honey” said her fading voice as she headed out of my room, switching off the lights and closing the door as he stepped out.
Another lecture on difference, I thought. The word ‘different’ has been the most complicated to me. I am in Grade 3, and have been home schooled all my life. Like Aesop’s fable, every lesson taught to me ended with a moral but interestingly the moral was always the same “People are different and its ok to be so, we should learn to appreciate the difference”. So deep inside me I knew that I was different, and this difference has been drilled into me so that I can face real life. But what was that difference, I always wondered.
The thought of normal school was exciting and at the same time intimidating. Despite all the lecture, lessons, stories and prayers on difference, all I wanted to do was to fit in. While stories of princesses and dragons who stood out were valiant and idolized, I could always sense loneliness among the heroes as if the desperation in them to belong was too much and inability to belong so profound that they landed up standing out. I knew one thing by now. I just wanted to fit-in, just blindly fit-in.
My sleep was quiet disturbed interspersed with dreams of being cornered and of making a zillion friends. I was awake long before it was dawn. When I tiptoed into the kitchen, I heard mom’s whisper “do you think she will be alright, I just pray she is”. Before I could hear on a little more, I tipped over the tail of Casper my dog who woke with a friendly bark.
My mom came out of the kitchen “You are up so early, must be excited to go to school, come here and I have a surprise for you”.
I walked behind her quietly.
There it was on the dining table, a new bag, new cloths, new shoes, new jacket and a new cap. My heart sparked for a second, and sunk low, I didn’t want to wear new cloths and stand-out. With my old cloths, I would just fit in. I just didn’t have it in me to voice my thoughts and break the heart of my mom who seemed more excited than me on my first day of school.
“Thank you, Mom” I said, grabbing all the goodies as I rushed back to my room.
My mom sure thought, my grabbing and rushing was my excitement. “Thanks Mom” I cried as I rushed out so she doesn’t spot the little tear which was fighting my will and threatening its way down my face.
I washed and dressed in the new posh Lilac velvet dress. It was too beautiful, so posh and it was designed to standout. If only I could do something to done its beauty down.
Breakfast was special with food just the way I loved. The butterflies in my stomach flew in a fiery that I knew one morsel down my throat and they would send them up in a jiffy. My mom seemed to understand, she said, “I can pack these for you in case it’s a little too early for you to eat”. I nodded in agreement. The lump in my throat was getting too heavy for me to bear. A word from me, I was assured to ruin my impression of dauntless that I was known far and wide to be.
My mom pulled out her car, she was dressed in her Blue dress and highlighted it with a golden brooch. She just knew to carry herself with such elegance and I knew that is the reason she was able to manage my difference with such grace. She was a very successful career woman, and she told me a million times how she beat all odds and choose to have a family.
I adored her. I look at her in a new light every day, yet portraying the same level of admiration as the day before.
I always hoped to become a lady as beautiful, wise and poised as her, I wanted her perfect hair, those eyes which told volumes of stories, I wanted every perfect imperfection of hers except I wanted to fit-in while she stood-out with the spotlights shining bright.
I looked at the mirror, I have a good tanned skin, brown thick hair, brown eyes. Nothing of that seemed to be different. I would have to check this in school I thought, may be the kids were all different, with a fangs, horn and tail may be. The very thought lightened me and made me smile. My mom sure noticed that smile, she smiled back in return. My heart was lightening up.
We were near our school, my heart was thumping hard. My mother held my hand and we walked to the Principal’s room. I saw the kids running around the corridor, the school was also a proud owner of a playground with swings. Kids were jumping around the jungle gym like monkeys which lacked their horns and tails. The cheer of the school was like a blast of colour to me. I just knew I would fit in here very well, or I just wished. There was no lack of happiness around, all kids were in smiles. Every child seemed to be in company of one or more children, so everyone had a friend.
I remembered to check the children for similarities, there were a lot of children in my skin colour, hair colour, my eye colour. So the difference was not in the face, I thought.
Soon we came into the room of Mrs. Nair, she was a round woman with a small and warm face. I looked around to realise that her office was awfully neat and tidy it was. Her rising from her chair to hug me also brought to my attention her formal wardrobe with colours I’d refrain from.
“This is something for the smart little one” she said handing me a pack of M&Ms. I made sure that I kept it safe in my pocket to share with the friends I would meet today.
“I have seen your drawings and writings, you are real smart for your age. We are delighted to have you here” She said. A ray of hope flashed through me, may be that was what was different. I was a genius, no kid probably my age could read, write or draw as well as I could. Will that help me fit in? If that was the case, I am going to help my friends in all their school work, that way they would love me and I can fit right in.
“The children of your grade would be excited and curious to know about you. Do be nice to them but don’t let the others say anything bad to you. If anyone says anything bad to you, come right upto me or Mrs. Renee”, She said pointing to the tall, slim and slender lady, dressed in pastels with hair in a large hair tie. She had long moved in to stand near me. This silent moving of hers seemed erased from my memory as I was lost in my own thoughts.
“I am Mrs. Renee”, she said “and I am going to take you to the class. Say bye to Mamma”. Mamma, a word that sounded disfigured to my ears, I always called Mom ‘mom’. But I had reached a state of acceptance where it was ok for people to get confused.
My mom gave me a hug and said “Everything is going to be perfect and Mamma will pick you up, have a good time honey. You are just going to enjoy the school. Always remember, you don’t have to fit-in, learn to stand-out” I hugged my mom, waved my hand and sank into the world of unknown post walking past the doors of sight. How these last words always stifled me, stifled my thoughts. I was determined to fit-in come what may.
We walked along the corridor. The corner room with green door was my class. We walked in to the class, all the kids were cheerful. Mrs. Renee made me stand in front of the class and introduced me. I was prepared to see kids make a disappointing face, or show disgust, but all children were as cheery as they were. Some even smiled at me.
Mrs. Renee continued with great intensity “Make the child feel welcome”, referring to me.
She looked at me and said, “please sit in a place that you choose”. When I looked up, to my delight I could see that at least four kids had moved aside to give me place. This was what I’d call ecstasy. I choose to sit beside a child who had a small haircut.
Mrs. Renee taught us math. I was good at numbers. When she wrote a sum on the board and explained division, I knew what my difference was. I just knew more than the other children. I smiled at the child next to me, I knew that the child will need my help for sure.
Mrs. Renee, wrote another problem and asked all of us to solve it. She said, “Put your hands up as soon as you have solved it so I can come around and have a look”.
I just knew how to solve this division, I peeped to look at my neighbour who had her head buried into the book. And by the time I was done with my sum, I looked around to see more than 10 hands up. I was a bit disappointed, so that is not what my difference is. I am just as intelligent as any other 3rd grader. We continued to solve more problems and I was liking this class, Mrs. Renee, my neighbour, this cheery class. Just then I heard a bell ring. Mrs. Renee said “See you tomorrow children, now I want you to be real quiet till the art teacher comes in. Will you be good children now” I nodded as fast as the other kids in the class.
My neighbour whispered to me “the art teacher looks like a cartoon himself” and giggled. I giggled along with her. Just then the art teacher walked in. We had an hour of learning to draw shapes, it was also not bad after all. I was still wondering, I had two hands, two legs, my face was kind of similar to all the other kids. I could hear, see, talk like them. We all spoke English. Where and how was I different? Now that I saw so many similarities, the difference didn’t seem to matter after all. May be there was no difference and all the difference was a part of my imagination.
The bell once again bought me back to the present. It was supposed to be break time. All the kids surrounded me and they wanted to know what my name was, where I stayed and what I had in my snack box. I was eager to open my snack box and also open the pack of M&Ms to share with my friends. I had friends now. It was nice to hear them chatter.
One child walked up to me and asked “Would you want to come with me to the washroom”. I didn’t feel like it, but to fit-in I thought you just act the way they do, so I nodded to mean a yes.
All along the way she chatted about her dad, and how mighty big he was. I was surprised and wanted to ask her a lot of questions, but she just did take a breath for me to intervene. I just choose to listen. That’s the best thing I do when I have many questions. Just open your ears wide enough and many a times all the doubts get sorted by itself.
We walked back to the class, we had a few classes. My eyes were heavy and could sense my eyelids close in on me in spite of my mighty effort to keep it from touching each other. Much that I liked the school and looked forward to belonging here, I wanted to go home. It was a tiring day. The bell rang and that indicated that we could pack our stuff and go home.
“Would anyone come to pick you up”, My cheery neighbour asked me.
“My mamma would” I said. And we walked together to the school gate.
There I could see Mamma, in a red dress. She was a little dark, she always choose cloths that were ordinary there was nothing extraordinary about her. But she was very loving.
“Is that your mom?” Asked my neighbour
“That’s my mamma, my mom was the one who dropped me to school in the morning” I said.
She had a funny expression “You have a mom and mamma? What about your dad?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “I have only mom and mamma, no dad. Do you have a dad? That must be different”
What was the expression she gave me? I thought she was confused and astonished. I could relate to her, I know that feeling when you feel different. Poor girl, must be feeling the same thing. It’s funny to have a mom and a dad in one house. I corrected myself, may be she’s just different. I should talk to her about the philosophy of standing-out tomorrow so I could just fit in.
Finally, I just figured out that I was not different, it was the others who were. I was perfectly normal, a girl with tanned skin, brown hair, brown eyes. My parents were both mothers. Everything was just perfect, there was no difference.