Snowy Hemlock Hedgehog
Integrity and Sovereignty
So, I’ve got this magical kid, Otto. He’s an incredible artist. He’s also got ADHD and is on the spectrum. The various ways both diagnoses show up for him have become more and more obvious over time, mostly because his integrity has called him to stop masking his behaviors in order to make himself more palatable to other people, a tactic that is more common for those folks identified as female at birth as opposed to male. Did I mention my magical kid is also trans? Yeah, that too.
Watching him become himself has been like attending Integrity University.
Otto graduated from high school last spring. Getting him across the high school graduation finish line was an epic feat. We literally crawled over, and I have never felt such relief. He did it! We did it! And he’s still alive! If you’re aware of the exponentially higher rate of suicide amongst trans youth, perhaps you will appreciate how him actually staying alive all the way through high school felt, in and of itself, like an accomplishment.
His decision to take a gap year was made before graduation, which then became a maybe-never-college sort of situation. I don’t think his mental health would have allowed him to survive it, to be honest, and mine would have been in the toilet, consumed with worry. Still, for all of his being neuro-atypical and unprepared for college, Otto is perfectly capable of all sorts of things. I expect him to find a job and pay me some nominal amount of rent so he can learn to budget. Of course, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, which makes that process sort of complicated.
More complicating, however, is that he’s eighteen now and has to do things himself. He has to go into businesses and ask if they’re hiring. He has to fill out applications and submit them. He has to weather the discomfort of job interviews. I cannot do any of this for him. I hate that part.
Not being able to just fix it all makes my skin crawl.
Before the pandemic, Otto had planned to go to art school. This prospect thrilled me. I love his art. Equally, I always wanted to be a professional creative but didn’t have the nerve at his age. His going to art school would have allowed me to vicariously live through him, and I’ll admit, I was pretty damn excited about that.
So, last night when Otto plopped down next to me on the couch and showed me an illustration he’d finished I felt my own vicarious excitement rising up. We started chatting back and forth about different possible plant/animal combinations animatedly. Then the conversation took a turn.
He’d designed a Strawberry Frog sticker last spring which I sold to dozens of enthusiastic friends. I started brainstorming ideas for more items beyond stickers he might use to monetize his work. He responded with the ways each new idea wouldn’t work. Having entered the conversation with simple openness I could feel him, even as I got more and more excited, pulling more and more inside himself in the face of my relentless enthusiasm to “make something” of his talents.
How do I do this? I thought. How do I encourage without being overbearing? How do I challenge him to extend beyond his comfort zones, but also respect the one he is? He’s so talented! What I wouldn’t give to be able to do what he does.
Then, I woke up this morning to find another design sketch that we’d discussed on my chair, a Snowy Hemlock Hedgehog. I mean, come on! How delightful is that?!?
All thoughts of how my efforts to get him to monetize his work were as much about me as about him— my desire to see him making some steady money at something he actually enjoys rather than having to submit to some shit retail job, my desire for him to have a clear sense of purpose, my desire for him to be a professional artist in a way I have yet to “succeed” at— flew out the window.
He came out of his bedroom and I launched right in. What about mugs? What about wallpaper? Wall vinyls! T-shirts! I could see in his eyes that he was curling further and further in on himself in the face of my onslaught even as the words kept tumbling out of my mouth. Can you feel thrilled inside and vaguely horrified watching yourself at the same time? I can.
It is so hard, perhaps especially with my children, to check my desires to help, to encourage them to make one decision or another, to choose a particular path that I think would benefit them. I want the people I love to be happy and fulfilled. Honestly, I also don’t want to feel lost, sad, purposeless, or overwhelmed with them. My desire to fix things for my children, and for most anyone I care about, is fueled by love, and also by a deep desire to not feel uncomfortable feelings about things I have no control over.
As you might suspect, I think there’s not a lot of integrity in operating this way.
We have to respect other people’s autonomy and sovereignty. In other words, they get to decide the direction of their own lives. They get to make their own mistakes and weather their own consequences. They get to feel whatever they feel and we only get to manage our own feelings in response. We definitely don’t get to control their choices to assuage our own discomfort.
I resent this more than I can say, but it also seems to be the only way to interact with people as whole beings and not just extensions of ourselves. Integrity is about our wholeness, but also other people’s.
So, today I offer my magical kid’s art for your enjoyment. I hope someday he’ll do more of it and lots of people will be able to enjoy it in one way or another, but that’s not really up to me. And I’m working on being okay with that.
While I’m over here figuring out how to let my kid be his own person there’s also a war going on over the sovereignty of Ukraine, which might seem like a more fitting place to focus attention. Except I already did that on Friday. If you, like me, are very consumed by the state of the war in Ukraine you can read that here.
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