One of my favorite essays to read and to teach is this one, by John Schwartz. It was published in The New York Times in 2007, but it ends up reprinted in many of the anthologies I use when I teach freshman writing. The essay didn't mean as much to me when I first read it, as it does now that my son is entering middle school, but it has always been one of my favorites. I love the kid in the essay--I love his individuality, his self-assurance, and how unfazed he is by the attention others give him when he wears his brightly-colored poncho to school every Friday.
I so want my kids to be like him.
There are many things I want for them, but of all of them I especially want L. and T. to grow up honoring their own sense of individuality, proud of how they make their way through school, and unfazed by judgment from their peers. This is a huge thing to dream for, I know, because I also know that those who beat their own path through the world often end up shunned and bullied.
I thought about The Poncho Bearer earlier this week, as I sat in the carpool line. There's a girl I see outside L.'s school at pick-up time. She sits by herself most days, and wears oddly colored and matched clothing, and funny hats. She reminds me of Andie Walsh from Pretty in Pink--one of my favorite movies. She doesn't seem to care about how others might label her: the girls pool around her with their trendy outfits and jewelry while she sits perched on top of her backpack, cross-legged sometimes, other times she stands with her back against one of the pillars, tapping her hands against her legs to some secret tune.
I hope she emerges from her school years, individuality and sense of style intact. I hope my kids will, too. I hope they will learn quickly to wear their own uniqueness draped around their shoulders, as colorful and vibrant and fabulous as a multi-colored poncho.
Read the essay. Share it with your own tweens and teens, too. I think there are powerful lessons to be learned from it.