As many of you know, Morgan is my seven year old son who blurs the lines between boy and girl. Last month he started 2nd grade wearing hot pink skinny jeans and pink sequined TOMS. After reading “Wonder” this summer myself, I knew Morgan had to meet Auggie.
Gratitude is something I regularly emphasize with Morgan; regardless of how difficult circumstances may be there is always someone facing bigger challenges. At seven, this has been a fuzzy concept…until August came along. As isolated, singled out or ridiculed he may feel at time, he clearly understood August’s days were way harder. Very quickly, Morgan recognized parts of himself and experiences in “Wonder”.
After a couple chapters, Morgan said, “if Auggie were real and went to my school I’d be his friend and sit with him at lunch.” In a way they are friends. When facing students laughing at him, telling him he can’t wear girls clothes, staring at him, taking clips out of his hair, Auggie has been close by my son, encouraging him to hold his head up and make it through the day. Morgan thinks about Auggie almost every day, wondering what he would do or how he would feel. Auggie has become his role model.
A week ago, two girls walked by Morgan in the hallway laughing at him as they went into the bathroom. He heard them say, “he looks FREAKISH in girls clothes!” He told me,”I thought I was going to cry but in my mind I thought, you can think what you want about me. I like my clothes!”
Earlier this year, I created a play group and support group for gender variant kids and their families, “My Purple Umbrella.” A place where these kids face no judgement or ridicule. They have friends that are like-minded, open and accepting of one another. We often talk at the play groups about gratitude and that no matter how difficult a situation can be there is someone else facing something even harder. This book is the epitome of the qualities My Purple Umbrella strives to teach our kids.
I was fascinated with Hellen Keller as a child, I couldn’t fathom her existence and at the same time was so inspired by what she over-came and how she flourished. Empathy was an extremely important value to my mother and at every opportunity pointed out how fortunate we (and I) were no matter how bad a situation may seem. Teaching this concept to my child makes me appreciate the efforts she took to insure my brother and I became empathetic, kind and compassionate people.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month (http://www.pacer.org/bullying/), in recognition My Purple Umbrella is sharing ideas, stories, techniques to raise awareness. Last week I volunteered in Morgan’s class and read “My Princess Boy” by Cheryl Kilodavis. When I read the question, “If you see a Princess Boy…will you laugh at him? Will you call him a name?” Most of kids said no enthusiastically and two boys said yes. Those two boys were the teachers in the moment. As a group, we were able to explore what it feels like to be laughed at and called names. By the end, the same two boys shifted (even if only a little).
A new weekly project for the students is to make a “class book” and Morgan created a cover page and title to the first one, “How Not To Bully”. (Leave it to a second grader to simplify a problem in practical terms.) The reality is each of us needs to learn then CHOOSE to be kind. TODAY is Auggie’s birthday! In honor of it, take a few minutes and sign the Choose Kind pledge HERE. (Random House Children’s Books will donate $1 to PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center for every pledge in October.)
What R.J. Palacio has created is a phenomenal tool to teach the complexities of kindness, empathy and reflection. Personally, “Wonder” has generated invaluable conversations with my husband, Morgan and I about kindness, honestly, gratefulness, bravery, trust, courage, fear and most of all love. This book is dear to our hearts and we will always have August to look up to.