Be Imperfect and Know You Belong!

It takes courage to believe you are worthy of love and belonging.

My son has been experiencing what many teenagers experience…exclusion. He is 13, preparing to go to high school next year and he inspires me every day with his strength and resilience.

So today I want to do something a little bit different and share with you the story of a young man who has overcome greater obstacles than most his age, who struggles daily, and who is so resilient it makes me cry.

When E was born, he was destined for struggle. He came into the world having been exposed to alcohol and spent the first months of his life neglected, under nourished and under stimulated. He was fortunate to have a wonderful and loving aunt and uncle, who remain positive and loving family members and friends to our entire family, who tried to help and support E. But the challenge was far greater than anyone could imagine and before E was two, he was moved out of his birth mother’s care.

E then lived with other family members who were also not equipped to care for him, and later, for his sister. He tells me stories of food insecurities, of not going to school, of being hungry and having a constant sore mouth because there was no toothbrush for him. He spent his first years living in constant stress, feelings responsible for the safety of his little sister, never sure who was coming into the house, whether there would be violence or drugs, and not having a place to go that wasn’t so cluttered or filled with ashtrays and garbage so he could just relax.

A kind social worker tried to help. And eventually, the kids went to live in a foster home.

And while the couple who took E and his sister in gave them all the love and care they needed, that placement fell through because E, at six, was just too old. We were their next (and final) home.

When E and T came to live with us, at 6 and 3, they had never had their own room, had never had consistent meals or access to snacks. He had to learn how to brush his teeth and navigate clean clothes and went to school for the first time. It was a struggle for him.

And he learned. He learned to count, to read, to share, to feel secure. He learned about love and belonging. Our greatest day as a family was April 10, 2015, when a judge announced that we were officially and forever a family.

And now, at 13, E excels in math. He loves to read. He loves sports. He is an Air Cadet and has aspirations to be a pilot. He is protective of his sister. He brags about his mom’s baking and is helpful and kind.

That all sounds good, right?

E is also very small for his age. His early start to life left him underweight, shorter than all of his peers and he struggles with learning, a combination of the effects of FASD and a learning disability. Yet E doesn’t let any of his challenges stop him.

He plays on his school’s basketball team, and is really talented on the court. He runs cross country and track, plays hockey and volleyball. He reads everything he can get his hands on. He flies gliders, attends survival camps and impresses the officers in his Cadet squadron with his dedication and passion. He is getting ready for high school and has a deep desire to be a part of our board’s Aviation program.

But even with all these accomplishments, E comes home many nights and cries. Why? Because at school he is excluded by his peers for…get this…being short. At lunch he is told he is too small to play soccer or basketball. He has been told by kids on the volleyball team that he should just quit because he is too short to play. He has been told by his peers that they don’t want him to hang out with them because he looks like a little kid. The saddest part is that he believes he deserves to be excluded for his size. This kind, loving boy, who would never exclude another for any reason and who truly fights for fairness, believes he deserves to be excluded because he is small. I would like to take a moment to clarify that this exclusion comes from a group at school, but that the cadets he spends time with are welcoming, encouraging and they include him. If you want a positive group of young people for your kids to spend time with, consider the cadet program.

I desperately wish the kids at school could see the strength and the courage this boy has. I wish they knew that he has never let anything, including his size, stop him from going for it and excelling at the things he loves. And I wish E was able to truly see that he inspires others with all he has overcome, with the positivity he shows in the face of challenge.

So, my readers, I share my son’s story for two reasons. First, please remind your young people that everyone is going through things they will never know. Teach them to see the strength to overcome and the resilience it takes to persevere and to not let the challenges stop someone from trying. Please, please, please teach them not to tear down a person for the thing they can’t control.

And the second reason is to tell my son how proud I am to be his mom. You, my brave and sensitive son, inspire me. You are teaching me to be brave. You are teaching me to persevere in the face of struggle. You are teaching me to never let another person’s unkindness keep me from being kind. You are teaching me what courage looks like.

In the words of one of my favourite writers and researchers, Brené Brown, “You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle. But you are worthy of love and belonging.” May all of us, whether 13 or 46 or 70, remember that. And may we all have the courage to believe it.


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