The library staff must cringe when they see the scatterbrained mom coming across the parking lot with a kid on her shoulder, one holding her leg, a stroller, a diaper bag, and a disheveled look on her face because she has yet to figure out how to travel 5 miles down the road with two kids in diapers and manage to have them fully dressed and arrive in a timely manner. Their smiles at least stand out above the dried boogers and midmorning snack stains.
That poor girl (for the sake of the story, we will call her Susie). I bet she hasn’t showered in 2 days.
Library story time is technically set up for kids ages 2-5, but that is a minor detail. The staff graciously welcomes the 2 year old and the crazy 27 year old and 1 year old who accompany him. The other moms and grandmothers give her a gentle “bless your heart” nod while they carry on with their self created lessons with what should be simple coloring sheets. “Sweetie,” one lady says to her granddaughter in an obnoxiously loud voice, “that sheep is inside the gate. What is the opposite of inside?” Another lady asks her son to find a black marker so they can color inside the lines, which would have been an easy task had Susie’s baby not grabbed the cup and dumped all of the markers on the floor.
Story time begins and most of the children sit on their individual carpeted mats and pay attention to the story. Susie convinces her 2 year old to let go of her leg and sit down while the baby fights to get to the floor. She gives in and lets him crawl around, ignoring a couple stares that scream, “on that germy floor?!” The baby is just a tad bit distracting, pulling off the other kids’ name tags and picking up unoccupied mats while trying to share with everyone his newest vocabulary of words that all start with the letter “b”, which is slightly ironic considering they are reading about sheep on this particular Wednesday. He pauses for a split second to cut his eyes at his mom before he jets under a nearby table, forcing her to crawl on all fours to get him and drag him out before he reaches the non baby-proofed outlet.
Craft time is next. The dreaded craft time. Susie honestly despises this part, but she will put forth a good effort for her 2 year old who is learning to explore his artistic abilities that were obviously inherited from his father. She lets the baby tear up a coloring sheet while she watches Ms. Cheryl give instructions on how to create the paper plate sheep mask. The 2 year old grabs the “child safe” scissors which could leave him needing stitches just as easily as an “adult” pair. He immediately starts cutting the paper plate in front of him; thankfully, there was one untouched plate in front of them since Ms. Cheryl thought Supermom Susie would actually create a mask for both children. Ha!
Susie sits the baby down on the floor to play with a cup while she attempts to cut out the forehead and nose of a sheep. When the baby starts screaming because he is trapped under their neighbor’s chair, she puts down the plate to rescue him. After she finds something new to occupy him, she returns to her chair to find the sheep with a blue nose that has been cut down the middle. She glances around the room to see these perfectly shaped sheep masks with black noses, black ears, and spread out cotton balls neatly plastered on the forehead.
The 2 year old doesn’t want to put it on his head anyway. She shoves the mask in the diaper bag and regrets ever stressing over the stupid project.
Why? Why does she think his sheep needs to look like everyone else’s? Because having a different colored sheep with a cut up nose will obviously ruin his chances at social success and academic achievement. Obviously.
Well there could be worse things. He could end up losing his unique qualities that set him apart from all the other snot-nosed kids because he has been taught to suppress his individual desires for the sake of seeking “normalcy”. He could be convinced that his blue sheep was something to be ashamed of because it didn’t quite fit in. He could learn that he won’t have friends if he doesn’t do exactly as they do.
What would happen if Susie didn’t look around at everyone else’s? What if he learned to explore his own creative side? Truth be told, he would be a step ahead of his mom. And she would be a lot less stressed over silly sheep.
It would no doubt be difficult to continue this behavior in a society where success is often measured using a scale of comparison and peer approval. But what if? What if he could somehow figure out how to create his own sheep and appreciate the ones created by his peers? He might discover his gifts. He might discover his passions. He might go on to live life doing what he loves. He might be recognized for doing something that no one else had the guts to do. His peers might actually end up thinking he’s cool because he’s doing his own thing. Although he will inevitably feel some degree of pressure to fit into a specific mold, perhaps he could follow his own path and only miss out on days, or years, of time wasted trying to meet the expectations of others.
But how could she possibly teach him to risk peer rejection? Maybe she will just teach him to fit in as much as possible now and then try to convince him later in life to go against the grain that he has worked so hard to go along with. That’ll work fine, she thinks. Until she remembers how hard it has been to break herself from the negative cycle of comparison and peer-defined self-worth which only leaves you in a boring flock of sheep who are too busy trying to look like each other that they never get the chance to experience life outside the flock.
Susie is ashamed to even think how often she lets her peers dictate her decisions. As much as she wants to deny it, she has been directly influenced by the pressure to coincide with cultural norms. If you look in her closet, the clothes will tell a story of a girl who wants to fit in with the majority of young to middle age American women. If you look at her resume, it will tell a story of a girl who felt pressured to succeed academically at a young age although she was, and still is, uncertain that she took the right path. If you listen to her words, they will tell a story of a girl who tries to sound like she has an answer for everything and never doubts her beliefs because she is afraid that admitting her lack of knowledge will disappoint. Not that nice clothes, a good resume, and confidence are bad things, but if sought primarily for the sake of meeting social expectations, they are essentially void of the ability to fulfill one’s heart or calling.
Frustrated with her prideful, worldly self, she decides to make this right. Reaching into the diaper bag beside the baby who is now eating his spilled cheerios off of the floor, she gets the sheep mask and puts it on the 2 year old. Turns out, everyone else was too focused on their own mask to even care what his looked like. Too bad, really, because they missed out on seeing the cutest, and likely only, blue sheep in the world. That blue sheep will go on to do great things. You wait and see. And the dirty one on the floor who looks up to his brother, he will too.
As for Susie, she is learning that she doesn’t have to blend in. She is learning that she is different, and that she doesn’t really care what the world thinks of her, because the world’s approval is largely based on superficial qualities that only keep her hidden in the flock.
Time to step out, Susie. Maybe that starts with making your own blue sheep.