“She sees them walking in a straight line, that’s not really her style.
And they all got the same heartbeat, but hers is falling behind.” —Echosmith, “Cool Kids”
My youngest daughter is 12 now. Show of hands here: Who wants to relive your twelfth year of life? I don’t. Not a cool time for most. Even the word “twelfth” is awkward with that “f” in it, like some lacy nobleman added it to his generational suffix for flair: Fauntleroy, Twelfth Earl of Arundel!
“I wish that I could be like the cool kids, because the cool kids they seem to fit in. I wish that I could be like the cool kids, because the cool kids they seem to get it.” I think of my youngest daughter when I hear Echosmith croon their “Cool Kids” lyrics. As far as I know she doesn’t wish to be like the cool kids. But at 12 she’s old enough now to “get” that she’s different and doesn’t quite “fit” the norm. She feels it at school. She feels it at church. Only in the last year has she begun to mention it to us.
As a parent of a child with developmental delays, you want to turn all the cool kids into inclusivists. You want to gather their stylish selves together and explain the nature of autistic idiosyncrasies, as if introducing them to exotic coffee, hoping they’ll develop a taste for it. But you can’t do that. Relational maturity is not coerced.
My daughter has a few true friends who enjoy her as she is. Why is that not enough for me? Because I want her to be normal. That’s not it. I want her to be normal-er. Liked by all. We’re not living the script of (the movies) The Other Sister or Temple Grandin. Our girl is healthy, and yet I want her healthy socially and scholastically too. I worry about her vulnerability, her ability to discern subtleties like the difference between getting a joke and the joke being on her. I feel neither embarrassment nor disappointment with her. What I feel is deep love and longing—the longing for those you love to be free of encumbrances.
I’ve known my daughter’s peers would leave girlhood sooner than she. She doesn’t really know how to keep pace. She just knows it’s different now trying to relate. As the teen years speed on to driving lessons and Sadie Hawkins dances and college applications, she may fall further behind. We don’t know. She may yet catch up and get to do all the above and more. She says she wants to illustrate children’s books when she grows up. No one is better fit for the task than one who never stops reading them.
She rode home with me from church last Sunday. “I like that you’re a preacher, Daddy!” she tells me and shows me the insert from the service bulletin. In crayon, above where she made a menu of her favorite foods, she kept count of how many times I said “verses” and “God” in my sermon. “You should say ‘God’ more,” she offers. I have to say that’s one of the coolest preaching critiques anyone’s ever given me.
Cole Huffman is the father of five children and Senior Pastor of First Evangelical Church (firstevan.org) in Memphis, Tennessee. He blogs at http://colehuffman.com
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