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Seeing past ridicule runs in the family

Some siblings look so much alike it’s hard to tell them apart. Not my four sons. While there’s a familial resemblance, they aren’t mistaken for each other. Their temperaments and talents are equally dissimilar. But during a conversation with my youngest, I discovered that when comes to choosing friends, my children are very much alike.

One afternoon, Sam slumped into the car after school, his eyes brimming with tears. “Tough day?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Want to talk about it?”

“No,” he said and looked out the window. A few minutes later he burst out, “Everyone’s making fun of me because I hang out with Marcus. They say he’s lame, and if I’m his friend, I’m lame, too!”

I sighed. Marcus has spent time at our house. He talks a lot, uses big words, tells wild stories and is inept at both basketball and four-square. All of which marks him as a loser in the eyes of his fellow fourth-graders.

But Sam likes him. They collect Bakugan toys, create Lego masterpieces and never run out of things to talk about.

The conversation reminded me of a similar talk I’d had with my firstborn, Ethan, when he was in fourth grade. A new kid had come to school. Zane was a troubled boy – his arrogance and talkativeness routinely earned the wrath of his teacher. But Ethan saw something in Zane that no one else seemed to and befriended him. That choice cost him some of his “cooler” friends.

Likewise, in elementary school, my son Alex befriended a golden-haired child plagued by unexplained seizures. Extremely articulate, outgoing and intelligent, David loved school. Because of his medical condition he had to have an aide with him at all times, which some of the other kids found off-putting.

If David felt a seizure coming on during PE class, he’d go sit on the bleachers. Alex, who loved PE more than anything, would go and sit with him until he felt better.

Eventually, his seizures worsened and he could no longer attend school, so Alex would go to his house and hang out. And every night without fail, he prayed that God would heal David of his seizures.

Our third son is still close to a “different” friend he made in kindergarten. After the first few weeks of school, Zack’s teacher pulled me aside and asked if I’d mind if she seated Taylor next to my son.

“Not at all,” I replied, puzzled that she’d asked.

“It’s just that Taylor is a bit different,” she explained. “He’s smaller than the other kids and his social skills aren’t very well-developed. Zack doesn’t seem to mind his awkwardness, but some of the children haven’t been as kind.”

Taylor behaved like a miniature adult and spoke in the precise, clipped cadence of a British Army officer. His clothes were spotless, his manners impeccable. None of these things endear you to other 6-year-olds.

Zack got a kick out of his new friend and soon began to imitate his speech patterns, if not his manners. As the years went by, the two were frequently in the same class. Taylor helped Zack with his schoolwork and they discovered a shared love of music.

Now they attend different high schools but still hang out, often. Taylor outgrew his odd speech patterns and grew up to match Zack in height.

All of these memories jumbled in my mind as I heard Sam sniffing in the backseat. When we pulled into our driveway, I asked him to sit with me on the front steps for a moment. We sat in silence on the sun-warmed concrete and watched the sprinkler make lazy arcs across the lawn.

“Sam, do you like Marcus?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “He’s kind of weird and goofy and he really annoys me sometimes but …”

He paused and stretched his arm out toward the sprinkler. “But he makes me laugh. And besides, I suck at four-square, too.”

He sighed.

Pulling him close, I turned his face toward me and looked into his sky-blue eyes. “Then you hang out with Marcus all you want,” I said.

I know there will be consequences to Sam’s choice. He takes the risk of getting lumped in with the “lame” and the “losers.” But I’d rather have him endure the scorn of fourth-graders than miss out on true friendship.

I think his brothers would agree.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at columnists.