“Miss Erica! Miss Erica! Look at her over there! She's acting so..so..weird.”
I work with fourth and fifth-grade children in an after school program, and I hear this phrase AT LEAST three times a week. When you're in fourth or fifth grade, this is what constitutes as weird:
- not smiling
- not talking
- not laughing
- sitting still
On that particular day, we were stuck inside the cafeteria on a rainy day. The kids huddled into groups; some played checkers or Battleship. Others set up domino structures or challenged each other to a game of Connect Four. My usual reaction to the Acting Weird complaint is the standard speech:
Be Nice But Also If You Mind Your Own Business You Won't Have Enough Time to Mind Other People's Business As Well. But this time, something stopped me.
I followed Dude's outstretched finger (I call all of my students Dude at one time or another). On the opposite side of the table, his classmate was busy drawing cats. And like a Dr. Seuss rhyme, she drew cats in hats, cats with bats, cats in paper sacks. Lots and lots of cats.
And I remembered how many times over the years I've taken my insecurity or frustrations and projected them onto someone else. Labeled them as the weird ones when it was actually me who needed an attitude adjustment.
Our reaction to someone else's behavior is more about what's going on in our head than whatever is going on with them.
I looked over at Dude.
"Let's see if she'll teach US how to draw cats," I said. Dude's jaw dropped, and his finger curled into a sideways "C". He stared at me for a moment. "Oooooooookaaaaaaay," he said.
We walked over to her. "Hey, " I said. She looked up. "Can you teach us how to draw cats like those?" "Sure," she said. She moved some papers around and offered a blank page. Dude sat down and watched as she drew a cat in a beret. "Whoa," he said. "My turn to try. Do another one! But wait for me to get a pencil."
And he ran to get a pencil, as she found a few more blank pages for practice. And just like that, it wasn't weird anymore.
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illustration: Katie Rogers