Nurturing the “Invisible” Child
Dinner conversation at my house often ends in a heated debate with my sons over which would be the coolest superpower: flying, X-ray vision, super-human strength… ?
Invisibility is said to be a superpower. After all, it landed the Invisible Woman a spot on Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Harry Potter’s most prized possession was his Invisibility Cloak.
But what about the kid who stays invisible? The one who would do anything to lose that power and be seen? My experience has shown that there is an entire legion of children who feel cursed, not blessed, with a permanent sense of invisibility.
These are the students who aren’t particularly bright, won’t be the elite soccer player, and are certainly excluded from the art show. Whether it’s through social relationships or piano lessons, finding their talent is such an important developmental task of elementary childhood. But some kids are just plain old normal – never a Rockstar, never a Queen Bee. And for those kids, it’s hard for them to believe that they are a somebody.
Here’s where I want to invite you into my 2:30pm session yesterday, where we are joined by Maria. She’s the most precious Hispanic seven-year-old with no front teeth and the height of Snoopy. Her beautiful, long black hair is always slightly messy from what must’ve been an epic game of Red Rover at recess.
Maria was referred to me because she worries. A lot. As we’ve addressed her anxiety over the past few months, I’m starting to understand the roots a little better. You see, to me, Maria is a trip! We giggle about how smelly second grade boys are and bond over sequin shirts that flip to change colors. But at school, Maria doesn’t giggle. She doesn’t bond. She just exists.
My McDonald’s Happy Meal figurines helped Maria depict the characters in her scene at school. She chose the mean girls (Disney princesses), the annoying boy (a body-less troll), the disgruntled teacher (Ursula). But when it came to identifying her own figurine, she stopped and thought. Finally, she said “I’m none of these. I’m INVISIBLE.”
Immediately my mind replayed John C. Reilly dressed as a sad clown in Chicago singing,
Shoulda Been my Name
‘Cause You Can Look Right Through Me
Walk Right By Me
And Never Know I’m There…”
The scariest part is that unlike the typical tween angst of “my life is the absolute worst life in the history of all mankind and no one could possible understand my anguish” that a lot of my clients word vomit, Maria’s explanation lacked drama. It was simple. It was matter of fact. It was her accepted reality. And then she moved on to another topic. We didn’t spend time delving through it or dissecting the rational/irrationality of it. It just was. Mister Cellophane.
I spent a sleepless night last night wracking my head as to how nurture these precious kids. Maria’s right – she’s very often overlooked. Parents know this pain all too well. To watch a child come alive at home, yet fade like a wallflower in public, is not only brutal to watch, but it also makes us feel completely helpless and baffled.
My bleeding heart in that moment wanted to revisit Maria’s comment, but time prevented it this week. So for our next session, here are the three things that I want to tell her:
- Sometimes People Stink.
It was just mean for Disney Princess #3 to invite everyone but Maria to her birthday party and even worse, to talk about it in the lunchroom. Shame on her, and shame on her mama, for excluding kids from a skating party. That was wrong and Maria needs me to validate that.
Her hurt is real.
However, we’re not going to stay there. Now we have to decide how can we grow from this.
From all the times that I feel invisible, I’ve learned that I’m not alone. Everyone, at some point, feels like a nobody. So even though it’s appropriate to throw a small pity party, I’d like to help Maria turn the focus outside of herself and look around to others that may actually feel the same way. As believers, we’re commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves – even when our neighbor acts cruelly. Luke 10 depicts the parable of the Good Samaritan and we are instructed to “Go and do likewise,” even when it’s not fair.
I’m reminded of the 1 Corinthians passage on love, specifically, “love…keeps no record of wrongs.” For Maria, it’s impossible (and really quite ridiculous) to expect her to simply forget the humiliation and pain that certain peers have inflicted on her. However, we all need the gentle reminder that sometimes we all stink, and we may unintentionally hurt others too. I hope to guide Maria into the same posture that our Lord takes. In His perfect love for us, he continues to show us kindness even when we leave Him “off the guest list” or overlook Him for what seems like a more popular, exciting offer.
For Maria, my goal is help her develop ways to invest in the other “invisibles” which will function dually to promote both party’s sense of self-worth. This may also include contacting her school to investigate peer helper positions or student crossing guard roles, or perhaps volunteering with Toys for Tots or her local nursing home. I’m a firm believer that children are the most profound contributors to mankind. As parents, I pray that we don’t contribute to their feeling of invisibility by shielding them from serving others.
- You’re good at being You.
“Today you are YOU, that is truer than true. There is NO ONE alive that is YOUER than YOU!” – Dr. Seuss
Some people, actually some of the healthiest people, don’t find their “thing” until much later in life. I’m going to do my best to encourage Maria to continue searching for what she can be proud of. Who knows? Maybe she’s going to be an amazing babysitter. Maybe the funny high school mascot. Or maybe the best gift giver her friends have ever known. None of these are measured on the ACT or on a basketball court, but are all just as precious.
Let me pause a moment to emphasize that while it is healthy for a child to find his or her talents, those cannot be what defines them. Skills and gifts are WHAT THEY DO, NOT WHO THEY ARE. Through the work of Jesus on the cross, our God has already set our identity – we are His child, His friend, a member of His body. We are free from condemnation, we are His workmanship, we are His temple and because we have been bought with a price, we are fully free to approach God with freedom and confidence! (Romans 8:1, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:20, Hebrews 4:16) Talents are fleeting. Our bodies age, injuries occur, friends change. I want to remind Maria that her hope cannot be in these but that they merely point back to who she is in Christ. Talents are a mirror reflection of the beauty and character of our Lord.
- Your name is written.
Growing up, I spent my summers in Montreat, NC. There was a tiny gift shop where I could binge on cherry CheerWine, but the coolest corner of the shop was the collection of keychains with boy names and girl names dangling on a rack taller than myself. When your name is Alice, it’s a toss-up as to whether they’ll actually have YOUR keychain in stock. Allison, check. Alex, check. Alice? Doubtful. But on those golden, rare occasions that my eye caught that coveted keychain, it was as if the heavens parted and shone a spotlight on it, just beckoning for me to drop my allowance money on my own name. Why? It’s fun to see your name in writing! To publicly be proclaimed as a somebody.
I’m looking forward to reminding Maria that she hasn’t been forgotten. Her name may not have been written on a birthday invitation list, but it is written on the palm of the Almighty God. “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:16)
Nothing that Maria or I will accomplish in life is good enough to deserve to be written on His palm. Straight A’s are awesome, but they’re fleeting. The star quarterback in high school is eventually forgotten. However, the Lord in his intimate knowledge of our formation still created us to be His. Praise to the Lord that our names are so deeply etched into our Savior’s hands that nothing can wash it away.
I see you, Maria. And Jesus sees you too.