Last night, Ian told me he’s getting picked on by kids at school. Ian told one friend that he’s going to be Spiderman someday, and that friend told other kids. Those kids now pick on him and tell him that he’s not going to be Spiderman. Ian was angry and sad that people didn’t believe him.
My heart sank while I watched my sweet boy cry over his pain. Of course, my first instinct was to swoop in and rescue him, but that’s not what Ian needs. I contemplated telling Ian that the other kids are right: He can’t be Spiderman because Spiderman isn’t real. But that’s not what Ian needs either.
I’m not sure if people will understand why I nurture all of his dreams and goals–even the unbelievable ones. I had no choice four years ago after we found his brain tumor; we didn’t know if he were going to see his 5th birthday or not. I wouldn’t let anyone even speak in our presence of Ian not having a future, let alone tell Ian that he couldn’t do or be anything he wanted to be when he grew up.
I believe with my whole heart that allowing Ian to see whatever future he wanted for himself helped cure him. The rarity and severity of that cancerous tumor could not defeat Ian’s will to live–to see himself fulfill his dreams. He not only saw his 5th birthday, but he celebrated his 8th birthday last month without one recurrence of cancer–a miracle in itself.
Today, Ian is not only cancer-free, but he also has a lot of self-confidence. He has fought and won some difficult battles; of course he feels strong. Sometimes, he has a little more confidence than he should, like when he imagined a target above his head yesterday: He believed he could kick that high, which he did, but he didn’t know what to do with his body once it was horizontally in the air. He ended up falling on his side, bruising every part that hit the ground.
I know this abundance of confidence will continue to cause him pain as his perception and reality collide, but I hope he dusts himself off every time with the same profound mantra: “I guess I better learn how to fall before I try that again.” Learning how to fall is a crucial part of reaching for our dreams; otherwise, we’ll give up, thinking only of the pain, rather than working towards the goal.
I know Ian can handle physical pain; he’s proven that over and over again in his short life. It’s emotional pain I’m worried about. As confident as he is in his vision for himself, I see it waning as he gets older–as things get harder and as other kids and adults tell him he can’t believe in his dreams.
Children telling him he won’t be Spiderman is just another fall. I needed to teach him how to accept that reality, without giving up on his dreams. I couldn’t plan things out quickly enough, so I just started talking.
“First, don’t get angry, bud. Some kids think it’s funny to watch other people get angry. So if you stop getting angry, they might stop picking on you.”
“Really? That’s not nice.”
“I know, but that’s just how some people are.” Ian closed his eyes and started taking deep breaths and letting them out slowly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m just trying to release my anger.”
“That’s good, bud. Always remember to do that as soon as you feel the anger welling up.” Ian opened his eyes and smiled at me. “The other thing you have to know is that people have the right to believe what they want to believe. When they say, ‘You’re not going to be Spiderman!’ Tell them they can believe what they want. The beautiful thing about that is that you have the right to believe what you want to believe, too. You don’t have to say another thing after that.”
“Yeah. I can just say, ‘You believe what you want, and I’ll believe what I want.'”
“That’s right, bud. You can’t change people; don’t try to win an unwinnable argument. The more you fight with them, the more they’ll fight with you.”
I then shared with Ian one of my childhood dreams: “Did you know that when I was little, I wanted to be Barbie when I grew up? I thought she was so pretty, and I didn’t think I was pretty at all. But, guess what? I grew up pretty, and I look nothing like Barbie.”
Ian just looked at me for a bit and made the connection on his own. “I guess there are other ways to be a hero.”
“You’re right. There are lots of ways. Why do you like Spiderman?”
“I like that Spiderman chases and catches bad guys, and that he helps people.”
“That’s right. A hero does good things and doesn’t hurt people, even if those people say mean things to the hero.”
“I guess police officers are like that, but I don’t want to be a police officer.”
“You don’t have to be. There are all kinds of heroes, bud. You know, some people have said I’m a hero because I’m a teacher.”
“Yeah. It’s because I try to help kids be the best they can be. A lot of my students tell me how much they appreciate that.”
“Yeah. A teacher is a hero.”
“And so are doctors and firemen…anyone who wants to help people can be a hero.”
“I never thought about that before.” Ian was quiet for a bit, and then he said, “But, Mom. I’m still going to be Spiderman someday.”
“You know what, buddy, no one knows the future. So how can those kids tell you that you won’t figure out how to be Spiderman someday? That story hasn’t been written yet, so no one can tell you what you will or won’t become.”
“That’s right. No one knows the future. I can figure it out. I know I can.” His confidence returned.
He happily kissed me good night; I helped him brush the pain away. It’s a good thing, too, because even heroes need to learn how to fall.
To help Ian realize his dreams, his sisters and I filmed this short video with Ian as Mini Spiderman defeating his arch-enemy Poison Locks 🙂