This picture was taken around my 6th birthday. I was a happy kid then. What you can't really see is my lazy eye. Or the extra weight I carried in my stomach. Or the scars on my legs from mosquito bites. You can't tell that I'm not athletic. Or some sort of brainiac. You can't tell that I'm not comfortable in my own skin. You can't tell that I sleep with a light on because I'm plagued by nightmares. You don't know that every day of my life my classmates make fun of me for my weight or my clothes or where I live or what bike I ride or who my friends are.
Here I am at 15. I've got a smile on my face here, too. You can see I've got a few pimples, but what teenager doesn't? Here again, though, there are things you don't see. You can't tell that I was up all night the night before because my mother was hallucinating from her pain medication. You don't realize that I've missed almost a week of school because I've spent that time taking care of her. You don't know that we have to live in this small apartment because my father deserted my mother and me two years earlier, leaving us with no way to afford to keep our family home. You don't know that in less than six months, I'll be forced to move again because my mother dies from the cancer that steals her hair, her sleep and her mind.
Here I am just before my 21st birthday. As you can see, I'm in the hospital and I've just given birth to my son. You can also see that my face is very puffy and I don't look my best. What you don't know is that in this picture, I'm high as hell on morphine for the pain of my emergency C-section and I'm still fighting the effects of toxemia - a serious gestational disease that nearly took my life and the life of my son. You also don't know that just twelve hours after this photo was taken, my son coded in the NICU when his lungs collapsed. Fortunately, he had brilliant neonatologists and he survived.
This is my bestie, Ann Marie. This was taken last June so we're in our mid-thi*mumbles*. What you probably know about us is that we've been friends since we were teenagers and that we often speak in our own secret language about things very few people know anything about. It can become annoying to some and we've lost friends because of it. But what you don't know is that "twin-sense" we have has been vital to our lives for over twenty years. It was developed to keep our meddling ex-husbands out of our business. You also don't know that when this picture was taken, AM would go home that night to face a hell she never thought she'd have to face. Her husband was escorted from the house that night by the police. Her life would never be the same. Having that twin-sense saved her from a much worser fate.
My point in all this is that you can see someone and not know what their struggles are. You might even have met them a few times, but until you walk a mile in their shoes, you truly know nothing about them. You don't know why they act a certain way or why their walls are up or why they cringe when you hug them or why the word "heifer" makes them physically nauseous. You. Don't. Know.
So as a new school year starts, I'm encouraging my kids to look beneath what they see... to smile at someone they don't know, to befriend the unfriendable, to reach out to new students and say hello. They may need it more than you can humanly imagine. I'm going to try and do the same.Just remember: