My Gift of Awkwardness

As anyone who has seen me dance can tell you, I do not have moves like Mick Jagger.  Rather, I have the awkward jerky movements of a marionette whose limbs and torso are controlled by invisible puppeteers who are seemingly both poorly trained, and completely inebriated. Not only am I not an able dancer, I have also figuratively stunk up baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and basketball courts.  My awkwardness does not only extend to athletics, though – I have the ability to make even the most mundane of gross motor movements look bizarre to others.  Sometimes, even putting on a pair of pants can be an adventure.  Such is my gift, but it is a gift I wasn’t even initially aware that I had, and it is a possession that can be difficult to claim, accept, and own.  In my case, it only took about 32 years, which, coincidentally, is also how long I've been alive.

I was first really made aware of my difference in elementary school.  I was horsing around with some friends, doing typical kid stuff like talking about my daydreams, passively sitting on the merry-go-round while other people pushed, and watching in silent awe as my friends lifted and swung themselves across the monkey bars.  When the recess bell rung, all the children began the routine, messy stampede towards the school building.  As I was scurrying to keep up with my friend Matthew, he turned and said to me:

"You run like a retard."

Now, I am an adult man, so I know that barbed, ego-shattering insults make up approximately eighty-percent of all typical male-to-male banter.  However, at this point, I had no idea that I was different in any way in respect to other kids.  Among a nearly infinite number of "Yo' Momma" jokes, speculations on one's lack of intelligence, and wedgies, this slight stands out fresh in my mind, because it tumbled away a façade I had constructed for myself.

The reason that I couldn't pump the swing as high as other kids, the reason I couldn't make it up the jungle gym, the reason I couldn't make it across the accursed monkey bars – it was because I was different.  And different was the absolute last thing I wanted to be.  I cried all the way to the teacher, I am ashamed to say, and Matthew received a trip to the principal's office.  We reconciled, but he certainly wasn't the last person to make fun of me and my klutzy body, which seemed to be more and more of an embarrassment as the years progressed.  By the time I made it to high school, my self-confidence was practically non-existent – to be fair, though, my physical awkwardness and lack of coordination were given key assists by rampant acne, braces, and a perpetually cracking voice.  In other words, I had the complete package.

Kids are not great at introspection – you could argue that teenagers and most adults are not so great at it, either.  It took a long time for me to come to accept the cause, and totality, of my difference.  I know that if I expect the kids and families I work with to accept and celebrate their differences, then I need to do likewise.

I was born seven weeks premature, after a panicked, emergency ambulance ride from the Skagit Valley to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.  The University of Washington will always be in my debt (sorry, Cougar fans), because they had the cutting edge NICU technology which would ultimately keep me alive.  However, some complications were unable to be avoided, and my not quite ready-for-prime-time brain took some hits, specifically in the cerebellum, the portion of the brain which governs coordination and motor processes.  My parents told me, years later, that I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth.

I am writing this post to raise awareness of motor disorders, and to give hope as to what is possible for children's futures.  Although I never would become the power-hitting Cubs first baseman that my Dad might have secretly hoped for, I have had the opportunity to have a fulfilling and rewarding life thus far – even though I look pretty scary riding a bicycle.  I am not so insecure now that I need to pretend that I am completely "normal," although we live in a world where the concept of normalcy and normative development is becoming more difficult, if not impossible, to define.  What I do know is that the difficulties I faced as an awkward, uncoordinated, scrawny kid helped turn me into the slightly less awkward, uncoordinated, and scrawny – yet successful – man I am today. And I wouldn't trade that for dance skills.