■ Being yourself
■ Discovering your own specialness
If there was one thing Jill could wish for, it was to feel special, because she couldn't remember that she ever had. Of course, there probably had been times in her life when she had felt very special, but those times were ones she did not remember easily. Maybe there were times when she was a really young baby and her parents were so pleased and proud that she had arrived. She probably didn't remember how her mother, father, grandparents, and others leaned over the cot and made funny baby-sounds at her. She probably didn't recall what great delight they took in watching her begin to crawl, walk, and talk. I have no way of knowing when things began to change—whether her parents changed, or Jill changed, or it was a bit of both. Maybe it had something to do with when her little sister was born and Jill started to think that this new baby was getting all the attention. It seemed that everyone thought she was more special than Jill.
Going to school didn't help. It always seemed that there was someone better than Jill, someone whom others took more notice of than her. She wanted to be special herself.
Jill was not the top student in her class, like Emma was. While she was certainly not at the bottom of the class, either, she wished she could be more like Emma, who always topped every subject. Jill noticed when report cards were handed out at school that Emma's mom was always at the gate waiting for her. After studying Emma's card, her mother would give Emma a big hug and promise her a reward, like buying her a special gift or taking her to see a movie. But Jill's report card always said, "could do better" or "could try harder." Her parents said the same when she got it home: "We are pleased to see that you passed everything, but maybe you can do better next term."
Jill didn't feel special at sports, either. She could run and swim all right, but she never got selected for the school teams like Penny did. Consequently, Jill often found herselfwishing she could be more like Penny. Penny was the fastest runner at school and also the fastest swimmer. Anything that anyone could do, sports-wise, Penny seemed to be able to do better. Sometimes Jill thought it wasn't fair that Penny could do so many things so well. Compared to Penny, Jill thought of herself as a "fumble foot" and, after a while, she just gave up trying to get on the sports teams.
Jill didn't even feel special at having lots of friends. Kathy was the one in the class who seemed to do that much better than anyone else . . . and Jill wished she could be more like Kathy. Kathy was the clown, she was a lot of fun, she was always laughing and joking and telling stories. Everyone wanted to be her friend. She had more kids for sleepovers than anyone else in the class. Mind you, Jill was not without friends; she had several close friends. It was just that she didn't get invited to every sleepover like Kathy did. She didn't get invited to every birthday party. So when some kids were asked, and she was not, she felt decidedly unspecial.
As it happened, one afternoon when they were about to leave school Jill walked passed Emma, who was desperately pulling all the contents out of her bag, spreading them out on the bench, searching and searching. "What's the matter?" asked Jill. "I lost my math homework sheet," said Emma, "and it's due in tomorrow. I don't know what to do." Jill said, "Mine is at home. I haven't done it; I was finding it difficult. Ifyou want you can come to my home and we can do it together." Emma went to Jill's house and together they worked on the math assignment. Emma explained to Jill some of the math concepts that Jill had never understood. When they had completed their homework and Emma was about to go, she said to Jill, "Thank you. Without you, I wouldn't have got it done and might have failed." Jill felt just a tiny, sneaky feeling ofbeing special for helping someone she admired like Emma.
Emma turned to go home but then paused a minute, and said to Jill, "You know, it's hard always being at the top of the class, your parents and teachers expect so much of you. I often wish I was like you and didn't have all these pressures."
Long before the school's track-and-field day arrived, Jill had given up trying to compete, but she offered to help out and was assigned the task of ensuring that everyone got from the locker room to the start ofthe races on time. As she was doing this, Penny, the school's fastest runner, called out, "Oh no!" Jill asked, "What's wrong?" Penny replied, "I left my running shoes back in the classroom but I need to change and I don't have time to get them before the start of the race." "Then I will," said Jill, and raced back to the classroom faster than she had ever run in her life. She found Penny's shoes and brought them back to the locker room in double-quick time. Penny grabbed them in a hurry and flew out to start her race. When she came back with her winning ribbon, she said, "Thank you, Jill. I wouldn't have been able to even start the race without you. You must have run to get my shoes like a true champion."
As she packed her clothes back in her bag, she turned to Jill and said, "You know, everyone expects me to always win the races. There are many times that I wish I was like you."
A day or two later Jill came across Kathy crying in the girls' restroom by herself. "What's the matter?" asked Jill. "Everyone always expects me to be funny," said Kathy. "They expect me to be happy and jovial all the time but there are times, like everyone, when I feel sad or just simply don't want to be funny. The other kids don't seem to understand. If I'm not what they expect it seems I'm not their friend any more." Jill sat and listened while Kathy talked about her feelings and how she felt the pressure to live up to the expectations of others.
When the tears had subsided, she said, "You know, Jill, there are many times when I wish I was just like you."
Jill was surprised that Emma, Penny, and Kathy could wish they were just like her. She was even more surprised when Kathy gave her a big hug and said, "Thanks." It surprised Jill, too, how she began to see things differently after that. Maybe she didn't need to be tops at any one thing. Maybe she didn't need to be special at anything in particular. Maybe it was enough just to know that she was special being who she was.
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