I grew up in a smallish Southern Indiana city, in a medium sized house. It sometimes felt smaller, being home to our six person family. A fairly typical 1960's build, the upstairs was primarily for the business of life...eating, sleeping, getting ready to go out in the world, doing homework, reading quietly. The downstairs was for the more relaxed side of life...hanging out, watching tv, playing cards, playing pool, having slumber parties.
The hallway upstairs connects bedrooms and bath to kitchen, living and dining rooms. In this space, I made some decisions about my life. I'm not sure exactly why, but maybe because this space is a kind of portal. Only big enough to scoot by another person and have an isolated interaction or have a few quiet moments to think before heading out into the family fray.
One especially significant hallway memory had to do with getting the right message from my mom at the exact right time.
I've always been creative. I don't remember a time when I wasn't thinking about how to make something. By the time I was 10, I would save my allowance and wander the craft kit aisles at Ayr-Way (predecessor to Target). I needed to have paper and pencils and markers and yarn and more complicated things like printmaking tools and oil paints. My mom taught me to sew in the 5th grade, so fabric became a big deal too. My dad was always properly impressed throughout my purse making phase...which I think lasted about 2 years. I kept diaries off and on and wrote poems sometimes. I felt very artistic and fun.
By early adolescence I also had the growing suspicion (and discomfort) of being a little different. Nothing spectacular I could really put my finger on, but the sense my siblings fit in a little better in the world...did things and were interested in things that seemed a little more normal. I wasn't agonizing over it, but I was thinking about whether I needed to be less artist, more normal. One ordinary day, my mom stopped me in the hall and said "honey, of all my children, you are the most different and I really love that about you." Those, of course, may not be the precise words, but it's what I remember. I was given in that moment permission and validation to be myself.
My mom knew how I “worked,” my strengths and weaknesses, how I interacted in the world. She knew how an eleven or twelve year old was likely to feel a little different and might make some weird decisions as a result. She knew how to support and reassure me so I could discover the happiest me. (My dad was great at this too, but this transformational moment in the hallway belonged to me and my mom.) It’s a legacy for parenting, being a friend, or any ongoing relationship of human caring.
We do the work we do in this spirit. We support and reassure people to find their own happiest me. Every interaction may not be transformational, but every interaction teaches us where people are in their lives and how they interact in the world. We validate strengths. We celebrate differences. We support a growing sense of self confidence which leads to greater independence. Maybe it looks like getting a job. Maybe it looks like having a girlfriend or boyfriend. Maybe it looks like planning a menu and making dinner. Maybe it looks like dancing or joining a gym. Maybe it looks very independent or maybe it looks like having a support person or other friend close by to help.
We hope it always looks like each person’s difference makes them worthy of being honored and respected; complete validation of the happiest me.
Donna Goodaker, Executive Director, Progress