Throw-back to fall of 2005. I was a 22 year old, first year teacher. I had a classroom of my own. I had on my uniform: high heels, big earrings and a structured blazer. I was teaching ninth grade science and I was going to change the world! I shifted back and forth on my Payless pumps. I cautiously took attendance in a room full of students whose names, I had practiced several times the night before, but still didn’t get right.
During attendance, I met a lively young fellow named Nicholas, who, when asked if he had a nickname he preferred, he said, “why yes, can you call me snowflake?” (Insert sheer terror and profuse sweating due to irony that he wasn’t Caucasian and God forbid I have an unscripted interaction) In that pivotal moment, I cursed my educational philosophy teachers and my mentor, but I still made the best professional decision ever:
I methodically sassed his ass.
I addressed him with a creepy monotone voice: “Nicholas, while you will always be a special snowflake to me, I will never call you snowflake, now please get out of my chair or go to the bubbler.
Not a week later we were making metric measurements in the hallway and there he was doing the breaststroke with his chest on the floor and arms and legs flailing. He was a special snowflake and I identified him as such over a glass of wine to my teacher friends.
Thus coining the term “special snowflake.” Snowflakes are special. Nicholas was special. Special snowflake, special friends, Thomas the tank engine gets a “special” assignment. The other day my son asked me what we were doing today that was special….. and I nearly stopped breathing. To think that I had produced a child who felt like he was so special that I had to entertain him and orchestrate this ah-mazing day, every day?! I was unnerved because lately, I have not felt special, or noteworthy or really significant at all.
All of my superpowers seem stupid. Like packing, parallel parking, cutting up an avocado or talking about asexual/sexual reproduction using the correct terminology and then fielding follow up questions for days (true.story.). Well nothing spurs a good thinking sesh like a few hours in an airport. I was sitting in Reykjavik and I finally came to the realization that it was ok that I was special for simple, seemingly unremarkable things.
I literally had to fly across the Atlantic to realize: That everyone was special to someone. The value is only in the eye of the beholder. Whether they know who thinks they are special or have yet to meet them. Things don’t have to be fucking Earth-Shattering. My special, spiritual, God given gifts might be quiet and understated and if they bring me joy and others joy then that will be enough.
I looked around the airport and I tried to imagine everybody’s special traits . I assigned them stories and gifts. Patience. Love. Compassion. Self control. A mother and her four pre-teen children playing a board game while waiting and NONE of them were brooding to use a mobile device (that deserves a Nobel Prize.)
Nicholas was special. I am not sure where he ended up. I know he bounced in and out of foster homes during his time in high school and he was troubled and angry. He had a foul mouth and a wild streak. His grades would peak and valley. But no matter how much of a jackass he was, he always stopped by to visit, sit in my chair and made sure to tell me the good things.