Every child goes through that tween/teenager search time in his or her life. Some hit these milestones sooner than others. My third child, Ismail, was ten years old when he started. I was a little confused as to why he was the one hanging out in the “personality fitting room” of life, rather than his fourteen-year-old brother. I expected my teenager to try on “the Emo” or “the Nerdy Loner” or even “the Gangsta” personalities. When I was his age, I wore “the Jock-ette” and “the Sharp-Witted Clown” suits quite easily. In fact, I never took those personalities out of my closet. But my oldest was still comfortable in his “Artist Pajamas” that he’d been rocking since kindergarten. Ismail, on the other hand, had a rotisserie style of personality uniforms (from the sales racks, apparently) that included ensembles made by “Wannabe Rap Artist Minus Any Hint of Rhythm,” “Bossy McBosspants,” “Sweet, Helper Boy,” “Mean, Bully Guy,” and “Protector of All Things Family.”
I didn’t understand the attraction to most of his favorite designs. I really liked “Sweet, Helper Boy.” This was the guy who did dishes without being asked, volunteered to take out the trash or pick up what I needed from the market. He and “Protector of All Things Family” defended his sisters, brothers, neighbors, and cousins, and would even pick up trash that slovenly neighbors dropped on the stairs of our building.
“Bossy McBosspants” seemed to set up daily coup attempts to overthrow his brother, Mohamed, from his position as firstborn. This guy would jump up and yell out orders to his younger siblings and get everyone motivated to clean their rooms and dress quickly on those days we were scheduled to go on family outings. “Thug” got on my last nerve. He had a fascination with knives and swearing and fighting. He and “Mean, Bully Guy”
were never quite welcome here and were the reasons Ismail lost computer privileges most of that Summer.
“Wannabe Rap Artist” would have been tolerable, if only he could keep a beat. Did you ever see the movie, “The Jerk,” starring Steve Martin where everyone in the family is dancing around on the front porch and keeping time except him? Yeah, that’s Ismail. He knows it, too. He used to ask his eight-year-old brother, Aiman, to teach him how to dance. After several failed attempts, Aiman finally told him, “I’ve tried. You just like to shake your crotch. That’s not krumping.” It never stopped him from trying to rap or dance, though. He later moved the “Wannabe Rap Artist” to the back of his personality closet and now only pulls it out in an effort to make his brothers laugh.
I used to worry about which personality ensemble he would finally end up wearing. But I couldn’t really force my preferences on him. I could only offer suggestions and allow him to try them on and figure out his own comfort in them. It was just my turn to stand back like the changing room attendants at a fancy department store and hope that he would opt for a classic style with his own touches, rather than a passing fad. I finally came to the conclusion that all I could do was encourage Ismail to tear off the most positive pieces of each of these personality suits and stitch them into his own custom-made pattern that fit him perfectly. And eventually, he did and it fits him so nicely now that he’s grown into it.
Ismail is now twenty years old with a beautiful combination of responsibility, service, laughter, respect, honesty, humility, generosity, and faithfulness that, combined with a new interest in country music, suit him just fine. I worried for nothing.