Living Outside the Lines

It is the Friday before spring break and my oldest son, William, is receiving a creative student award at his school. This is his first time to receive an award outside of the honor roll, and my husband Steve and I are thrilled. Will struggled during pre-K, Kinder, and the first part of first grade with some issues that I now chalk up to him being ADHD and a deeply feeling kid. But now the kid previously deemed a “problem child” and a “handful” by former teachers and staff is thriving.

Steve takes off work for a couple of hours, and we head to the school early to make sure we can get front-row seats to cheer William on. As we walk in, he can see us from where he sits with his classmates and beams from ear to ear. There are four first-grade classes at Will’s school, and these ceremonies take an hour. Will’s class always goes last, and with Ribble as a surname, he’s one of the final names called. He struggles to stay still, sits on his knees, scoots around, spins. A teacher gently reminds him to move less.

This is William since he was a baby: can’t sit still, constant motion, and the feelings–oh, the bigness of the feelings. William experiences emotion on a spectrum that most of us can’t imagine. The highs are impossibly high and the lows are impossibly low. What you and I would deem a minor inconvenience is a devastating blow to William. The beauty in this is that the reverse can also be true. William savors the beautiful moments in life with every fiber of his being and every physical sense: he must touch, taste, see, smell, and hear.

Parenting a deeply feeling kid looks a lot different than parenting an “average” child. The strategies that work with other kids—frankly, that work with our other kids—don’t work with William. I like to say that William is the kid that God knew we needed. At his core, William longs to be known, to feel connected, to know that he is not alone. He wants to know that he is not too much and that his big feelings are not too big. He needs to experience containment, safety, and true, unconditional love. I need all of these things too, but unlike William, I am too afraid to show it. Instead, I have learned to expertly mask with people pleasing and perfectionism.

William is teaching me how to love me.

We’ve now watched each child go up and receive his or her award. Most of them are sheepish and shy, sweetly and quietly receiving their award, shaking the hand of their teacher, and returning to their seat. Not our William.

When his name is finally called, we holler and cheer for him. William, who doesn’t know he’s receiving the award, gasps, bolts from his seat, and jumps up and down with excitement. He almost levitates on the way to receive the award and on the way back to his seat. The whole gym erupts with laughter. This kid is pure joy, and his happiness is infectious. In so many ways, William is teaching us how to live and leap and dance outside the lines.

Lyndsey Amen Ribble lives in San Antonio with her husband and four sons (aged 5,4, 2 and 2 mos). She loves reading, writing, traveling, food (cooking it, eating it, taking pictures of it…), wine, hole in the wall anything, and forming community in unexpected places. She has a heart for bringing restoration to broken people and loving the unloved. She writes about all of these things and attempting to find balance at