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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

September 16, 2007

Uniquely You

“What makes me unique?” Frank asked me one night after his bath.

That’s when all the important questions come up—after bath time, sometimes after bedtime, when the day is winding down and all the thoughts bubbling under the surface float to the top.

“It’s not that I can ride my bike so well, because that’s what makes Henry unique,” Frank said, although he remained proud of being able to ride without training wheels.

“Oh, Frank,” I said. “There are so many things that are unique about you.”

“Like what?” he challenged.

Well, I told him, he’s a very sweet kid who cares a lot about other people, and animals. (He’s recently started commenting on how sad it is that animals have to die for us to have meat. But it doesn’t stop him from eating salami.)

With a bit more time to think about it, I told him he thinks unique thoughts, things I never would have thought about.

“You mean about how there are rope tornadoes and funnel tornadoes?” he asked.

Kind of. But more about wondering which is taller: the Sears Tower or the water in Lake Michigan, or, as a 3-year-old, deciding that giraffes don’t live in houses because they are too tall.

He’s the only first-grader I know who can get onto and search for flights to Hawaii by himself (OK, with a little help spelling Honolulu). Then he gets mad when we explain that no, he can’t plan a Christmas break trip there with the kids from his day camp. None of them were over 8, let alone 18, and neither he nor they could afford it.

He thinks his school uniform is cool, and takes great pride in the details, especially wearing a neatly buckled belt.

He collects the names of the Metra train engines he sees, writing them down each time he sees a new one, even though he still usually makes his letter “s” backwards. His favorite way to spend a day off is to ride a train somewhere; last time, we went to Blue Island for lunch because we’d never ridden the Metra Electric line together.

If Caroline read this, she’d ask how she is unique, too. There are just as many ways. D.W. is her favorite character on “Arthur” because she causes trouble. Caroline likes to draw, designing all kinds of outfits—but she doesn’t like to dress up. She can be very shy, but also reach out to new people.

That’s the point: everyone is unique, even identical twins who share the same DNA. God made each one of us different from everyone else, and our experiences as we go through life continue to shape us.

At least that’s the point I think Frank’s teacher is trying to get across.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].