You are such a special little boy. I will always remember the first day I met you. You entered the Chipmunk classroom at Cassidy’s Place with a scared yet inquisitive look on your face. You carried around a photo of you and your family. You held it tightly in your tiny, paw-like, hand. Around lunchtime you started to cry, either because you had misplaced the photo or because looking at it made you miss your family so much. At the beginning, you were very scared and uncomfortable with the other children. Sometimes they would play a game on the playground, and you would try your best to follow along, but either you did not understand or you did not want to join in.
Some of the kids would talk to each other during naptime, which was not allowed. Your little eyebrows were like dainty caterpillars that furrowed because you did not want to talk during naptime. You wanted to nap. After a few moments of looking around nervously, you would do what you wanted to do: fall right to sleep holding your family photo in your hand.
Often the Chipmunks would do an art project. You were frequently uncertain about how to do them and looked around at what the other, older kids were doing. You would try to imitate their paper sharks or their finger-painted sea turtles, but you were always happiest when you did not take inspiration from anyone but yourself.
As your summer preschool experience continued, you became more comfortable at school and more secure in your individuality. Your favorite thing to do during recess was to calmly and carefully climb up a ladder onto a platform, and then come down. Sometimes you liked to go down the slide, and smiled and clapped for yourself when you got to the bottom. Most of the other kids ran around chasing each other, but you always played calmly with one friend. I was so lucky that this friend was usually me! When you did start running, you didn’t chase after the other kids. You ran at your own pace and, if you felt like it, joined in the game of tag by tapping a small shoulder politely and smiling with your sweet baby teeth.
You do not like to get messy. Other Chipmunks would eat all their food quickly and sometimes play games with it, but you like everything to be neat and clean. Even though you were the youngest kid in the class—you proudly celebrated your third birthday at the end of July—you always wiped your place after you ate and carried your plate to the garbage. You became concerned when you saw spilled milk on the table, or a napkin on the floor. You were happy and proud to help clean up. You didn’t do it because the older kids were doing it—a lot of them were not—but because you, even at age two, knew who you wanted to be and what you wanted to do.
Once you became more comfortable with not trying to follow what the other kids were doing, you were happier. You cried fewer warm salty droplets. Your big brown eyes like chocolate-colored moons lit up in your little face every time you saw me. You were no longer concerned if you didn’t want to join in building blocks, or an art project, or a round of tag. When you did join in, you enjoyed playing with the other kids because you were not following them. You were doing what you wanted to do. You giggled all the time. You called me “Mama” and did not need to carry your picture of your family with you all the time. You are so loving and kind. You are your own special person, and you are happier when you embrace yourself and do not follow others.
At the end of the summer, the class started to learn “Over in the Ocean” and “I am a Small Part of Your World” to perform at the “Going-Up” or graduation ceremony for the Chipmunks starting kindergarten next year. At the beginning of the rehearsals, you didn’t like to sing or dance. You just stood there observing all the other kids singing, some very loudly, some not at all. You focused on learning the words and the hand motions your teachers showed you until you were ready to sing and move yourself. And when you were ready, you sang so sweetly and created your own hand movements to go along with the song. You made the waves and the sea turtles with your small dancing fingers and jumped or clapped when you were excited about the song. You made your family so proud as you danced and moved and sang in your own way.
The wonderful thing about you, Jake, is that you are your own person, and you know it. You have learned not to follow what other kids are doing, even if they are older, bigger, louder, or more visibly confident. You have a special quiet confidence in yourself: Never let go of it.
It can be very hard not to follow what it seems like “everyone else” is doing, but it is always better not to follow them and to be your own person—of course you already are. It can be easier to follow along with the rest of your scurry of chipmunks. I saw myself in you as you learned to persist in not following others, and gather your acorns in your own special way.
You will have different opinions from your peers, your classmates, perhaps your closest friends. You will want to do different things. I, for one, never did sports. The sight of a volleyball hurtling towards me like a heavy, oversized acorn falling from an oak tree fails to excite me. The mention of the word “running” invokes in my mind scenes of fleeing a forest fire, rather than those of frolicking in the sunshine. I have learned that not following others has made me happier, and following my own trail of acorns is something of which to be proud, not ashamed. Take with a pinch of sunflower seeds what others think or say or do. Do not worry if you have a different opinion or a different interest than others. Do not internalize the opinions of others. Form your own opinions and interests. Doing so will make you stronger.
I am so proud of you, Jakey. You are a wonderful little boy. You are a wonderful little boy. To Jake and all of Generation Alpha—remember, the most important thing about you is you.
Grace & Gen Z
I’m sixteen years old and live in New York City with my parents, older sister, and dog. I attend The Brearley School where I am Editor-In-Chief of the newspaper, member of the Service Club, member of the School Culture Committee and founder of the FRESH Club. I also participate in The World Leading Schools Association’s Cross Cultural Leadership Program. My interests include food justice, childhood development, social entrepreneurship, the relationship between Gen Z and Gen Alpha, my family, and chocolate.