Dave and I were alone, driving along 224. As often is the case when he is driving and we are alone, his eyes were firmly planted on the road (as they should be) and I was in deep contemplation, thinking about a conversation I had with a fellow parent. A clear string of thoughts came to me and suddenly I uttered, “You know how when you were a kid and having a bad day at school and your friends were being lame, how when you told a parent or another adult that they would always say, it will different once you are [insert new life/school destination here]?”
“Different does not exactly mean better.” Dave immediately chimed in.
And me back at him, “Yes, exactly! Different does not necessarily mean better, but because we say things will be different, we imply (trick) our children into believing things will be.”
Dave wisely continued, “We only know that they will be in a new place and because they are in a new place things will change and hopefully change for the better.”
“I totally fell for it. I fell for the whole things-will-get-better-once-you-are-in-a-different-place idea. I remember my one glamorous church leader. During high school she sensed how angst-filled I was. She would always offer, ‘Oh Beth, I promise you, once you get to college you will find your people.’ As luck would have it, she was right; however, even when I tried to postpone my college graduation year after year so I could stay in my comfortable place, finding-my-people was very short lived. In fact I think we would both say that we miss those careless, fitting-in-days of college, hanging out with our crazy-misfit friends, Sunday dinners while intellectualizing on the backyard hammock, having all the answers, loving life and knowing we had a place. Now those friends are scattered and we are here trying to help our own boys find their place. Ay-yi-yi! Good luck boys!”
Except for my occasional thought-provoked-outburst, until this moment, and because I believe Dave and I were now home, this conversation has continued in my head.
I thought I had a handle on this whole idea of fitting in, being cool and even getting through the bad days. Dave and I have even crafted a roadmap, assuring that not only will our kids will fit in during their school years, but they will also be able to fly through those crazy teen years completely unscathed. Dave calls it the “Dungeons-and-Dragons Plan.” We get the boys into nerdy role-playing games, sure to paint tiny figurines and they will (a.) have a group peers, and will (b.) avoid the perils of teen pregnancy, drugs and drinking. Like Dave says, “It worked for me” and he still has those same high-quality nerdy friends today. Our Master Plan was in the bag, or, so we thought.
Then, at an unspecified place and time, I ran into a parent [true story] and again I had to reconsider everything I think about kids and even fellow parents fitting in. Sadly, I even had to rethink our Nerdy Master Plan. This parent openly told me about her child who for some reason is not as cool as this child used to be, which led the parent to tell me that they were bummed that their child was not part of the popular group anymore. I was really sad when I realized what they were saying and then to my shock they continued, “Beth, I was so popular and cool when I was growing up and being cool is what I want for my kids.” Really? Stunned, I stood there for a second, quickly recovering with an, “I understand,” (well, kind of), “‘I was well liked too.” (well, kind of). I weakly responded and then reminded them, “Your child is awesome! We all have to love our kids for who they are blah, blah, blah, good feelings, lame response, blah, blah.” I am still unresolved about this conversation and honestly this conversation is one similar of many.
Once I have been thinking about the whole cool issue. I have tricked myself all these years, thinking that, except for the occasional status-conscious-jerk that being cool was a tall tale saved specifically for school age children, especially girls. I say girls because I only have boys. It is safer to feel like girls will be the only ones who deal with bullying, social status, popularity and fitting in. I am wrong. Boys get their fair share of social politics too.
“What Mythical-Unicorns-and-Rainbows-Utopia are you living in to think that being cool does not matter?” I keep asking myself that question each and every time I hear a fellow parent, peer or child worry about being cool (fitting in). I scream when I realize that some parents are not comfortable with where their child fits in. When I hear a child say they need a certain article of clothing, toy or video game, I can only think of myself liking to have my own casual-prana-Northface-Patagonia-mountainwear so that I blend in with all the other Parkites (Park City People). It makes me sad when me or anyone feels like they have to do unrealistic (new car every year), unreasonable (Botox and new boobs) or unkind things (trash talk other moms, in the case of women) to fit in. And then I wonder (fill with angst) if I am hurting my boys. Do I let my own insecurities affect how I feel about them? Do I let my own self-doubt affect how they feel about themselves? Or instead, do they know that Dave and I think they are rock-star awesome and that everyday they can fill the world with their own unique awesomeness and every afternoon when they come home that they can have a happy place to be and recharge?
Kyle recently embraced and boosted his confidence with the advice I passed along to him from a good friend of ours. Our friend relayed how when he was young his friend blew him off for about a week when other, more popular kids came around. In his wisdom, our friend told his friend, “Hey look, we are either friends all of the time of none of the time.”
What I do know is that we all want to fit in. We all want to be accepted, validated and liked. I think the better question is, “How do we go about being happy with who we are? ” Oh, and as a parent maybe just maybe if we are ok with ourselves we can pass that along to our kids. Just a thought.