As anyone who knows me personally can attest, I was not always the handsome, debonair sex symbol you see before you today. When I was younger I was, shall we say, a complete and total dork. A spazz. A nerd (back when that was an effective slur). And not just any dork, a SPECTACULAR dork. I spent most of my school age years at the very bottom rung of the social ladder. The guys in the chess club picked on me. I was bullied by my fellow members in the Dungeons and Dragons club…THAT I HELPED FOUND! It sucked ginormous donkey balls and I’m still at the age of 45 working out issues from that period of my life. Things are better now, most likely because I have had the privilege to zealously curate my social sphere. If, after graduating from junior high school, you are the kind of person who still ridicules people for harmless social gaffes, perceived sexual inadequacies or their choice in entertainment, then you aren’t my friend. I know my experience wasn’t unique. My sister home schooled her children precisely because of the toxic atmosphere she experienced.
So I felt I was prepared for anything when I sent my own Hellions off to public school. I was all ready for tears, name calling, talks with the principal, teacher conferences. I had the scripts to a half dozen after school specials ready to play out. What I was not prepared for was this…
The Schmoo and the Peanut…might be popular kids. How do I know this? Well for one neither of them has ever come home from school in tears because everyone hates them and the horrible name that someone invented for them has become so common that the OED is adding it as one of this years new words. That started around second grade for me. Also, when I pick them up from after school piano and drawing, the other little girls actually speak to them. They exchange hugs (for reasons that escape me the girls have a thing where they take turns hugging and then lifting each other, I don’t get it). Teachers adore my girls and they return the affection. Neither of them has had any disciplinary problems so far. Schmoo has had straight A’s for almost the the last two years. As far as I can see the Hellions are growing up to be fairly typical upper middle class caucasian-american tweens, liked by their peers, appreciated for their talents and accepted for who they are. And I can see the potential for them to be so much more than that. The Schmoo has inherited enough of my goofiness and gangliness, and her interests are divergent enough from the mainstream that I could see her having a natural ceiling to her climb up the social ladder. Not the top of the pecking order but safely distant from “Welcome to the Dollhouse” territory. The Peanut on the other hand… She’s going to be an actress. She’s my Hollywood Kid for certain. Point the camera at her and she locks on like Zoolander dropping “The Magnum”. Leading lady or Best Actress are distinct possibilities.
In all seriousness I have absolutely no idea how to raise popular kids. I still kind of HATE popular kids. The realm of the popular kids is so distant from my own experience that I think I need a visa to visit it. I’m all prepared to empathize with a kid that has been stuffed in a locker, had their lunch dropped on their heads or been laughed out of gym class for having the wrong color socks. I have no idea how to relate to a kid who’s biggest problem at the moment is paring her ninth birthday party invite list down to ten. I’m baffled by the prospect that my middle kid might very well be the most accomplished kid in her class. How is it even possible that these are my kids? What did I do right?
Like the title says, it’s a nice problem to have. Certainly a great deal of credit goes to The Girl, who has provided steady mentoring, enlightened parenting and excellent genetic material to the Hellions. Credit also goes to the good folks at SPCA, who foster an open and tolerant atmosphere and put up with zero bullying. The culture has changed a great deal since 1976 as well, most of it positive and progressive change. We’re starting to realize how dangerous it is to ignore hazing, bullying and violence in schools. We’ve begun pushing back at the notion that “children can be so cruel” and that there’s nothing we can do about it. We still have a long way to go, but I like to think that the kind of treatment I was subjected to will become less and less common. And the things that used to be markers of dorkdom are becoming mainstream. Harry Potter, Star Trek, X-Boxes, Comic Books, even the relentlessly mocked D&D are just normal now. The Schmoo’s best friend at school is a massive Dr. Who fan for crying out loud. A nine year old Jewish kid who has her own Sonic Screwdriver has to be a sign that we are winning the battle against the forces of darkness, right?
I’m happy, deliriously happy, that my girls are avoiding the kinds of pitfalls that made my youth such an ordeal. I hold no illusions that this is the norm for all kids, even all kids at their school. I know that bullying and ostracization can still happen along all sorts of fault lines; class, race, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof, and there’s every possibility that the Hellions may still end up targets for abuse from their peers. Or even worse, become abusers themselves. What if they become “Heathers”?
I don’t have any answers here, in fact I’m looking for input. Are there issues with raising a well adjusted kid that I’m missing because I keep expecting the other shoe to drop? Have any of our readers had to deal with their own precious little angel turning into the bad kid in an episode of “Arthur”? What are the warning signs we should be looking out for, not if our kid is being bullied (trust me I know those) but if they are becoming a bully?
This is just the beginning of my thoughts on this issue, me kind of dipping my toes into the water so to speak. But I am legitimately curious what you lovely people think of my quandry.
Featured Image, and all other images Blotz Photo Arts
PS. The jury is still out on the Grommet. We won’t know until kindergarten if he got the dork gene.
My husband had a terrible, lonely, bullied existence when he has in junior high, and so all he’s ever wanted for his son is to have a friend. One friend. Luckily GT hasn’t had much of a problem making friends, except for a brief period after we moved a couple of years ago when he didn’t *want* to make friends. We started to suspect that there was some bullying going on in his class, and he finally confirmed that for us last year. It’s interesting though…the boys in his class had developed an elaborate code so that they could bully their classmates without the adults figuring out that was what they were doing.
We moved him to a new school for this school year (for this and a lot of other reasons) and he’s been demonstrably happier. He’s definitely going down the nerd path though so I’m hoping that he’s building some good relationships now (he’s in 6th grade) that will help him get through the potentially turbulent years ahead. High school is no place for a kid who hates sports.