They Have it Easy

This morning as I was prepping the kids’ lunches, Mr. Smary-Pants came into the kitchen and showed off his newest method of being ready for school. An array of pens and maybe a pencil or two lined his pants pocket. I don’t think they make pocket protectors for pants pockets, but if they did, I could see him wearing one.

Know what the irony is? He makes it look cool.

I happen to know, thanks to the gifted and talented testing that’s done at the end of third grade, that he ranks up there in the heavy-hitting neuron department. He tops mine, which is why I wanted to bust out laughing as he proudly showed his array of writing utensils. I admit to utter nerdom as a kid, but I would never have been caught dead displaying my pens or wearing a pocket protector. Back then I denied vehemently any accusation of being a nerd, despite evidence to the contrary.

It reminds me of an article I read last week on People like me grew up and we made being a “nerd” or “geek” awesome. Sure, kids still toss around the words, but in this city it’s little more than a catch-all backward insult for kids who glorify ignorance to label the smart kids.

Sure, he has the poise, self-esteem, and leadership skills it took me a couple of decades to harness, but people like myself paved the road. Even Miss Diva, who is more introverted, has coasted through the social roller coaster. Miss Drama is a roller coaster….of emotions…. so we’ll see where that goes.

It isn’t as easy to believe in yourself when then entire collective body of students in your grade at best ignore you and at worst toss insults and name call at every opportunity.  I distinctly recall at age nine sitting curled up on a chair in the living room sobbing as I tried to explain to my mother between hiccups why I hated school. She advocated the “ignore them” approach, and thought I was exaggerating. Surly children couldn’t pick on a perfectly normal, intelligent child more than a girl who grew up dealing with a physical disability. I think she realized later on, after I acquired the confidence and vocabulary to illustrate what I had dealt with, that in some ways, yeah, children could pick on a “normal” kid more. It didn’t make you cool to belittle someone who was handicapped. It made you cruel. Belittling someone who made better grades, liked things that required thought, and put more time into studies than a cool wardrobe; somehow that was perfectly okay. I counted myself lucky in fourth grade if I got to play four-square because most of the kids were playing something else and they needed someone to fill in the fourth square. More days than not, my recess was spent bouncing a tennis ball against the wall because I was not welcomed in any of the groups.

If anything, it got worse as I got older, at least until I decided the whole “ignore them” approach wasn’t working. I donned a mask of indifference and a smart-ass attitude which shot down insults with vocabulary that left the less intelligent kids gaping in confused silence. In the space of one semester (fall of freshman year of high school) I learned that taking pride in myself went farther than four years worth of silent “ignoring”. It is a lesson I learned the hard way and try daily to pass on to my children. Silence can sometimes speak volumes, but believing in yourself will get you through a great many things in life.

Mr. Smarty-Pants possess the skills that took me twenty plus years to acquire. He can blend with just about any group of kids. He discusses science and history with the same skill as he kicks a soccer ball, plays football with the neighborhood boys, or sketches his favorite anime characters.  Never mind that he adores video games, anime, science fiction and fantasy, and devours books on history and science. It’s cool now.

So as he heads off to school with his shiny pens and more questions than some of his teachers can even answer, I say a little prayer of thanks. I’m glad that all of us nerds and geeks accomplished the one thing I think we each desired the most, the gift of going to school without facing ridicule. I know there are kids out there who deal with bullying. Mr. Smarty-Pants has had to deal with the neighborhood thug-wannabe on more than one occasion.  That kid infuriates me, and I am proud that my son has not only stood up to him, but when he could, defended those not capable of doing so themselves.

If I could, I would hug each child that faces daily the terrifying specter of  bullying. It does get better. Times and attitudes do change. Believe in yourself and perhaps one day you can be the voice that triggers that social change.



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