Conform…. conform….

8 Apr

I’m facing a real dilemma here as Danny’s Mom. I know that I know what the right answer is, but sometimes the wrong one is really tempting.

This weekend, the three of us we were driving, and the topic of baby names came up. We started with the rules of senior/junior/the third, and it turned into, if so and so had been a girl, what would his (her?) name be. (I would have been Brendan Walter, FYI.) I told Danny he would have been Catherine Courtney Junior, since it’s my aunt’s name.

He sighed heavily. “I wish I had been a girl,” he grumped.

Startled, I asked why. He’s never expressed unhappiness with being a boy. “Because you want to be a Junior?”

He sighed again. “Then the kids at school wouldn’t make fun of me so much. My favorite color is pink, and they tease me.”

I debated what to say. I have a terrible habit of over explaining things, but I did manage to stop myself from telling him pink was considered the masculine color in Victorian times.

“Well, Booper, it’s more important to be yourself than be popular.” (Note to self: stop calling him Booper. I picked it up from a JD Salinger story, and I just now remembered that the character is a girl. The kid already has issues with his initials being DW, like Arthur’s awful sister.)

We talked about it for a bit, he seemed satisfied. But I couldn’t help thinking how much easier it would be for him if he could just pick a different favorite color.

Now before you head to the comments with pitchforks and torches, let me make something clear. It doesn’t bother me that pink is his favorite color. I would never actually tell him to be something or someone else.

But sometimes, I do catch myself thinking that he’s making things harder on himself. He is already teased a lot. The kids have already picked up on the fact that he’s quirky. I love his quirks and randomness. I love the little world inside his head. But I hate that the other kids already tease him, because I know it’s only going to get worse.

I started getting called a weirdo in kindergarten. At the time, I thought it was a compliment. Gonzo was my favorite muppet. Gonzo was frequently called weirdo. QED, I was Gonzo.

As the grades progressed, so did the teasing. By seventh grade, it was awful. I was in tears nearly every day. I literally had signs taped to my back. I had few, if any, friends. The popular girls organized some sort of elaborate prank against me that I luckily figured out before it came to fruition. I was miserable.

And here’s the thing: I know I made it harder on myself. Some things I had no control over. I was a full year younger than everyone else. I dressed in hand me downs and “Wild West” themed clothes (don’t judge. It was 1993, kids, a different time.) I had awful, ugly, horrible glasses that took up half my face. But, between 1980 and about 1994, eyeglass manufacturers entered into an evil agreement that those would be the only frames available. I had some really weird looking teeth.

But the things that made it worse were the things I could control – and didn’t. I didn’t have to cry all the time. I didn’t have to chase after every boy that I thought showed the slightest modicum of interest. And I certainly, god help me, didn’t have to correct my teachers.

I’m still struggling with figuring out how much of that was just who I was, or who I still am. Should I have just been myself, or should I have tried harder to sand down the rough edges? Would life have been easier if I didn’t make myself the victim? And it’s carried through into my adult life. I’m still awkward. I still have a hard time fitting in. I still cry at the drop of a hat. (“Oh, poor hat! weep, weep.”)

And so I worry for Danny. I know he’s going to have a rough time. How do I make it easier for him, if I can at all? I know he should just be himself and not care what other people think. But would it serve him better in the long run if I teach him to act in a more socially acceptable manner? Just pretend your favorite color is blue or green. It can still be pink, but tell the kids something else if you don’t want to get teased. Lie.

The stakes are even higher now. I read stories about teenagers that commit suicide after being bullied and I get physically ill with worry. I hope and pray that it never gets that bad for him. And I would do anything to protect him. What if not being yourself is the answer?

Like I said, I do know that the right answer is to be yourself. I just know, first hand, the consequences and how hard they can be. Seventh grade is going to suck.


Although this guy turned out okay.

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