Saturday, May 30, 2009

Weird is the New Beautiful

When I was a kid, I didn't love school so much as I loved the process of learning. Acquiring new bits of knowledge gave me a boost; a certain "high."

I loved to read for the actual content, but also for the sense of accomplishment I felt when I got through each novel. There was a level of satisfaction not created by most other life experiences at the time. I knew this was one thing which could not be taken away from me. The "stuff in my head" was uniquely and solely mine.

I was not much older than my third grade daughter is now when I first read Martin Eden by Jack London. As an adult I learned that this story is a favorite among many writers. Personally, what I remember connecting to back then was Martin's rapidly amplified passion for reading. I felt deep envy as I pictured the stacks and stacks of great works the main character (a kindred spirit in "weirdness") was conquering.

As I think back on it now, I also realise that reading was my great escape. The way that dogs can sense a big storm approaching, I developed a keen detection for when chaos was about to erupt between the walls of our white house in Suburbia, USA. Even as the first argumentative rumblings became audible through our faux wood panel walls, I had my nose in a Nancy Drew mystery or one of my favorite British classics. Safety was granted through bound pages as I sat behind a tree in the backyard or huddled in my closet or in my newly cleaned shed.

The books nurtured a vivid and active imagination which offered another wondrous exit -- both physically and mentally. My next door neighbor and best friend L. was a perfect companion. Together we enjoyed pretend journeys, made-up but ideal school and home settings and my favorite game of all, "Witchy-Poo."

I was not capable of realising or expressing my gratitude back then, but I think now that L. was one of two people who probably saved my life during my early years.

The other person was my sister A.

These two loving, brilliant, creative and talented girls had a similar knack for making me feel truly accepted. I have so many wonderful childhood memories of them both.

We are all grown women now; their friendship a sacred treasure I will always hold in my heart despite time, distance or circumstance.

With such exceptions I always felt like the "weird" one, especially in school. Although outwardly social, I felt isolated in my curious thoughts and imaginary sojourns.

Luckily I've had the blessing of more friends since then who are either as weird as I am or at least accept me, weirdness and all. Again, I am thankful.

I think of all this now because I see a familiar glimmer of passion and sadness in my daughter's eyes. While I believe my love for the process of learning eventually made me smart (if I do say so myself!), my daughter was born with an incredible intellect. I know, I know. All moms think they have genius kids.

Not sure about genius, but this is a child who at age 6 described her process for solving math problems by visualizing numbers in the air and watching them "dance" together to form the solution. Not a soul meets her without seeing something special. Maybe it's the combination of the extremely bright mind and extremely nurturing spirit, I'm not sure.

More than once throughout the past few years though, she has confided in me that she feels a sense of isolation. She feels "different" in a way that "doesn't feel good" and that she struggles to understand. For example, unbridled enthusiasm for adding imaginative steps to a simple game has often been thwarted by her friends who just want to play without additional complications.

At her (thankfully) academically challenging school, she has become aware that her mind may come to the same solutions as other kids, but through a totally different set of paths. However, sometimes her unique mental process is met with judgment and ridicule.

"They don't think like I do," she admits with sadness in her voice. "They think I'm weird. I AM weird."

On one level it's heart-breaking. Of course. Yet, some relief comes in being able to talk to her about my own experiences and my own feelings. I can give her that gift of acceptance and encouragement that L. & A. gave me. I hope I help her put things in perspective and boost her confidence. Perhaps all parents strive to do this but it feels different somehow.

Luckily, my lovely daughter has been receptive, even grateful, during our many discussions. My friends with teenagers tell me her appreciation may not always be offered. Secretly I hope that my unconditional love, non-judgement and mutual "feeling weirdness" has contributed to a unique bond which will be unfettered by adolescent hormones. People love to burst my bubble on this note but I can't help but think positively!

This is one of those posts which falls under the category of "stuff I was just thinking about" vs. any kind of life balance tutorial in particular. Yet, perhaps there is a lesson in here about the great gift you give yourself and others when you don't judge.

Acceptance is key to building confidence. Increased confidence brings increased capacity. Just think of all the wonderful opportunities you have to increase your own capacity and the capacity of those around you.
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jmvcep said...

I love this post. I know for myself that I always felt like I didn't quite fit in. Maybe everyone has that side of insecurity that they never really understand while their going through it. Hindsight is 20/20, and I raise my wine glass in toast to you for engaging your daughter and always trying to connect. Too many parent disconnect when it gets unconfortable. This is when being a parent isn't about making money and buying things, it's about raising your child and helping them especially when it gets hard.

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