My oldest son came home from school beaming. “I got picked first in gym today and my team won!”
The look on his face reflected the wince I was trying to hide.
I should have been happy, right? The fact that he was picked first means that he is athletic and popular. It means that he is good at making friends and fitting in–all the things that I never could figure out how to be when I was a kid.
And I am happy about those things. Because I know that he is able to do them without compromising (much) of who he truly is.
But what about my other kids? My lanky 9.5-year-old son who still plays with stuffed animals and cries when his feelings are hurt? Whose two best friends are the ones who will re-enact superhero scenes with him over and over while the other boys spend recess in competitive volley ball scrimmages and cut throat games of kickball?
Or my daughter? The almost 6-year-old girl with a waist length knot of auburn waves who prefers mud baths to bubble baths and nature shows to princess movies? The one who spends her recesses tearing across the playground on her own, trying her best to expend that wild energy that’s been held captive in her all school day?
Will they ever be picked first or will they, like their mother before them, be doomed to hang with the other outcasts and misfits, hoping against all hopes not to be chosen last… AGAIN.
Bullying seems to be this generation’s “War Against Drugs.” It’s the insidious enemy that every kid is armed against from the very first day of school. Kids are taught to stand up for themselves and for others, too. And, if all else fails, tell a teacher.
Is it working? Who knows. What I do know is that the only bullying I’ve had to deal with thus far was done by my oldest son. From what I could piece together, it seems that my son stood by silently while one of his friends harassed a classmate. This incident led to an emotional and in-depth discussion about all the many forms bullying can take..
This is something that, as an 11-year-old, my son is still learning. But, what I can’t understand is how a school system that should be so keenly aware of how bullying happens would still allow kid’s popularity and athletic skills to be ranked in such a public manner.
My son and I talked a little more about how the teams were picked. As I suspected, the popular kids were the ones who were picked first, followed by the athletic ones, then the girls (regardless of if they fit into either of those categories), and finally, the “derpy” kids…whatever that means.
Our conversation caused me to launch into my 500th speech about how those kids that might not seem cool right now will inevitably grow up to be more successful and more interesting than the popular kids
He listened for a while and then he looked at me with a strange expression.
“What about me, Mom? I’m popular. Are you saying I won’t grow up to be cool?”
There is a particular struggle that parents who were unpopular as kids go through when they are raising “popular” kids. It was a struggle that was brought front and center by that question.
I stumbled and backtracked and finally ended up giving him some sort of half-hearted reassurance that his popularity was a good thing… or at least not a bad one.
We talked a little more about how it felt to be picked first. He told me that, even more than being the first chosen kid, he liked to be the team captain. Because then, not only could he pick the best athletes, but he could also make sure that the same kids weren’t chosen last every time.
The truth is that it’s nice to be well liked. It’s nice to be picked first in gym class. It’s nice to be popular. It’s just not what’s most important.
What’s most important is being true to yourself and accepting and being kind to others. It is a lucky kid who can have all of those things. I think I may just be raising one lucky kid.