Sometimes, as parents, we have to admit stuff we’re not so proud of. Today it’s my turn.
My son is in third grade and is suddenly at the stage where you can look at him and see what kind of guy he might grow into. His big grown-up teeth are coming in and his hair is getting long and heavy. Suddenly, he walks like a dude and talks like a dude, picking up some unsavoury phrases from his friends and shocking me regularly with them. I will admit that I love it as much as I hate it. The other day he called the bad driver in front of us on the highway “a douchebag” and told a creeper in Minecraft to “Suck it!” before blasting it away.
So, yeah, that’s happening.
I think the fact that I’ve always talked to my kids like they were little men is coming back to bite me. The other day we ran into a former coach, a really cool guy with a ponytail and the ability to do a standing back flip. The coach put out his knuckles for a fist bump and said, “What up, dude?” and my son said back, “I’m good, but I feel like a strange weather pattern is rolling in. My allergies are driving me crazy.”
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Yeah, he can be kind of awkward. So can I. And I’m kind of a hypocrite. Last school year, when my son got glasses and kids called him a nerd, I wrote about how proud he should be that he is a nerd. Nerds rule the business world. Nerds know who they are and don’t care what other people think. Being a nerd is awesome.
But somewhere inside of myself, I wish he knew how to act cool. Not like an entitled popular jerk, but laid back and mellow.
This isn’t for me, I don’t care if he’s cool. I’ll love every cell of him forever, endlessly, every second, regardless of what he chooses to do with his life. But there are times when it’s just easier to be a cool guy. The cool guy gets a lot of breaks. The cool guy doesn’t get bullied (or so it seems). The cool guy knows how to make people comfortable, and put people at ease. That’s a real asset in life.
Call me shallow, but I look at what the older kids in his school are wearing and try to steer him toward those things. Left to his own devices, he’d be a mess. He doesn’t mind if his pants are way too short, but it drives me crazy. He looks like he’s about to go grunion hunting or wading in a shallow river. And yes, I make him go change because I don’t want him to be made fun of. The idea of someone teasing my kids and making them sad is just too much to bear. Especially when it’s over something as easy to change as a pair of pants that are two sizes too small.
Every once in a while I’ll even eavesdrop just to see how he’s relating to other kids. I was doing said sneaky thing last week while waiting for him to finish soccer practice. I sat in my car, windows cracked, and listened to him make jokes to the three best players on his team. The jokes weren’t flying. I saw one kid roll his eyes.
Why isn’t this easy for him? I asked myself. How can I teach him to just be mellow? Because isn’t that what coolness is—being the dude in the room who isn’t trying to be noticed? The guy who doesn’t have to say anything? The guy who can get along with anybody?
And so I tried talking to him about what it means to try too hard. I talked to him about the skill of reading the room. I explained that if people aren’t laughing at the first joke, it’s not the time to be funny. In this case, his teammates were working hard, and they weren’t in the mood for screwing around.