Parenting | In Defense of Quirk
A few weeks ago we talked here about defining normal: about how attached we parents get to the idea of our kids developing in exactly the same way as their peers, at the same pace, along the same paths.
What is this attachment to “normal,” exactly? Why is this notion so compelling to us as parents, the idea that we have succeeded only when we’ve so carefully groomed our child to be exactly like every other child in our social circle? (Meanwhile, most of us continue to have earnest conversations with the kids around the dinner table, explaining why we need to be accepting of children with differences, and trying to find diversity experiences to broaden their minds. Parental schizophrenia!)
Parenting’s funny though. After all the effort to make sure your kids do the right things, those things that will get them launched on the path to ‘normalcy’ (-cough- conformity -cough-), you turn around and find them splashing into the puddle down the road, digging tadpoles out of slimy water. Triumphantly they carry their swimmy specimens to the boy up the street who loves bugs and reptiles. Or you happen across your kid and his buddy with their heads deep in the Lego bin, hunting down the one 18×4 piece that’ll make all the difference to the aircraft hangar they’re building. Maybe you’ll peer out your back window and spy five boys racing up and down the treehouse ladder, one fully kitted out in Star Wars bounty hunter outfit, one draped in half of an old ninja costume and dragging a log for a makeshift gun, and one without a tshirt or shoes.
My five-year-old girl and her pal sometimes appear before me, on the hunt for the Stinky Fish Man who may or may not be hiding in the attic. They sport Marine hats and Tinkerbelle tutus. The 5th graders huddle in the corner with graph paper and the Daring Book for Girls in their lap, drawing up plans for togas on Halloween. I overhear earnest discussions on whether they might want to be photographers or chefs when they grow up, and how to be kinder to brothers who are “sooooo annoying.”
It is the most profound joy to watch your kids embrace the quirkiness of their friends. That one particular friend might burst into tears at the outcome of a board game is taken as a fact of playtime; that my kid chews mercilessly on the neck of his t-shirts is equally unexceptional. My daughter has found friends who seem not to mind her lack of gaming skills, or her penchant for belting out show tunes, and in return she enthuses about their new projects and begs to attend their recitals.
I am so grateful for the richness that these friendships bring to our family life: friends who giggle nervously at my husband’s Converse-Only-Through-Song rule in the car but then burst immediately into operettas, kids who beg to learn the weird strategy board games in our games cupboard, and preschoolers who will sit and sip [decaf] black tea with me “because that’s the way Englanders do it.”
One of the real joys of adulthood for me has been letting go of the need to find ‘normal’ and instead building friendships with people who can go deep with me, who refuse to take simple answers, who inspire me to live a more considered life. Given that it’s taken me so long to learn the value of these unique friendships, why, then, is my impulse to steer my kid towards normal? Towards what will make them more acceptable to the mainstream?
Instead, let me encourage them towards those friends who have the spark of curiosity in their eyes: not necessarily the friends who agree with them exactly and love all the same things, but those companions who so clearly want to know more about the world, and love to find friends who think the same way. Screw normal, their instincts say. Let’s go find interesting.