My name is Lori and I am a hopeless “Nerd”. In today’s language, a “hot mess”. And I am a mom to a hopelessly popular or (much as I detest the word) “SWAG” son. Mothering a teenage child I don’t understand creates another layer of difficulty in an already frustrating stage of life . I reflect on our differences today, his 14th birthday.
Too bad there isn’t a “Nerd Anonymous”. But as “nerds” are fairly anonymous (or when “nerded” wish for an anonymous life), there probably isn’t a need for one. Yet, “nerds” are the meat and potatoes of society. After all the concept of “popular” or “elite” wouldn’t exist if just anyone can achieve this identity. But society worships the tip of any iceberg, no matter how cold or jagged it is. “Nerds” and “popular” people both allow themselves to be squished into a square peg, when they are hexagonal, or no “geometric figure” at all.
So as a nerd, did I have it all that bad? No, not really. But I grew up in a strict religious sect that only allowed skirts, and as I am not best shown in a skirt, I was looked down upon with pity. I was at times anorexic and always unattractive, an unfortunate attribute associated with “nerditis”. To cope, I developed a persona best described as a bit offish and surly. But I was smart and, gasp, could WRITE, so I was a reluctantly tolerated oddity, and voted most likely to succeed, mostly because who would marry me?
But all those books you read about the ugly girl/caterpillar turning into a beautiful (or in my case, cute) butterfly are true. I achieved cuteness for all of 2 seconds, but that was long enough to understand that the “other side” had drawbacks as well. For “popular” persons are stuffed into a role tighter than I ever realized. As a teen, I longed for beauty. When beauty came, I realized that all eyes were on me when I walked into a room, that I didn’t know who was my friend or who wanted to date me for my shell. Worst of all, I was exposed to jealous “cattiness”, which stung me to the heart. If I grew up this way, perhaps it would have been easier. Dreams are often best kept in one’s imagination.
My son is super-social, but privately he is a mess. For him, “friendships” are Game Theory come to life.
He recently told me that I had it easy growing up. “Mom, you have no idea what it’s like. It’s so stressful to be constantly watched. Other kids copy me if I wear a certain type of outfit or shoe, or if I change my hair. If I say something it’s all over school. Teachers complain that I don’t talk in class. It’s because I am afraid of giving a stupid answer.” He turns to marijuana to calm down. I fear that he will fall to these demons of smoke and mirrors. While he has girls lining up, he is squished into a type of behavior impossible to maintain. The one item that is in his favor: he is brilliantly likable when he wants to be. Getting a job wont be the problem, but keeping it? I put my bet on the nerd next to him in line.
The duality of nerds and elite is a cultural, life stage and personality phenomenon. A popular guy growing up in the 50’s and transported into today’s world would be brutalized. A popular high school student may not have the same station in college. In general, popular people are tall, attractive, charming extroverts with dominant personalities.
While nerds are a lower caste system, we are anonymous, a status that can be free of the spotlight. We can choose to live the lie or rise above and make life a little better. For a person who does not look in the mirror has 360 degree vision, and the world is seen clearly in its’ vast intricate beauty. Art can flourish, scientists can create wonders, and they can pay attention to what they choose to do, versus what they have been chosen to be. While doing can change, being is a static state.
So am I saying that popular people are useless? Not at all. They can create castles out of mole hills, make the unloved lovely, and give greatness to others if they choose. But the “higher you go, the harder you fall”; bravery and the willingness to put their neck on the line is extremely difficult…… an argument I have often with my son.
“Man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart”. In the end, it doesn’t matter what other people consider you. God sees us all as an equal beloved creation. A great comfort to me. And I hope a great comfort to you, whatever your lot in life.