While heading home from a Superbowl party last night, I became engaged in a heady discussion with my soon-to-be nine year old about the size of our galaxy relative to the rest of the universe. This is the same eight year old who recently brought up the subject of reincarnation out of the blue at a wedding reception. He didn’t know what it was called, but he knew what it involved. I didn’t start either of these conversations, for the record.
It seems he’s headed down Nerd Alley, just like his Dad. He receives the same amount of picking on by kids at school, thinks about things I don’t expect him to, likes playing with Legos more than with other kids, and can’t catch a ball worth beans. His favorite activities involve computers, and he has a frightening capacity for forgiveness and compassion — frightening only because he doesn’t even think of protecting himself from outside hurt. I am loathe to admit it, but protecting oneself mentally, emotionally and physically is more important now than it ever was when I was his age.
When I was a kid, I lived just outside of a small, relatively safe town. I spent more time in my room reading than outside playing, and when I was outside I was on a bike. I didn’t have a lot of friends at that age, mostly because other grade school kids thought it great fun to make fun of my feminine name. My son doesn’t have a lot of friends in our apartment complex, partly because he comes across as “wussy” and feminine. One difference is that he craves friends more than I ever did at that age. I had one good friend in the trailer park I lived in and a couple of friends from Cub Scouts, and that was more than enough for me. This continued, and though I gained more friends, we were all pretty tightly bound into the “Brain” clique. This brought more taunting from more kids, teaching me more and more how good it was NOT to be like them. I continued hanging with the Brains and refusing to learn how to deal with social situations outside my clique.
There are obvious pitfalls to this, and I had to learn to vault them later in life, but I think this was one of the best things I could have done. In addition to keeping my brain exercised, I learned independence from the masses at an early age. This translates to one very important lesson: I didn’t have much of a problem dealing with peer pressure. The dangers of alcohol, drugs and trouble did not present much of a challenge to me because I didn’t need the acceptance of the people who were offering these vices to me.
In a way, I hope my son continues on the nerd path. It will teach him how to say “no” to peer pressure and will increase his self-confidence as long as he doesn’t wallow in the lonliness — that is a real danger for him. With the gang violence and drug problem in the schools now, these skills will be more important to him than they were to me. It is vital that he know when to say “no” and when to let his compassion pour forth. The more he exercises his mind, the better equipped he will be to handle that. I don’t mean that I want to make my son socially inept (as many of us nerds were,) but given the alternatives, I would rather see him grow up to be capable and careful than gullible and people-pleasing.