Posted: Jul 31, 2013 10:00 AM
 
Some parents care about having cool kid in school. They might promote style, cool brands or matching clothes. Me? Nope. I promote my kid's inner nerd.

I was never really a "cool kid." In grammar school, we moved all the time, and I never stopped talking. I was also a teacher's pet who took Russian classes through the G.A.T.E. program and tutored children with autism in my spare time. Read: nerd. Junior high was about the same, only with an increase in insecurity and acne. In high school, I was neither a cheerleader nor an athlete nor a person with money. These deficiencies (though they were almost all compensated for by this one hot, popular surfer dude I dated) left me on the outskirts of the "in crowd."

I'm still going to therapy for it, I assure you.

I'm lying. The truth is, it didn't bother me then, and it sure doesn't bother me now, particularly because I have about as much interest in "fitting in with the cool kids" as I do in monthly root canals. I went through a period in my 20s when I shopped at Nordstrom and wore lots of makeup and fancy shoes and brand names, but it was a phase — and it was false. If any of you knew me back then, you can attest to the fact that I was really not good at it. I have no fashion sense. I'm a geek. My girlfriends have to take me jeans shopping because I can't do it on my own.

No, really. Ask them.

One of my best friends calls them the "untouchables." They're not athletes or particularly interesting, and they're certainly not "friendly." They're just "cool." They know it. We know it. Everybody knows it.

And you know the thing is that, though I gazed wide-eyed at those somehow-always-perfect popular girls and boys, I never really wanted to be one of them. I had no interest in choosing what was "cool." I just couldn't conform to that extent. And while I think the athletes become popular because they're, well, athletes — and some kids are just so friendly, funny and awesome that everybody loves them — there's also that group of kids who are just inexplicably "cool." They dress perfectly, say all the right things, attend all the right parties and drive all the right cars. You get it. I'm talking about those kids.

One of my best friends calls them the "untouchables." They're not athletes or particularly interesting, and they're certainly not "friendly." They're just "cool." They know it. We know it. Everybody knows it.

I certainly wasn't that

And I never could be. I was just Janelle. I didn't know how to do anything except be Janelle. (Incidentally, that's been a horribly tragic flaw in more than one area of my life, but I digress).

And somehow, I was mostly OK with this through my high school and college years. And now, I've totally embraced my "renegade" self, and I revel in my own misfit-mama status. Go team!

Green eye shadow

I don't exactly know why I was OK with it, but I think it had something to do with my parents. My parents didn't focus on fashion, makeup or coolness. I wore what I wanted, always. I cannot recall a single time my mom told me to change my clothes because they didn't look good or match or whatever. She didn't "do my hair." It grew past my waist because we never cut it. I remember the first time I wanted to wear makeup: I was in eighth grade or something. I went into my mom's room and was like, "I want some eye shadow." It was the late 1980s. The eye shadow was sea green. I'm going to let you imagine what I looked like.

When I was a kid feeling like a geek — like the biggest nerd in the world — I thought my mom had no idea what was happening at school. I thought she was so freaking old she barely knew what a kid was. I thought kids were just organically cool, like they just grew that way.

Now that I'm a mom with a daughter turning 12 in a few months, I realize that my mom knew exactly what was going on and that kids don't hit "untouchable" status without some help from the parental units.

I'm not one of those parental units

When my daughter puts on goofy outfits that don't match, I could tell her to change them. I could suggest she not wear this with that. I could scour the kids' stores to find the coolest, trendiest stuff for her. I could watch TV to learn what's hip and cool with 12-year-olds.

Or I could not.

If she asks me, "How does this look?" I'll tell her the truth. I'll say, "Well. I'm not sure about those pants," or "I think that shirt might be a little fancy for those shorts." But if she thinks she looks good, I'll tell her she looks good.

People are going to read this and say, "Why don't you teach your kid some fashion and style?" People are going to read this and say, "No way would I have my kid leave the house looking like a ____." People get pretty irate when you mess with their sense of duty to craft cool kids.

That's cool. You can have the cool kids. I'll have the nerds.

If I want my kid to walk away from childhood with anything, it's an unshakable confidence in her ability to do something different from what everybody else does, even if it means being laughed at, criticized and messed with.

And I'll tell you why: If I want my kid to walk away from childhood with anything, it's an unshakable confidence in her ability to do something different from what everybody else does, even if it means being laughed at, criticized and messed with. Because that is how things happen in the world and that is how happy people are created. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF, baby! That's what I'm talking about.

And yeah, she will get made fun of. She will get hurt. I sure did. Kids can be horrible specimens of humanity.

But so can many adults, all over the world. And by trying to mold my child into something "safe," something cool and acceptable, all I'd be doing would be teaching her that it's more important to avoid pain than to be who you are.

Do you feel me on this one? If I continuously reframed my kid — redirected her behavior and appearance to align itself with those of the mainstream — I might tell myself it's for her own good (to help her avoid getting hurt and made fun of). But in truth, all I'd really be telling her is "Your job on this planet is to fit in with others. Don't make waves. Please the cool kids."

And there are always cool kids.

There are cool kids in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

But you probably wouldn't know any of them since the memorable people are usually the geeks, the nerds and the misfits. They're doing their thing in mismatched clothing, remembering how they stuck out in high school and how glad they are that they learned the pain of nonconformity so that later, they could feel its power.

Plus, I think it would suck to reach your pinnacle in high school. I mean seriously, you graduate from high school and it's all downhill from there? Anybody remember Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite?

Yeah, no thanks. I'll just stick with his nephew Napoleon, the coolest nerd in the world, by far. Not to mention the best dancer ever, right?

More about raising tweens

Victoria's (not so) Secret attack on our daughters
Is my tween old enough to stay home alone?
3 Things your tween daughter wants you to know

Topics: