Being Cool: Grade School and Popularity

The Breakfast ClubI’ve written about being cool before (specifically how it relates to being a geek), but I’ve had some further thoughts on the matter as TRC goes farther into elementary school. It’s just surprising to me at times what arbitrary things people (and particularly kids) decide make a person “cool” or not. Case in point: at one time or another in grade school, I remember the following things as being taboo:

  • Crossing your legs too closely
  • Wearing a button down shirt
  • Wearing a button down shirt that has a little loop on the back of it (what are those *for*, anyway?)
  • Playing an instrument
  • Playing an instrument well
  • Playing an instrument poorly
  • Being in drama
  • Being too smart
  • Being too stupid
  • Being foreign
  • Not being foreign
  • Being too fat
  • Being too thin
  • Wearing cheap clothes
  • Wearing home made clothes
  • Wearing expensive clothes
  • Not understanding obscure slang
  • Not recognizing pop songs/movies/tv references
  • Playing video games
  • Not playing video games
I could go on, but you get the point. Basically, you could make fun of someone for anything. Pick a reason, and run with it–it would work, every time. And so you start to really worry about the choices you’re making and their implications.
TRC came up to me yesterday to ask me about our last name. “Is it true our last name has a bad word in it?” I stared at him for a moment, caught off guard, then brushed the question aside lightly, telling him that some people might make fun of the name, but that people will make fun of anything. He accepted that as an answer, but as I’ve thought about it some more, I think I need to sit down with him and prepare him a bit more for what’s to come. (Heck–I continued to have people make jokes about my last name all the way into my 20s.)
TRC is a really self-confident kid. He’s athletic, outgoing and bright. I was . . . bright. I never was athletic, and until high school, I certainly wasn’t outgoing. I think/hope TRC will be able to maneuver through the murky waters of grade school, but there’s really no telling what will set off other kids. He’s already been called the f-word at school, and came home to politely ask what the word meant.
When it comes down to it, you just have to decide not to care what other people think. No–that’s not right. It’s more “not to care what some people think.” You can’t go through your life completely ignoring everyone–at least, I don’t think you should. Pick your friends, and be friends with them. Ignore people you hardly know. What does it matter what they say?
Of course, I realize it’s one thing to say that now as a thirty-something. It was impossible for me to believe it when I was still in grade school. How absurd is it that what an almost complete stranger says about you in lunch can make you feel awful for the rest of the day? That some comments that you hear when you’re ten can still be with you twenty years later. (And no, I’m not having a meltdown here. I don’t have a secret “List of People I Must Get Revenge On” hiding in a drawer somewhere. I’m just drawing on personal experiences to try and understand what TRC is going to face.)
I know that looking at all these children now, and seeing how some of them clearly think so much of themselves (and how some of them clearly think so little) makes me sad each time. I just want to shake some of them and try to get them to see that it doesn’t matter. They don’t need to care!
But I’m officially a Grown Up now. I’ve lost my street cred, even if I still remember so clearly what it was like to be at that age. To go through that. My experiences are out of date, and therefore invalid. I think that’s one of the reasons why I write Young Adult fiction. It’s a way for me to try and connect to that inner me. To try and help other kids deal with the problems they’re going through. No, I didn’t get abused as a child or have any of the other horrid things happen to me that happen to some kids these days. But I lived through high school. I lived through middle school (much worse). And you don’t have to be abused or stuffed into a locker to still be traumatized by some of that. It’s one of the reasons John Hughes movies speak to me. I think he was doing the same thing. Making movies for the normal kids–all the kids who felt insecure and unsure (and frankly, almost *all* kids feel that way, no matter what they might say).
But that’s for the faceless masses. When my own son and daughter will be going through it . . . who knows how I can help them?

4 thoughts on “Being Cool: Grade School and Popularity”

  1. what are those *for*, anyway?

    It’s called a locker loop, and the point is to allow you to temporarily hang up your shirt (in a locker, for instance) so it doesn’t get wrinkled.

    (I realize I’m commenting on something that’s peripheral to the point of the blog post, but I was really happy when I learned what those were for, so I can’t resist sharing the knowledge.)

    – Kjerste

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