We were on our way to school this morning when my son told me this. I had just taken this picture of him. When we were still getting ready earlier that morning, I had told him to get some gloves to wear for school. He got out his Pikachu hat with the gloves sewn into a scarf. He looked stinkin’ adorable. But he was still worried what the other kids would say.
Me: “Do what you’re comfortable with. If you’re not comfortable wearing it, don’t wear it. But if you like it and you want to wear it, then wear it. Don’t let others decide who you should be. I get made fun of, too. I know what it’s like. You want to wear your Pikachu hat, and you should wear it because you like it. But if you’re afraid that you’re going to be made fun of and that you won’t be able to handle it, then you can leave it here and just wear your regular gloves.”
The Boy: “[Unnamed Relative] said that I don’t need to listen to you because you’re going to turn me into a nerd someday.”
Me: “Being a nerd isn’t a bad thing. I would be proud if you were a nerd someday. I would be proud even if you aren’t. I kind of hope that you become a nerd someday because it’s ‘nerds’ that have created so many good things in life. Electricity, computers, video games, medicine… Nerds aren’t bad, they’re people who make life better and more interesting. Just remember that this is why it’s very important that we don’t make fun of others for wearing or doing things that they like. We should always encourage each other. If somebody likes something, we should allow them to like it, even if we don’t.”
This conversation first thing this morning both broke my heart and hurt my feelings.
Can I just say first and foremost that one of the worst things about being a parent is that you put so much effort and energy into making sure your child is happy and confident and secure with whoever they are and whoever they're becoming and whoever they want to be...and others get to make 'funny' comments to break their confidence? This is honestly one of the things I detest the most in this world No wonder suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.1 We're teaching our children from a young age that you have to be who others expect you to be and not who you were created to be.
With that said, I thought I'd just take a moment to share with you some of the reasons why I think my kid would benefit if he were to grow up to be a nerd.
But before diving in...let's take a quick look at the word "nerd". There are a lot of people throwing that word around as if it's something lowly or ugly. There's nothing negative about it. Like nerds, the definition of a nerd is a frank, honest, and candid assessment. We don't hide it. And we shouldn't apologize for it either.
Merriam-Webster defines "nerd" as:
- a person who behaves awkwardly around other people and usually has unstylish clothes, hair, etc.
- a person who is very interested in technical subjects, computers, etc.2
One whose IQ exceeds his weight.
- An individual persecuted for his superior skills or intellect, most often by people who fear and envy him.
- An 'individual', i.e. a person who does not conform to society's beliefs that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do. Often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obsession with a given subject, usually computers. Unfortunately, nerds seem to have problems breeding, to the detriment of mankind as a whole.
- A stereotypical label used to describe a person that is socially inadequate. A four letter word, but a six figure income.3
That's the thing about nerds. You don't have to fit into a cookie cutter to be one of us. (Note: Cookie Cutter is our household slang for the types of individuals who all choose to look the same, act the same, talk the same, and be the same.)
This basically sums up every reason I could give for why I'm glad I'm a nerd, and why I would be glad if my kid wound up being one, too.
You don't have to look like us to be one of us. In fact, nerds are kind of like tongue-prints, there are no two nerds that are alike. Which is why it feels like nerds embrace differences and diversity a little better than non-nerds. Wear what you want to wear, make what you want to make, share what you want to share, be who you want to be. We know what it's like to be a pariah for being who we are. Why would we victimize someone else for being true to who they are?
You also don't have to be passionate about what we're passionate about. Just be passionate. Obviously I love Doctor Who. Does that mean I roll my eyes and groan at every Sherlock fan that comes across my Tumblr Dashboard? (Trick question: Sherlock, too, has attained a level of awesome in the 'epic' division and I thoroughly enjoy it as well.) Find something you like and tell the world why you like it. You'll meet new friends with a shared interest and you may introduce existing friends to a new passion, but if you don't, that's fine, too. I enjoy a good book (or a bad book or just about any kind of book) and my husband relaxes best with a video game controller in his hand. That's fine. We like what we like. Nerds accept this.
How do we learn to accept this? Typically by being rejected. Honestly, that's the best way to learn. And I'm okay with my kid facing a little rejection. I want him to know what it's like to be different so that when he meets others that are different, he can be accepting of them and not hateful, hurtful, or critical.
I also want him to learn to be accepting of himself, too. I want him to have the safety of being comfortable with himself because I believe that if you're not true to yourself, you'll never truly feel comfortable being yourself and you're less likely to find an honest feeling of safety with anyone else. If you can't feel safe with someone, how will you be happy with them?
I could list economic reasons as to why I would be tickled to raise a nerd, too. LZ Granderson did a fine job of it, though, so I would just point you in his direction if that's what you're interested in (See: Why I'm raising my son to be a nerd, 2011).
Jocks go on to play for your favorite team but nerds go on to own the teams those jocks play for. --LZ Granderson
When it comes down to it, I will love my kid no matter what he turns out to be. If dyed his skin green and decided he wanted to be an alien when he grows up, you know what, the only thing that would change for me is what colors we choose to wear for our Christmas Cards. If he woke up one day and embraced sports whole-heartedly, I will cheer him on at whatever he chooses to try—whether he succeeds or not.
But the honest truth of it is that my kid likes to read. My kid likes science. My kid loves to learn. My kid is fascinated by technology. Why wouldn’t I embrace that? Why wouldn’t I encourage him? Why would I make him think that he is anything less than one of God’s most wonderful creations—no matter what he does with or becomes in his life?
My kid is a S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) kid. And those kids are going to be the adults that will be running the show in the future. Does that mean there’s no place for Jocks or Pencil Pushers or Cookie Cutters? No, we all have our place in the future. But my I want to raise my kid to change the world, not change himself.