Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Brain Game

In early high school, my girlfriends began to pair off with upper-class boys, and I was still trying to convince people to spend Friday nights pigging out on fruit-flan at the local grocery store, or to go sledding, or some other slightly immature pastime. It soon became clear that the only kids still interested in such pursuits were the boys on the brain game team, the ones who sat in the corner during gifted and talented classes composing very odd stories about robots and black holes. They did role playing games. They smelled funny. One of them acquired the nickname "Crest" for his apparent lack of knowledge that such a product existed.

On the brain game team, there was a science boy (who's now a surgeon), physics boy (who's a programmer), a keeper of excessive trivia on all subjects but mostly history (a music producer), and I was lit girl. Though I should note--they answered most of the questions.

And yet, they weren't straight A students. They tended to underperform academically, even though they were clearly some of the smartest students in school. The valedictorian and salutatorian positions went to a couple of type A kids who were bright and organized, but not necessarily superior minds.

I'm thinking about those boys a lot lately because one of my own boys got in trouble at school recently for scribing "Death to Kickball" on the blacktop in chalk. All the in-crowd kids play kickball, and my boys really don't. One teacher described my boys and their friends as "the fantasy group," because they're always in la-la land, drawing tiny detailed pictures, talking about alternate universes, and using words that are too big for their bodies.

Last year there was a lot of conversation about popularity, and whether or not my boys desired to be popular. There was a moment when they realized (actually, I had to tell them) that one doesn't exactly choose to be popular, one has to be chosen. And if the crowd does not bestow it's affection on you, the best you can hope for is to steal their attention by acquiring notoriety. Not the same thing. Still, notoriety sometimes comes involuntarily when you're a nose-picker with a high IQ and questionable social skills.

So I tried to boost the perks of not being in the in-crowd. No pressures to be something you're not, freedom to be weird, etc. Plus, all those boys who were geeky in school eventually found ethereal girls from far away to marry, and have done quite well for themselves--either because it was always their destiny to succeed, or they were motivated to do well in order to prove that they never really were the underdogs, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Neither my husband nor I resided exclusively in the in-crowd in grade school, nor were we nerds. A friend once called me a bridge personality. I could go both ways. And that still feels like the most comfortable place for me to be. Not quite here nor there. And I think the same is true for my husband (assuming we still had a social life or crowds with whom to run).

So trying to figure out my kids is a puzzle, and I find myself wishing that I'd paid more attention to the mothers of those boys on the brain game team back when I was wandering around in their houses and eating their (often bran-flaked) food. Having reconnected with some of those boys in adulthood, I know that one of their moms gave up her loose career in leather stamping and mandolin playing to go back to school for a PhD. She's now a professor. One was and is an apparently happy housewife to a dentist. A third was always kind of a shadowy figure, possibly due to antisocial characteristics of her own.

In any case, I want to see that process, of allowing your children to be whoever they're going to be--finding strengths to emphasize, supporting through the failures, and helping the kids to be ok with their placement in the group--wherever that place happens to be. Though I believe that process tends to be a hidden one for mothers everywhere, because it's a very humbling experience to discover all the myriad ways that your children are not you.

10 comments:

Julia said...

Have you read Queen Bees and Wannabees? It's mainly about girls, but one of the interesting points she makes is that even the 'in' crowd isn't a secure place to be. There's constant jockeying for position, and a huge amount of energy is dedicated to staying 'in'. That's what you get for choosing to try to be 'in': constant fear that you're not.

Around here we focus on being comfortable with friends you can know and trust, and trying to find people who help you (or at least don't hinder you) in becoming who God created you to be.

The cool thing, well... I tell my kids when they're about 10 that soon they'll start to think I'm not cool... and they'll be right! I'm not cool because cool isn't my god. I'm not cool because I've chosen to live my life in a way that allows me to grow bigger than popular culture allows. I'm not cool because I have better things to think about than whether or not I fit into someone else's definition of who I should be.

The key thing to watch for (I think) is whether not being in the cool crowd is causing a sense of alienation.

Oh -- and tell them that anything that could be construed as a threat against others is verboten. But it sounds like you've already had that lesson the hard way.

Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge said...

I was the girl rejected from the Brain Game people and populars alike...I married the most popular boy in the history of his high school. He was one of those rare popular kids who is nice to the unpopular ones and kind when he doesn't need to be so the unpopular kids love him too. Would you believe that there are adults out there that still play those silly high school games though? I would because they are my husband's popular male friends from high school who ask him on a regular basis what was he thinking marrying me? Now I have three kids of my own. My daughter is non-verbal and has autism. Yet she is amazingly social and charming. My oldest son is cute but drama and has a certain shyness. My youngest is Mr. Popularity...I wished I paid attention to all those moms back in high school :). And now my husband teaches high school, ironically enough and he rails against bullying and he teaches tolerance and inclusion.

Thank you for this post. It is exactly what I needed when I needed it.

BettyDuffy said...

"The cool thing, well... I tell my kids when they're about 10 that soon they'll start to think I'm not cool... and they'll be right! I'm not cool because cool isn't my god. I'm not cool because I've chosen to live my life in a way that allows me to grow bigger than popular culture allows. I'm not cool because I have better things to think about than whether or not I fit into someone else's definition of who I should be."

Julia--thanks for this. Just what I was looking for.

Anonymous said...

I don't think those mothers do anything. Those kids are the products of completely hands off moms.

JMB said...

I think you're correct that personal charisma is innate. Some people are naturally likable or amiable. Some kids are born leaders. Some are just nerdy. Some are just really clueless about the whole social pecking order (I have one of these). I tend to be pretty laissez-faire about my children's social lives because they change so frequently.

The mothers whom I tend to avoid are the ones who micro manage their children's social lives. I've had some bad experiences with a few moms who wouldn't accept the fact that my child was not interested in having play dates with theirs, or no longer shared interests or just plain moved on. I always tried to follow the lead of my kid - was he or she happy to go to play dates or happier just hanging at home.

I tell my kids to work on being popular after 7th grade so I don't have to shell out all that dough for bat & bar mitvahs. Just kindding. I am kind of serious about that one:)

Hope said...

I think my kids would have been in the 'fantasy group' had they gone to school. Which is okay with me because it meant they had vivid imaginations.

Just yesterday I was talking with youngest son (23 yrs old) and he mentioned he'd talked to his sister (27) and part of their conversation was about zombie attacks. Since they were little all three of my kids have had a game plan if everyone on earth died except them. What used to worry me now makes me smile.

Emily J. said...

I still have the thesaurus my Brain Game team won. I have, however, hidden the photo of that Brain Game team. My kids are well aware I was a nerd in high school. They don't need visual proof.

Anonymous said...

Death to kickball is my new cuss word

Lady.Rosary said...

I find that my child always surprises me in every possible way everyday. Maybe we should allow them to join as many groups as they can so they can figure out where they really belong or who they want to be. It's my only hope that wherever my daughter decides to go, it's the place that will bring her joy and meaning.

Lady.Rosary said...

I find that my child always surprises me in every possible way everyday. Maybe we should allow them to join as many groups as they can so they can figure out where they really belong or who they want to be. It's my only hope that wherever my daughter decides to go, it's the place that will bring her joy and meaning.