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Parenting the Weird Kid

Photograph by Getty Images

I still remember when I asked my mom for a pair of Cavaricci jeans that were so popular back in the late '80s.

Am I aging myself?

I had spent hours crafting my request, researching the cost, even figuring that if I offered to pay for half of them with my allowance I'd certainly increase my chances.

Alas, my mom was thoroughly unconvinced, as she was to most trends, unwavering in her "no" even after I pleaded my case with a fairly wide body of evidence to support myself. In an attempt to salvage any hope, I did the unthinkable. The one thing all teenagers do but know they shouldn't, because they know what the answer is going to be. But desperate times called for desperate measures.

And so I said it.

"But mo-om, everyone else has them!"

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Of course, she gave the obvious answer. The answer we all probably heard at one point in our teenage tenure. The one that we vowed we'd never say to our own kids and yet, when they ask us for some ridiculously expensive bag or pair of shoes or whatever other trashy something-or-other they are trying to pass off as fashion, we say it.

"Why do you have to be like everyone else?"

As a kid, I really wanted to be like everyone else, mostly because I was such an odd kid out, which was sometimes difficult (or really difficult when I was bullied in the 5th grade), but mostly wasn't really that bad. Of course, it seemed so awful at the time, and the fix—you know, the special jeans with that name brand shirt—seemed so simple. If only I could dress like them, then I'd be like them, and they'd leave me the hell alone already.

Now that I'm a parent, I actually have the opposite problem.

My daughter doesn't really fit in, and she actually doesn't really want to, either.

It's been a challenging year for her, moving to a new state and new school, not to mention 4th grade just seems like a tough year overall.

Nine-year-old girls, what's up with that?

But unlike her school where we lived before, which was new (so all the kids were new), and in a town that was full of transplants from all over the United States, her new school (and community) is pretty homogenous. Kids have known each other since they were babies at their local playgroup.

Like most humans, she wants to be included and accepted for who she is

And even though they've been friendly and have tried to include her, she's just different than they are; from how she dresses to what she likes to do, to the books she enjoys reading.

"I'm weird" she told me one day after school.

The mother in me sort of freaked out a bit because, well, labels suck.

But then she continued, "But I'm OK with that. I just don't like to do what they do. I'm different."

Now as much as I wanted to believe her (and really, part of me does), it's still hard for anyone (even an adult) to feel left out.

She longs for a BFF like the one she left in our old town. And like most humans, she wants to be included and accepted for who she is, even if she doesn't shop at Justice and could not care less about soccer. And as her parent, I want her to feel included and accepted, too, for exactly who she is—a pretty awesome girl, by the way.

It started to get difficult for her when she continually felt left out at recess. So after having her come home every day looking forlorn and upset, I decided to sit her down and have a little chat, because as I saw it, there were three options for her. She could sacrifice her own interests and desires a bit so she could be included more, which I get sounds awful but really, but let's face it: We all do it at some level every now and then. And who knows? Maybe she might actually like soccer or whatever it is they do at recess that she didn't really want to do. Maybe she would become friends with them and convince them to do what she wanted to do.

She could completely own who she is and make her own "tribe." She'd have to make her own fun and prepare for it, like packing some art supplies or a book to read at recess. She might also have to lower her expectations about friendships and understand that she might not find her BFF at school this year. But she won't feel like she's compromising who she is.

Or she could do a little bit of both, deciding to make a little effort to step outside the box and engage with the kids through their own interests but without compromising her core values (you know, those strongly established 9-year-old core values), which is exactly what she did.

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I'm happy to report she's found a few friends this year. Although none of them are really BFFs, they ask her over for playdates and parties. They like that she wears two patterns at once and talks about Minecraft incessantly.

She even convinced them to rehearse and perform a play at recess.

I don't doubt there will come a day when she asks for an expensive pair of jeans. And I'll probably give her a hard time just like my mom did. But instead of offering her the pat response, I'll remind her about the beauty of different. And how way back in the 4th grade she made being weird pretty damn cool.

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