Son of a schoolie

It sucks to be the son of a former nerd.Young boy with abacus toy calculator isolated on white

Even more so to be the son of two former nerds.

Sorry, my sons. So be it.

Recently, my eldest was at a gathering of his sports team. It was a new team and the coaches wisely thought the boys should break bread and get to know each other.

Which was great, truly. Until they went around the room and mentioned the school they attended.

My son just graduated from a school for gifted kids. People around here have either never heard of it because they’ve had no need for it, or are well aware of it because of its reputation.

In kidspeak, that reputation is that it’s a school for the very smart—the geeks. The nerds. And the socially awkward.

At just 32 kids per grade, with a waiting list a mile long, it’s competitive. Tough to get into. And the kids that go there are used to being targets of teasing.

In reality, it’s a school for the very smart, yes. But many of these kids are anything but geeks and nerds. And socially awkward? No way. They hold their own in most social situations better than many adults do.

But to a group of public school jocks, that explanation would fall on deaf ears.

My son was pegged. As he named his school, murmurs of “geek”, “nerd” and “pussy” abounded.

No matter that this son doesn’t really enjoy school. He is smart but hitting the books is probably his least favorite thing to do, behind chores. But, as the son of two former nerds, he was kind of doomed from the start.

Or he was lucky from the start. Hoping he’ll see it that way when we get through these nasty teenage years where primordial apes are sometimes smarter and more emotionally intelligent than your peers. And your teammates. At least some of them.

I was called a “schoolie” often. In today’s terms, that’s the mildest of epithets but it cut me to the quick at age 12, when all I wanted to be was one of the pretty girls. Instead, I was awkward and smart.

My ex-husband was not teased for being smart, but perhaps that’s because he was not socioeconomically advantaged growing up. Doing well in school was a ticket. And who would not want that ticket?

Neither of us excelled at sports. We might have, given a chance, but our parents were not really into athletic prowess. Our parents saw the future and in it they wanted honors, scholarships, college, a profession. A life that exceeded the one they had.

My son pretends to brush it off, but it has to hurt, the name calling. At 13, I don’t know many kids who have the armor to truly not care what the other kids think. Wil Wheaton, actor of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “The Big Bang Theory” fame, puts it really well in this video.

I explain it to him less eloquently than Wheaton, but thus: These kids—these 6’2”, 225-lb. meatheads that barrel around as if they own the world at 14—they are in their glory days. This is it. They’re peaking now.

Which is fine. Their arrogance and attitude of entitlement is not so fine—but glory days? Have at it, Bub.

They’re bigger than their peers now. They may be faster or stronger. And they bask in it—as do their (generally) meathead dads, who are usually former high school players that never quite made their mark. So they’re going to make damn sure their sons do.

The truth of the matter? Most of these kids will play in high school. Some might play in college. But odds are that none of them will go pro. And most, sadly, are doing pushups and pull-ups while my son is hitting the books. There’s a reason they call Geology 101 “Rocks for Jocks” in college.

I tell my son that his combination of talents—smarts, curiosity, creativity and the willingness to do things like sports in which he knows he’s far from the best player out there—these attributes are what will get him far in life. They bring happiness. They bring new adventures. They bring glory days at a much later age, when glory days really matter.

smart boy pushing up glassesI tell him the IQ number is meaningless. It is what you do with it that matters. Do you use it to learn about your world, to learn to love better, see more deeply, act more wisely, walk on by true fools? I hope so. And whether that number is low or high, it is just that—a number. It’s generally the person who perseveres—who really wants to master this thing called life—that succeeds and is happy.

I don’t mind jocks. I admire perseverance. But jock culture? Do you have to ask? That answer is writ large.

My son will not be sitting on his couch, beer in hand, 30 years from now, talking about the winning goal he made in a championship game. If he does make that goal, it will have traveled down a hopefully much larger list of actual life accomplishments. It will not be something he will need to call upon to prove his middle-aged manhood.

He will not be screaming at his son from the sidelines, analyzing every play of a teenaged travel team as if he had bet the house on the game’s results.

Thank God.

Nerds don’t peak early. They don’t get applauded as they walk down the school hallway. They may not get asked to the dance.

But, as the years go on, they make the most fascinating human beings. Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. The guy or gal who invents a new medical test or heart valve or those special effects we all love in the movies. Or just the nice dad down the street who shares his love of history with his students at the local high school.

These are the world changers. You can play all the football, basketball or lacrosse games you want, but the world will not change because of it. You might. But the rest of us? Not so much.

All hail to the nerdy ones. The ones who see the world differently—and because of that, change it.

I’m happy to say I have a couple of those in-house right now.

I know I’m lucky. They’re not so sure about their luck in the genetics arena at this stage.

I just smile and wait for those glory days. I can’t wait until they discover their own power.

A power that has nothing to do with push-ups. A power that sees beyond the name calling to the fear some people hold of differences.

Being the son of a schoolie has its advantages.

Or so I tell them. For now, they just have to take my word for it.






11 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post and I recognise the feelings expressed both for myself and children.
    Peter Roget published his thesaurus at age 72.
    It is never too late to reach that peak.

  2. It’s funny how life changes the older you get.

    It’s all great and find to be the jock or the cheerleader in school…but last I heard, cheering in corporate America doesn’t pay too much.

    He’ll do great on the path he’s on. He’s learning how to handle the world and that’s great..because ‘nerd’ or not, it doesn’t get any easier for any of us.

    He’s a great kid…you’ve done a great job. =)

  3. lmarieallen says:

    I tell my daughter all the time to be nice to those nerdy boys. They will make the best, most successful husbands when all the football games are forgotten. From one nerd to another, here’s to us!

  4. Great post.

    There is an appalling lack of support in the culture-at-large for people who are damn smart — and maybe never will become big/popular jocks. We (yes, I said it) scare people because they can’t identify with us nor relate to us as quickly and easily and we may not share their cultural or sports references. So we’re not “popular.” That was never my ambition anyway.

    I was reading the Greek myths for fun when I was seven and was lucky enough to attend an all-girl private school to grade nine, so never felt out of place being smart and got rewarded there for it. I’ve always been able to find people who appreciate me and my wide range of interests (from French to saber fencing to interior design).

    Your boys are lucky to have you as back-up.

    1. candidkay says:

      A–Kudos on saying it. Owning it. B–Greek myths is my youngest’s passion. He can talk for hours about it:). and C–thank you for the “lucky” comment. It’s good when I can get something right in this muddle we call parenting . . .

      1. Oooh, we should talk Persephone and Zeus and Hera and the gang…

        I also loved the Norse myths,which I read when I was about 12…Odin, Loki, etc. Great stuff.

  5. candidkay says:

    Isn’t it funny, Caron, to look back sagely now? And yet the angst at the time was so real. I find the funniest and most interesting people at cocktail parties had a rough time of it during adolescence. And those that make me yawn tended to be “popular.” Whatever that means.

  6. candidkay says:

    Isn’t if funny, Caron, to look back sagely now? And yet the angst at the time was so real. I find the funniest and most interesting people at cocktail parties had a rough time of it during adolescence. And those that make me yawn tended to be “popular.” Whatever that means.

  7. Good column, Kay.
    We nerd-geeks do grow up, bloom and astonish even ourselves.
    Social awkwardness and delayed emotional maturity can be reduced by understanding parents and other relatives and friends, as well as the non-academic activities that such young people are encouraged to take part in. Sounds like you and your sons are doing an excellent job in these areas. Bravo.

  8. I loved this post. When I was 13, I was moaning to my grandma about how some of the girls at school were so pretty, and they didn’t like me. I wasn’t part of the “in” crowd and never would be. She said, “Those girls now who seem to have everything and just rely on looks will be past their best at 24, and you’ll just be beginning. Just wait, and you will see.” She was right! And the dear friend I had then is still the dear friend I have now. We often talk about those days, and we’re glad we were different, and not part of the “in” crowd. We wouldn’t have it any other way now!

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