It’s my 14 year old daughter’s YouTube debut. She’s wearing a plaid bow tie strapped to the collar of her My Chemical Romance t-shirt and her hair is plastered to her forehead, as though she is channeling her inner Paul McCartney (late ’60s Paul, not Paul-McCartney-with-Wings Paul). She turns the camera on with one hand and steps back until she is in clear view.
“Ahem.” She clears her throat a little and with a slight bow, a well timed and magnificent touch of royalty, she wets the tip of her recorder. And then, without further warning, she begins.
For the next two minutes, as I watch my daughter blast out Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” on a penny whistle she stole from her brother, I cringe and hide my eyes. She thinks she’s funny. She might be funny. But she’s causing me actual pain.
While I admire her vibrato, a nervous feeling in my stomach emerges—a worry about the possibility of her ever—ever—having a boyfriend. Or even a date. How about just a friend. A girl with dyed black hair and a penchant for 1980’s pop tunes can’t exactly be the hit of the sophomore student body.
But when it is over, when I am left with my mouth slightly open and the strains of recorder lisping in my eardrums, I am left, ultimately, impressed.
I am impressed because she is a child completely of her own making, a human who marches to the beat of her own three dollar instrument. She might be a dork, but she is my dork. She is dork of my making.
I am impressed, too, because of how much she reminds me . . . of me.
My teenage resume was chock full of weirdness. “Drum major of the marching band, sometimes section leader of the alto saxophones. Serial dater of the percussion section. Professional bookshelver at the public library. Poetry writer.”
I had a white girl afro of poodle-like proportions and I wore that baby in true, poufed-up ’80s flair.
For godsake, for all of middle school I wore a lip bumper. (Don’t even google that shit. It was tragic.)
My first kiss went a little something like this: “Oh. Wait. Dude. Let me just—here. SLUUURRRP. I’ll put this on the table and let me just clear out some of this excessive saliva. Right. Now I’m ready. Where do we put our tongues?”
I had what the French call a certain je ne sais quoi. And like the dorky kid that I was, I spoke French at inappropriate times back then, so I feel qualified to make that self-diagnosis.
Watching my daughter spin her Rick Astley cover on her brother’s recorder made me worry, sure. But it also made me feel something akin to pride.
And so, in light of all of this, for all that I remember and all that I am reliving again, through my own children, I thought it would be nice to take a minute to raise the roof for the weird kids.
Here’s to the quirky kids, the weirdos, the nerds, the dorks and the classroom geeks.
Here’s to the ones who raise their hands because they always know the answers. Who pump their fist when the teacher hands back the math tests, who stay late at school for Reading Club.
Here’s to the 15-year-old boys who doodle pictures of Pokemon in their notebooks and create secret handshakes with their 9-year-old neighbor in their backyard forts.
Here’s to the emo chick in the back row with the black fishnets and the spiky hair. At least I think it’s a chick. Everyone is afraid to ask.
Here’s to the percussion section of the high school marching band, all of them. Ahem. You boys have a special place in my heart. (Under the bleachers, after the football game, over the bra only—what kind of girl do you think I am?).
Here’s to the kids on the Debate Team and the Forensics Team and the made-up-last-night Hello Kitty Slash Brad Pitt Fan Club.
Here’s to the boy in the all-girls choir who sings show tunes in the hallway after social studies.
Here’s to the kid who built a scaled model of Jamestown in his basement last summer and did a PowerPoint for the class on the first day of school for extra credit.
But now that I am on the other side or things, above all, here’s to the moms.
Here’s to the mom who holds her head high while her son carries his naked Barbie doll with him every school day all through third grade because he says she looks just like Grandma.
Here’s to the mom sitting in the bleachers after the crowd has gone home and the track meet is over, because there is still a runner on the track. And her daughter is only on lap 3.
Here’s to the mom who bites her tongue when her sixteen year old daughter dyes her hair jet black or lines her eyes with purple liner.
Here’s to the mom whose garage is filled with skateboards or failed science experiments or a punk rock band.
Here’s to the mom who wonders Why me? while her son lugs a bass drum up the stairs, but only reminds him quietly of her polished hardwood floors as she holds open the door and then makes herself a martini.
Here’s to the mom who drives two hours to chess camp, just to watch her daughter get beaten by a Bobby Fischer wannabe in an “I Make All The Right Moves” t-shirt.
Here’s to the mom who tells her son to just be himself, who picks him up early from school for ice cream therapy when he calls her from the bathroom in tears. The mom who knew her boy was different from the moment she laid her eyes on his beautiful face and loved him more fiercely for that very reason.
Three cheers for all of you—for me, for my daughter. For us.
Cheers to those of us that march to our own beat, for those that play the game with their own rules. We might be dying of heat exhaustion from our place inside the mascot’s costume, but at least we got into the varsity football game for free, mothatrucka. Booyaaaah. (Nerdy kids say things like that, really).
I know that life without a “quirky” child might be a hell of a lot easier.
But, I promise you this: it would never be as fun.