In the economics class I took my junior year of high school, I sat near the front of class. I pretty much always sat near the front in every class because I was very serious about school. The only reason I didn’t sit directly in front was because I was also very serious about not getting called a nerd.
One day in this class, I was wearing a pair of baggy overalls characteristic of 1995 trends, with a form-fitting T underneath. Unbeknownst to me, these overalls stuck out a bit on the sides when I sat down, creating a gap between the denim fabric and my skin, allowing whomever sat behind me a shadowy glimpse under the denim if they cared to examine closely enough.
One boy, a class-clown type, decided to try his hand at tossing various small objects into this gap. I didn’t realize it at first. The first time he hit his target it was with a small paper ball that didn’t even register, because I didn’t feel its impact through the fabric of my T-shirt. But he kept throwing bits of paper in, like shooting hoops, still without my awareness, until finally he landed a pencil in the hole. A few people snickered, and some, other girls, rolled their eyes at him. I pulled the pencil and bits of paper out from under my clothes, turned in my seat, and instantly identified the culprit by the smirk on his face.
I got really mad. Actually, I made a scene. I stood up and threw the items back at the boy and yelled at him for daring to throw things into my clothes. I expected the teacher to reprimand the boy, but instead, he stuck up for him and asked me to calm down. I was furious. I asked why he didn’t have a problem with this kid disrupting class in the first place, and obviously not paying attention. The teacher sighed and begrudgingly told the kid not to throw things, but he also added a sentence that I had heard many times and would continue to hear over and over and over throughout my life: Don’t take everything so seriously. That same teacher even wrote that in my senior yearbook. He literally wrote in my yearbook, “Try not to take life so seriously.”
For my whole life, I have been told that I take things too seriously or “can’t take a joke.” I’ve been accused of faking interest in “boring” subjects or using obscure vocabulary just to sound smart. I’ve been laughed at for “trying so hard” or “overanalyzing everything all the time.”
For years, I felt horrible about this, like something was terribly wrong with me. That teacher’s words in my yearbook made me feel like a loser. His words impacted me so much that I really honestly tried to start taking things less seriously. Imagine taking very seriously the endeavor of not taking things so seriously. That was me. I wanted so badly to be the happy-go-lucky, water-off-a-duck’s-back kind of girl. I didn’t want to be the one who annoyed everyone with her overanalysis of “insignificant” details.
But you know what? Fuck that. Nothing is wrong with me. I am allowed to have my own damn personality. I am allowed to overanalyze and overthink and not pretend things are funny when I really don’t find them funny. I am now, and I always was. I was allowed to get angry at that boy for throwing things into my clothes. He violated my personal space, and yes, I did (and still do) take that seriously.
I hate that I wasted so much time attempting to stifle what really was just me being me. My name is Kristen, and I take shit seriously. Fuck you if you don’t like it. I laugh when I think something is funny, and yes, I prefer cerebral humor, the kind that is layered and takes a minute to “get” but is extra funny when it hits you. I will not fake-laugh at a lazy, easy grab of a joke that bores or offends me just to fit in. Sometimes I sound like the PC police, and I don’t give a fuck if that bothers anybody; your racist and sexist and homophobic jokes are stupid and not funny. Get new material.
It took having a serious and thoughtful daughter to finally accept my own seriousness. I see her exhibiting many of the same traits as I had when I was her age. I would attribute her serious side to being merely a result of my serious parenting, but my son, who was born four years before her, doesn’t have this piece. He is much more likely to let things roll off his back and not obsess over things that bother him. Also, we are a silly, joke-telling family. I really made an effort not to be overly serious as a parent. That teacher’s words, as well as the many times others told me I was too serious, had a profound impact on how I have conducted myself as a person and as a parent. I have tried hard not to be too serious.
But the thought of anyone shaming my daughter for being “too serious” really pisses me off. This is her personality. She likes to think about things. She even likes to overthink about things. And I will defend her right to be exactly who she is and not have to change herself just to fit someone else’s idea of how a girl is supposed to act. And if I would defend that right for her, then I should model self-love and defend that same right for myself.
Therefore, I am officially owning my serious side, defending my daughter’s, and defending yours too, if you’ve ever been told not to take everything so seriously. And anyone who doesn’t like us “too serious” people can seriously go ahead and fuck off.
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