Once, when my son was around 2, someone called him “a little weirdo” as he was perfecting the art of silly playfulness. She said it with smiles and kindness, but still, I couldn’t help but feel taken aback by the phrase, unsure if I should smile along or slap a B. Now, almost two years later, I realize that my son’s authenticity is one of the traits I treasure most in him — the “weird kids” like my son say true to themselves.
He proudly wears his Batman costume to the grocery store on ordinary days without giving an eff what people think. If he does consider the judgment of others, he assumes everyone thinks he’s an utter bad ass. No self-doubt ’round here.
He hikes his sweatpants up high as he speeds down the street on his bike with nothing else on but a pair of goggles. He’s obviously a superhero.
He takes the tutu my sister sent for my Halloween costume, certain it is his, and dances in it for the good part of an hour. For the next few days, he wants to show everyone who comes over his tutu and his dancing skills.
I love his age because he has just the right amount of self-awareness. He cares to be pleasing but is pure enough to be exactly who he is.
So often the goal seems to be to fit in. We want it for ourselves, and for our children. But what is the benefit? Acceptance? What do we have to sacrifice for it? Do we really want for our children (or ourselves) to simply blend in with the crowd? Is that what really makes us likable and successful? I’m starting to believe our differences are actually our assets, the things that set us apart and make us interesting.
The people I have always admired most are the weirdos. The ones who are so uniquely themselves. The ones who don’t blend in, but stand out. They celebrate their differences, rather than tone them down. They don’t require the approval of others but listen to themselves. These people aren’t pushed away for their weirdness, but respected for it. It takes a certain kind of courage to be unapologetically yourself, and people gravitate towards people so rare and real.
Authentic people are honest. Even when the truth hurts, their candidness is appreciated. My son hates messy buns, and isn’t afraid to tell me, “Mama, you don’t look pretty with your hair like that.” I only cry a little bit, but mostly I know I can count on him to keep it real.
My husband is this way too. He doesn’t tell you what he thinks you want to hear, he speaks his truth, and I value that more than niceties. I look for this trait in friends too because I don’t have to waste energy wondering what someone is thinking or feeling. I can simply count on them to express it. One friend I am thinking of in particular always gives it to me straight, “Come over, but leave by 5 so I can have some family time when my husband gets home.” Her ability to speak her truth helps me to relax in her company because I know she doesn’t act out of obligation or pressure to live up to someone else’s expectations.
My 3-year-old expresses his likes, dislikes, opinions, and moods with an ease that I would love to emulate. As someone who battles with people-pleasing, I honor this trait. Sure people-pleasers are nice, but I’ve come to value other traits so much more, like bravery and sincerity. I think the weird kids have something to teach us.
My son possesses both a desire to please others and a commitment to being himself. My task is fostering this delicate balance through the years. I want him to be caring and considerate of others, but also self-assured and genuine. I am certain, through the people I admire most in this world, that all these traits can exist simultaneously. It requires the amazing combination of a kind heart and fearless confidence.
I want him to be bold enough to continue to wear cowboy boots with shorts if he so pleases, not with fear that someone will make fun of him, or a belief he will start a trend, but with an indifference to the opinions of others. If he continues to walk to the beat of his own drum, right on through these young years, he will benefit not only from self-acceptance but the potential to be very influential.
Now when I think about my son being called a little weirdo, I feel at peace with it. If being a weirdo means owning your uniqueness, I hope he stays one.