“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns
I used to tell my friends in college that I was going to be the weirdest mom possible so that my kids would turn out normal. I mean, kids go through this, “I will never be like you!” phase, right? Usually somewhere around their teenage years. And I was hoping that rebellion would stick.
In recent weeks, as I’ve done some reflecting and self-evaluating – and as I’ve confronted the fact that my plan failed MISERABLY (more about that later) – I have to admit that there was another motivation behind my desire for my kids to be “normal”. It goes back to my own teenage years.
I am a performing arts geek. Lifelong membership. Took my first piano lesson at the age of 4 1/2 (one week AFTER my half birthday, to be precise!!), had my first role in a musical in 1st grade (“Babes in Toyland”), started band in fifth grade and have been singing either in my home or in school or in performance all of my life. Choir, band, theater, and piano. Oh! And I played violin for a few years so throw a short stint in orchestra on that list.
So when I say I’m a performing arts geek, I’m talking “hardcore” version.
From sixth grade through the first part of 10th grade I attended a very small school in the southern part of the state of Michigan. How small, you ask? Try 25 kids in a graduating class small. For most of 7th grade, all of 8th grade, and almost all of 9th grade, I dreaded going to school. Don’t get me wrong – I liked a few of my teachers and really loved band, choir and being a cheerleader (the closest to organized sports I EVER got). But then there was . . . him. Let’s just call him “Thug”. He was my bully. Whenever he could possibly get close enough to me in the hallway (and it’s not like I could easily get lost in a school that small!) he would lean in over my shoulder and say things like:
“You know you’re a total loser, right? No one likes you.”
“Band and choir are for geeks and losers.”
“The world would be better without you in it.”
“No one like religious freak choir dorks.”
“Why don’t you do us all a favor and just kill yourself?”
(I should probably have mentioned that my father was a pastor . . . thus the “religious freak” label.)
This started shortly after the beginning of my 7th grade year. Pretty much every single school day. This . . . jerk . . . took something I loved and beat me up with it. He wanted me to feel weird, ashamed, outcast . . . over something I LOVE. The scary thing is, he was almost successful. Three times my freshman year, I tried to take him up on that last suggestion of his. Thankfully, I never “succeeded.” But I tried. Thug nearly convinced me that this . . . passion, this . . . drive of mine was somehow “wrong”. He wanted me to see my uniqueness, my “weirdness” as a bad thing. Sadly, I bought in, at least for a time. In a weird way, that’s what bullies do – they try to convince us that we have somehow failed the human race. Ridiculous!!
Then came the last marking period of freshman year. Thug started talking the same old garbage but this time he was a little too loud. A classmate – her name was Carla (you tend to remember your personal heroes!) – overhead him and . . . let’s just say, she lit him up! She asked him why on earth he thought that what he was saying was acceptable. She might have even called him a couple of names. At that point, she took my arm and walked to class with me. From that day on, she made sure that I never walked to class alone. I had a band of friends that made sure he couldn’t get close enough.
Sophomore year, I was a varsity cheerleader when my dad was offered a job back in what I have always considered my “home town.” My parents and sisters moved into the parsonage in late October (mostly so it wouldn’t be empty on “Devil’s Night” and Halloween) and I stayed with a fellow cheerleader to finish out the football season. My dad was there at the final game and, after some good bye hugs and a few tears, I moved in with my family.
That move was the beginning of a change. I was returning to a school I had attended from 3rd through 5th grade but a few years had passed and I decided that I would use the move back as an excuse to be more “myself”. It was tough not to give in to the first “weird” look or rude comment. But I jumped in to band, choir, show choir, and the theater department with both feet. I quickly found a group of friends to hang with and my Senior year provided even more friendships as I got a chance to tutor some athletes in one of my favorite classes.
Moving on to college provided even more of a chance to “reinvent” myself – or maybe just be more true to myself. And it helps that I ended up at a college where the performing arts geeks were practically campus royalty!! But that frustrated, scared, tormented middle schooler has always lurked in the shadows. The older I grow, the more comfortable I get in my own skin but it took me awhile to get that process started.
The truth? When I said that I would be mega-weird so my kids would rebel and be “normal”, there was a part of me that hoped to spare them some of the pain I went through. Dumb, I know, but it is, nevertheless, the truth.
I could NOT be more happy to have failed miserably in that attempt. My kids decided a few years ago that the song “That’s Just the Way We Roll” is our family’s theme song (do yourself a favor, find it on Youtube and watch it!). We are, as someone has said, an acquired taste. Games of Apples to Apples, Bubble Talk, or Trivial Pursuit are a unique experience when we play. We are loud, we burst into song when certain words remind us of a song (often a musical theater song), the kids and I are performing arts geeks to one degree or another and we quote movies. Alot. We are a weird, unique, funny, passionate, loud bunch and I am RIDICULOUSLY blessed to have four kids who decided to follow in mom’s footsteps and embrace their weirdness. All four of them are much more comfortable in their own skin than I was at their ages and I will consider that a win.
As stated in Mr. Burns’ quote above, the best laid plans fall apart from time to time. And in this case, I’m so grateful that they did!