"Why are you so weird?"
It is said with love, I swear, and it is asked nearly every day in our home. Sometimes we laugh that he got a good dose of strangeness from his dad's side of the family. And then we laugh harder and admit my genes delivered all the quirkiness he'd ever need right to him.
Lil E started dressing himself when he was in kindergarten, insisting he hated all "crunchy pants" and was disgusted by shirts with buttons. He proudly paired camouflage tees with striped athletic pants and unrolled his socks so that his feet were never matched up.
One of his friend's moms called his look "urban athletic chic," a kind way to say the kid was swathed daily in pants that swish and t-shirts that touted some vintage Star Wars endeavor or another.
Before the kooky clothes combos, it was his hair that was wild. Every school photo shows off his bedhead, where the cowlicks push his locks straight up, particularly if a trim is long overdue and his mop-top has mushroomed out.
"Ehhhh," I've reasoned, "it's adorable now. When he's 17 or 34? Not so much. May as well embrace it now."
This kid doesn't just look wackadoodle on some days. He also acts weird.
He dances crazy, regularly lapses into a British accent, is working on perfecting his sarcastic comeback timing and is a master of on-the-spot improved potty-centered songs. Plus, there's his secret knowledge of too many Katy Perry lyrics and an affinity for Mr. Bill.
Did I mention his hands are double-jointed and he will happily fashion his finger into unnatural claws with a shrug of his bony shoulders and a nonchalant, "Yeahhhh, this is just a quirk about my body."
My child doesn't have to be gifted in weird. In fact, I think it makes him fit right in.
I see what's happening at school pick-up. I am aware my kid is no weirder than yours. I say that with deep love, particularly for the girls on the playground in tutus and glitter UGGs and chef hats. I say that with respect for the kids who pump their fists to go to chess club after school and the ones who insist on wearing a sweatshirt that's six sizes too small while they perform for the winter assembly. I will double-high five any kid who genuinely enjoys "The Cosby Show" reruns or shares with the class her desire to be a poop scientist or is fully convinced he can fashion his own costume out of his baby woobie, a Hello Kitty band-aid and a box of Cheerios. I am smitten every time a child says loudly and proudly that SHE LOVES FRACTIONS or is really concerned about global warming or likes broccoli best of all.
Don't shy away from your child's weirdness, don't dress your kid in a fedora and pretend he has inherited your naturally hipster tendencies. Instead, get out the flip cam and cheer awkwardly and loudly with one hand in the air while your kid -- yes, one of Lil E's Tae Kwon Do buddies in the next grade up, I am looking right at you, Weird Superstar -- stands on stage during the talent show and gives a demonstration of all the tools in his collection. Am I right? Weird Superstar, heavyweight, ginormous gold belt-holder.
I want to believe that these kids, the ones as-yet untouched by the cruel realities of peer pressure and college admissions and Forever 21 and One Direction's new album, will hold on to this magic pixie dust of weirdness that is really just being who they are. I want them to press the glitter into their double-jointed fingers and remember that who they are is goofy and gorgeous and and glorious and great, long after it is socially appropriate to wear an Incredibles rubber mask to swim class or introduce one's self to a room full of strangers by full name.
But we all know how it goes. Those of us who have grown up and stashed away our Wonder Woman Underoos and hidden our Donny & Marie albums (ahem), know that some of the best weirdness fades.
Lucky for some of us, the patina of trying-too-hard coolness and trends and office dress codes wears off a bit when we have kids and get, for another too-brief period of time, get weird again with our even-weirder kids.
This Halloween, my son is going to be an alien in a full body suit. For days, he's zipped his skinny body in and out of this costume to practice his dance moves and alien-sneaky-ways in the mirror to prepare for the big day.
"You're letting him wear that for real?" This is what a parent of a toddler asked me last week when I showed him the picture of Lil E all decked out in green Spandex.
"Ohhhhh yes," I replied. "I highly encouraged it."
I couldn't think of him being any other way. And this costume is so HIM because it is so weird. One day soon enough, he will want to be distanced from the thousands of humiliating pictures I will be snapping of him in this other-worldly get-up. But right now he's working it with all the weirdness he's got.
I asked him this evening, “What makes a kid weird?”
His trigger response was, “I don’t know.” But he’s eight, so that’s standard. Then a slow smile oozed across his face.
“It’s like a movie where a man comes up to you and says,” and here he launched into his whispery, low Darth Vader voice, “‘I AM FROM THE FUTURE and it is your destiny to be WEEEEIIIIIRRRRD.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of like that,” I agreed.
“It’s like in you. You just grow into it.”
And maybe he’s right. Maybe, alien-fingers crossed, the really weird ones just get more that way rather than less. I’ll be watching -- and laughing and snapping photos -- long after the costume is outgrown.
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