“I’m just going to act a little differently”

Before my boy started third grade I was a little nervous about this year. Aside from the whole NYC public schools thing, my memories of third grade are basically the equivalent of pre hell pre middle school. For me, third grade was when boys became kinda interesting, girls became mean and being “cool” was something that was lingering closer and closer to the front of my mind. It’s the first year I have memories of feeling insecure and embarrassed. But things for Parker are much different than they were for me and, obviously, he’s a boy so I’m always hoping he’ll skip most of the tween and pre teen drama that I experienced. Honestly, until today, my biggest fear for this year was that some little asshole tells him there’s no Santa. But I knew something bigger was up when he couldn’t wait to talk to me about his day.

Usually, out of habit and routine, I pick the boys up, load everyone and everything into the van and then ask them, “What in your day was good, bad and special.” It’s an easy conversation starter and a way to avoid the “nothing” answer most kids give when their parents ask what they did at school. Today, however, Parker couldn’t even wait to get into the van before he asked me, “You know how bad kids usually have a lot of friends?” Of course I replied that I didn’t know that and asked him why he thought that was true. He went on to say that the kid in his class who misbehaves most is also the most popular kid since he acts crazy and draws a lot of attention to himself. He continued on by saying that even though he doesn’t want to be a bad kid, “I’m just going to act a little differently.” Immediately, my heart broke as I saw a glimpse of insecurity within a person who I believe is perfect. I kept my cool though and asked him what he planned to do differently. I added that I was just curious because I love who he is now so much, that I was a little worried about him changing. Luckily, he quickly reminded me that he’s just a 7 year old trying to figure his way through childhood as he asked if it would be okay that he didn’t zip up his jacket anymore.

It’s funny and adorable what kids think makes a difference in their “cool factor” but it’s also a little scary. I don’t want Parker to worry about being popular or cool and I definitely don’t want him to think he needs to change anything about himself to achieve it, but I know it’s a normal part of growing up and I’d rather he continue to talk to me about whatever he’s feeling. I told him of course he didn’t have to zip up his jacket if it made him uncomfortable but, just to make sure it wasn’t an issue where he was feeling lonely or without friends, I asked him if he was making new friends and if his days were going any better than last year. Happily he said yes and that they were so I continued on to ask him if he meant that he’d like to try to be a little bit “cooler.” He said that was exactly what he meant so I reassured him that I understood but that I think he’s really, really cool already. Theo had my back and cut me off so he could blurt out, “Yeah Parker! I can’t even do half of the cool things you do. You are like, super cool!” I also reminded Parker that good friends don’t care if you’re cool or not so while it’s okay to change up your style a little if it makes you feel better, you shouldn’t befriend someone who only appreciates you if you wear your jacket unzipped.

And with that, all of my worldy parenting wisdom is spent. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to handle the next 10+ years when all I want to do is cry and squeeze my kid when he asks if he can unzip his jacket. Anyone have the secret to parenting yet?


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