My daughter likes wearing her Iron Man costume to the shops. She wants to wear it when she goes to see the doctor about that rash. She wants to wear it at that big wedding of Cousin Thingy that’s coming up in September. She wants to wear it to every party she’s invited to. She’d wear it to a state funeral if she could get away with it.
See, that’s my daughter in a nutshell. In fact, she is a complete nutshell, and I love it. This morning when I took her to school, she stood in the line with her classmates, and sang. I was about 50 feet away, so I don’t know what she was singing, but I saw her give full loud and rude lungful to some ditty she was making up. Several of her peers were giving her odd looks, but she didn’t care. I don’t think she noticed.
I like that about my little girl. She’s growing up (all of a sudden, she’s 8-years-old??! Since when??) and she’s becoming the sort of person I had hoped she would be. And yes, that means that she sings in the line when she’s waiting to go into school.
Ask any parent what sort of kid they want, and I doubt you’ll find many who will respond with “I want my child to be deeply average; to have mundane opinions; to listen to the same music as everyone else; to wear ordinary clothes that are moderately fashionable; to watch the programmes that seem to be popular with everyone; not to have any weird interests; to fit in with everyone else in terms of behaviour and personality; to not stand out in any way… because the best method in life is to do things as you’re supposed to do in order to grow up and live in an average house, have an average job, and make a clone family of their own”. Nobody says that. Even boring people who strive to be as mainstream as possible don’t say that.
Do parents like that even exist? Oh God, they probably do. They’re the ones who have neat houses in identikit housing developments, and wear modest clothes in neutral colours, and drive very average boxy cars, and read middlebrow newspapers, and have a passing interest in the sort of music and films that other people like, and watch those light-entertainment programmes that are on between 7pm and 9pm most evenings.
Let’s be honest, all parents want their kids to be distinctive and unique. We want our kids to be special, and dazzling, and more so than any other child in their class. We want our children to shine, to stand out, to be remembered, and be interesting. We love our children’s quirks and weird traits because they utterly charm us. I love my daughter’s delightful little idiosyncracies so much this entire frickin’ blog is based around them. And you’re like me: Admit it. Draw up a list of personality traits you want for your kid, and I am willing to bet at least £5 that your list will be more or less the same as mine. Here is my list:
To believe in whatever she wants
To be fearless in her opinion
To be open and honest
To celebrate her individuality
To stand up for herself
To question everything
To not be the same as her peers
To be curious about the world
To listen to whatever music she wants
To dress the way she wants
To have interests and hobbies
To be proud of herself
To accept her body, flaws and all
To cherish her own likes, interests, aesthetics and passions, even if it runs the risk of her contemporaries thinking she’s ‘not cool’
To be happy within her soul
Wow. Now that it’s all written down, I can see that it makes me look like a right bloody hippie. So, what’s your list? And can you send me the £5 in cash, or would you like my bank transfer details?
So far, my daughter is succeeding in being the unique little snowflake loads of easily-intimidated men on the internet will accuse her of being when she’s older. That Iron Man costume was a good present for me to buy her for her 7th birthday, and it’s getting a heck of a lot of use, and it will be greatly mourned when the holes start to appear. She does her thing, she does what she wants to do, and I can’t tell her who to sock it to. She writes poetry, dances to theme tunes, and has many interests; this week, we’ve set up an ant farm for her to monitor (not for school, just for fun). She has spent hours – literally hours – having conversations with insects that are about 5mm long. She asks them about their day and tells them about hers. The ants really couldn’t care less about her day, and carry on with their relentless tasks. And she doesn’t care that they are ignoring her. She’s that kind of kid. Hey, she’s a person who sings in the line before entering school.
Above all, she’s flawed. She’s not perfect. She talks too much, sings too loud, and wears the Iron Man costume at inappropriate moments. She runs too slowly (not so much a run, it’s more of an enthusiastic waddle). Her handwriting is scrawled and scruffy (but mine is worse). She doesn’t ace every test, and her spelling is pretty damn poor. She has wonky eyes – a ‘turn’, they call it. One eye will look at you, and the other stares at her nose, and she will need corrective surgery for it at some point.
But it’s the flaws that make her unique. Maybe it’s the fact her eyes have a squint that need correcting, or maybe it’s because she runs all flappy and slow that she has such a quirky character.
Or maybe it’s our fault, mine and my wife’s? Maybe it’s because I take her birdwatching with me, or that my wife has shown her how to do crochet, or that we allowed her to watch the Star Wars films at an early age, or because I insist on playing her Led Zeppelin over Justin Bieber, or because we read her Harry Potter books from the age of 6, or it’s because we discuss the world news over the dinner table… or maybe it’s because we don’t eat meals at a dinner table and instead have our meals on our laps whilst watching The Simpsons. I know that in some circles that would be supposed to be bad parenting, but that’s how our family rolls.
But your kid is probably the same – unique, funny, creative, quirky, brilliant, flawed-but-perfect, etc. We do not want them to be sheep, to have the same opinion as everyone else, or to be slavish in following the latest trends and fashions. We want them to value true beauty, and to eschew the material trappings of the world. All our kids should be special, sparkly, and unique. Yay for us!
Except it’s a lie. A complete and utter fabrication.
Yes, we want our kids to grow up to be distinctive souls and not superficial in any way, but we also want them to conform, and we do it from the age of 0.
We ask them:
To keep quiet in public
To behave appropriately
To dress properly for the occasion
To eat in a polite way
To not argue when it is inconvenient (or when our child challenges our own fragile egos)
To wait their turn
To think of others
To be modest
To not run around screaming
We insist that they behave, that they show respect for others, and to be mature (expecting a child under the age of 10 to be mature??) when dealing with other adults
To be hygienic
To respect other people’s opinions and wishes
To not sing in public like that
To know when it is appropriate to shine, dazzle, and stand out with their unique snowflake
fractalness, and when to keep heads down and blend into the background
And the worst thing? We ask that they do well in school so that when they grow up, they will end up in the same kind of job as millions of other people; either selling stuff, or ensuring that the right bit of paper ends up in the right filing cabinet so that the rest of the world functions… rather like the ants in my daughter’s ant farm.
We don’t really want our children to be too unique, too wild, too crazy-weird. Have you ever met a child that is a true free-spirit? A child who has been consciously and deliberately allowed to live their lives without boundaries? Those children are a flippin’ nightmare; almost invariably undisciplined, spoiled, arrogant, and friendless. And their parents? Punchably smug, hopelessly naive, even more arrogant than their kids, and really – really – annoying. My God, they’re baffling, infuriating people. Almost as dreadful as people who are clones of everyone else. Their thoughts and opinions and lifestyles are so non-conformist (living off-grid! Vegan! Anti-vaccination! Environmentally neutral and quite preachy about it! Politically active, and not necessarily in a mainstream way! No discipline for their kids! ANARCHIST!) that they just can’t help but rub normal, ordinary, decent people up the wrong way. Do I want my child to be that sort of anti-social weirdo anarcho-freak?
OK, now I’m not sounding like a bloody hippie, and more like an intolerant fucking bastard. The type of intolerant fucking bastard that lives in a neat house in an identikit housing development, and wears shirt and trousers in neutral colours, and drives a very average boxy car, and does a middling middle-ranking average-job, reads a middlebrow newspapers, and have a passing interest in the sort of music and films that other people like, and watch those light-entertainment programmes that are on between 7pm and 9pm most evenings.
Man, this Parenting gig is way haaaaard. Why does everything have to be so difficult?
So, really, what we want is our children to be wonky, but only slightly. Truly wonky would be too chaotic, too anarchic. Our children need the rules, need the boundaries, need the manners, need to know the right clothing for the right occasion, need to be appropriate, need the restrictions, and need to make their way in the world and not be too confused or frightened by it.
I just hope that my daughter can look at the world through her wonky and squinty eyes, and see the beauty of a butterfly’s wing, or through the hypocrisy of a politician. I want her to treasure the sunlight in a drop of dew, or have the joy in hearing new music; to frighten conservatives with her opinions, or appreciate the tragi-comic farce of the ant-farm lifestyle we all lead. Above all, I want her to be distinctive and interesting enough for people to notice her, and to remember her. God, isn’t that what we all want for ourselves?
And if she can do it while singing amongst a crowd of people who might think she’s a weirdo for wearing an Iron Man costume to a supermarket, then so much the better.