This week while driving Isaac to school, he asked me, "Mom, when you were a kid, were you popular, or were you kind of like...a nerd?" I have to say that it broke my heart a little bit, especially because Olivia has also been talking a little bit about "the Populars" (the term used at her school).
Now, no one correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I was a nerd. But I’m also pretty sure I wasn’t popular. I had friends in both classifications, making me...what? Nerdular? A popunerd? I don’t know. At any rate, I think I was pretty comfortable with who I was and where I stood in society.
Rick, on the other hand, was a big-time nerd. He was little and awkward and bullied to the point that he still has a complex. But if you know him, and have seen him these days, you’re likely thinking, "Say what?" He’s a charismatic, funny, handsome big strong man. I mean a big.strong.man. And I have total confidence that he can protect us in any situation. Maybe too much confidence. He’s always telling me, "Wendy! Are you trying to get me killed? Stop staring at that car full of guys." And one time while driving the ol’ minivan, this COMPLETE jerk cut me off and then started messing with me. I rolled down the window and shouted, "Why don’t you follow me home, and my husband will mess you up!" But I had worse language then and didn’t say "mess"...sorry Mom.
Back to Isaac’s question. My kids are at the ages when they are trying to figure out the whole business of social classes and pecking order. So when he followed up his question about popularity with, "And would you rather be a nerd but be tough and able to defend yourself, or a popular kid who is just weak and can’t defend himself?", I had to smile a little bit because I knew at that minute that he’s comfortable with where he stands in society. He’s my tough nerd. And I love it.
It’s kind of Rick’s and my fault that our kids are maybe a little nerdy. We have always talked to them matter-of-factly. We’ve always tried to give them unique experiences to stretch their brains. We have tried to teach them to be responsible in completing their homework, and in doing the best job that they can do on it. We encourage them to make spreadsheets and lists. We give them chores and make them work hard (you should hear the rant Isaac goes into about "Ugh! This generation! Am I right?! 'What's a stove?' 'What are chores?' C'mon! Can you believe some kids don't have chores?!"). We laugh hysterically over structurally and lexically ambiguous sentences (just this weekend, Rick has me in tears over a really good one). We have tried to foster a love of reading and of researching and making Power Points and demonstrations and presentations. Yeah. I guess they might be a little nerdy.
Years and years ago, President N. Eldon Tanner spoke at a General Priesthood meeting. He delivered a thought provoking message that is still relevant today. He said:
We find examples...so often where a person, forgetting who he is, wants to be popular with his peers and wants their praise… This craving for praise and popularity too often controls actions, and as they succumb they find themselves bending their character when they think they are only taking a bow.
I’m sure that as they grow, Liv and Ike will have questions about identity. I still do sometimes, as I’m sure we all do. But I hope that they have a strong enough foundation not to care about whether they are popular or nerdy, and to know that, no matter what, the important thing is to stand for something. To be strong. To be kind. To work hard. To know what their morals are, and to stick to them whatever situation they will find themselves in.
And if all else fails, my family of tough nerds can kick that other family of wimpy populars’ trash any day. And I can show you a diagram all about it.