My older boy and I took the dog for a long walk together this morning, which gave us some time to chat. I don’t usually have an agenda when I’m hanging out with the kids, but today I did. I wanted to talk to him again about the contents of his new school plan, the one that lays out the modifications and accommodations he can take advantage of during longer writing assignments in the classroom. This was put into place at the tail end of last year and I wanted to be sure he understood what he could ask for, and when. I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge this year: his comfort level with self-advocacy in a busy classroom so that he utilizes these strategies set out for him.
Eventually, I felt like our conversation had focused too much on the aspects of school that would be challenging for him, and so when we were just a couple blocks from home I said, “You know, fifth grade was my absolute favorite grade in school. I adored my fifth grade teacher and decided I was going to teach fifth grade when I grew up.” I told him about how I asked for a file cabinet for Christmas that year (yes, I did) and how I created files to keep my favorite activities so that I could replicate them with my students someday. I remember tangrams in particular. I still have that filing cabinet, but it’s filled with far less interesting and amusing files these days. He was disappointed that I no longer have my fifth grade activities files.
As I always do, I had to giggle a bit when I was telling him about my 10-year old self, and I muttered under my breath with amusement, “Talk about a nerd!”
I did this sort of on purpose. You see, a friend had called Baxter a nerd a few months ago and he knew it wasn’t a compliment. He had reported it to Matt tearfully, but he and I hadn’t had a good opportunity to talk about it. However, soon afterward he had read this book, in which nerds are glorified. All of a sudden he was proudly telling us that he was a nerd and we told him we were, too, and wasn’t it grand. We let it drop for a couple months.
But when I said it today, he was hearing it used again as a bit of an insult, even though I was giggling and it was self-effacing. I thought that would be a non-threatening way to bring it up again. He turned to me right away asking, “What IS a nerd, really, Mommy?” I told him I thought people usually said it about other people who were super smart but maybe not considered to be that cool. Which led to his next very earnest question:
“So what is ‘cool‘?”
I spent a minute trying to extract from him what he thought it meant but he was stumped. He had no idea. Honest to god, I love that about this child. So I tried to think like a more typical fifth grader. “I guess what kids mean by cool is that you seem like a bigger kid…maybe you listen to the kind of music older kids listen to, or you watch TV shows and movies that older kids watch. Maybe PG-13 shows? And you might dress fashionably.”
Baxter scoffed, unimpressed.
“But I think what really matters is what you think cool means,” I told him.
“My friends are really cool,” he told me after a moment.
“And what are they like?” I asked.
“They’re nice,” he said quickly, “and they never do mean things to other kids, or ever bully anyone. Ever.” He looked at me meaningfully, since he’d recently had his first experience with classmates treating him unkindly.
“You’re right. That is cool — very cool,” I agreed, feeling the pinprick of tears hit the back of my eyes as we walked down our alley. “I think what I also consider cool is people who are funny and smart, and who think about things differently than other people. They’re interesting.” He agreed.
“Does cool have anything to do with what people look like?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied, looking at me strangely.
“Is it about what someone wears?”
“No! Not at all,” he said.
As we opened the door to our house, I told him, “I like your version of cool. I want you to remember it, because someone else’s definition isn’t always going to be the same as yours and you know what? I don’t care and neither should you.”
“Okay!” he said cheerfully as he threw off his shoes and ran to find his book.