While watching the new CBS show Scorpion (which Little Man loves as much as we do) I asked my son if he sometimes felt weird or different than everyone around him and his response was “no.”
He is not “normal”, I have cringed for him while watching from a distance as he tries to make friends with kids who ignore him at the playground and yet he does not feel different. I have overheard other children tell him that he is weird yet he does not feel weird. How is that possible? When I was his age I KNEW I was different. I KNEW that I was weird.
Growing up as a military child, moving every two to three years made fitting in hard. Others always thought it was hard because I was shy and introverted but I was also weird and slightly socially awkward, and I knew that. Never enough to catch the attention of the adults but enough to often be the butt of jokes. We always moved in the summer just before school started and with a Fall birthday the pressure was on to make enough new friends to have a birthday party. Add to that an introverted child who did not like small talk and you have a recipe for massive awkwardness. Try as I might by the time we left that duty station I was lucky to have made one or two real friends. I am still lucky to have made two friends at a new duty station, even as an adult.
Making friends is very hard. Finding other people, especially women, who understood my thought process or are willing to just go along with my weirdness is still extremely hard. I still don’t know what to say, or not say and even adults can be downright mean when you don’t fit their expectations. There have been several moves where I made several acquaintances but no real friends and as I got older I developed masks, pretend personalities that I knew would make friends. I knew how to act the parts because I was always watching other people. I knew what made some people likable and what made authors annoying and tried my best to put on a show. I have been ridding myself of masks over the last few years but still … very, very few ever see the real me.
The few that have seen the real me and still choose to stick around have become my tribe.
My community is mixed up with great friends and family and it is tiny. I can count on one hand my closest friends. People who think and act like me, none of us live near each other. When I married my husband, my teeny tiny tribe tripled. He is charismatic and outgoing, but he too has a small tribe of people that he considers his closest friends. His closest friends became my friends, my closest friends became his and combined with our families we have created a small but stable tribe that we can rely on.
The kicker is that, in gathering people like us and creating this safe zone for ourselves we have also created a safe zone for our children unintentionally. Like us, most of our friends and family are either gifted or high achieving…so are their children. Not because we are elitists or anything like that, its just that like minded people tend to search for understanding from other like minded people. The people who laugh at our inside jokes tend to think a lot like us. Not all of us are gifted or high achieving, but enough to be noticeable.
We realized that even though our children socialize with other children through community events, church get togethers (like sunday school and AWANA) and co-op like classes regularly they spend the most meaningful time with their cousins and the children of our closest friends.
Children who also obsess. Children who also deal with asynchronous learning. Children who think reading for hours or watching dissections online is totally cooler than whatever tv show is popular. 9 year olds who have no problem hanging out and talking Minecraft or Pokemon with their 7 year old friend/cousin because they enjoy that too. Friends who even if we don’t live in the same neighborhood, or even state, want to Skype/Facetime while playing Lego Batman or Little Big Planet and talk about their newest obsession. Family who doesn’t make fun of his stutter when he gets excited because they get just as excited as he does. Who do not make fun of him because he can’t ride a bike without training wheels because they also learned late.
Inadvertently, we have been blessed with this microcosm of gifted nerdiness where our children can be themselves without feeling like outsiders…at least with their closest cousins and friends. Enough so that, thanks to their social awkwardness and asynchronous development, they are blissfully ignorant of their differences…for now, who knows how things might change later on.
They are also in a nuclear family where all of us are different too. Their mother introduces them to Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Dr. Who, and Star Wars by their 5th birthday. Muggles is a perfectly acceptable term in our household and they are often reminded that House Elves don’t live with us. Their father teaches them all about Anime (Studio Ghibli films are always chosen over Disney on movie night in our house), Chess, woodworking,knot making, and the inner workings of computers. Their uncles and aunts feed their love of Science with experiment kits for birthdays and books or Art supplies for christmas. A conversation between Little Man and Grandpapa (my grandfather) regularly revolves around astrophysics, chemistry and sometimes philosophy. Their favorite activity with Grandma and Grandpa is going to museums…especially Natural history ones with taxidermy and fossils.
Surrounded by their siblings and me daily means that imaginary friends, places and adventures are normal. Singing everything they’ve learned in the last few days while acting out epic battles are commonplace. Where our idea of a great night in is filled with watching back to back Science or Nature documentaries. It’s ok for my 7 year old boy to play with his sister’s fairy doll and not realize that its a “girl” toy or for my 3 year old daughter to wear a camo tee under her Cinderella dress while sporting a Nerf bow and aiming at her Lego prison. Where a single conversation can mix together English, Japanese and Spanish and everyone knows exactly what has been said.
We have redefined normality and our Tribe has helped us.
That is what it means to find your Tribe, To find people you trust and love. People who trust and love you, for being you…not a mask or persona. Online communities have helped me realize that I am not alone in this search for those like me. Shows like Scorpion and Leverage (real or not someone had to be dealing with these feelings of isolation to be able to present them to the public!) help me see that a small tribe is still a Tribe. Now it is my turn to help my children find their Tribe and move this cycle onto its next reincarnation.
I am so thankful that they don’t realize how different they are. I want them to be them, even if that stands apart from the rest of the world. Even if they are different. It took me decades to learn that lesson. If I can spare them that pain then our Tribe has done its job. Nothing is being lost. They still learn how to associate with others who are different, we are not shielding them from the realities that are out there. They spend more time in the normal world than with our Tribe, but the time that they spend with the Tribe has already taught them that they are not alone.
Isn’t that what we search for when we look for friends?
Proof that we are not alone?
Like a Lighthouse we each shine our “Muchness” out on the World, searching for lost members of our Tribe.