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Navigating the Social Minefield


On Grace's first day of school, she took her beloved cow with her. He stayed in her backpack but still provided her with a bit of reassurance, I'm sure. He hasn't gone back to school yet, as Grace seems to be making the adjustment pretty well.

Last week, Grace came home with a note. Addressed to all of the parents, it asked that we either stop sending toys from home to school altogether OR make sure that "visiting" toys remain in our kids' backpacks for the day, as showing them off was creating a sense of competition among the kids.

My first reaction was, "Competition? Really? We're talking about 3-year-olds here," but now I guess I can see how Janie might feel badly if Johnny consistently brings in stuff that's cooler than what she owns. And with that, the whole mess that is school/social class/fitting in begins. Ugh, does all of this really have to start so early?

Last Friday, my wife had me watch an episode of Oprah that she had TiVo'd. It was about a project conducted in an American high school that encouraged the students to break from their typical roles (the freaks, the geeks, the jocks...come on, we've all seen The Breakfast Club) and share something honest and truthful about themselves. In the end, they really saw each other as human beings, not simply "the kid from drama club" or "the mathlete."

In case you're wondering, I was a skinny band geek with glasses and braces. I wouldn't, however, say that my high school experience was unpleasant. I had my small core of friends and we had a good time. I don't mean to say that I was immune to the social pressures and discomfort of high school, but it wasn't unbearable. The typical cliques were in place, as were the rich kids, the poor kids, the social butterflies and the socially inept. While watching Oprah, I wished that I could have visited those students myself to share with them what I think is the most important thing they should know:

None of what they're so worried about will matter one single bit the instant they graduate.

Right after high school I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Talk about a level playing field. I discovered almost immediately that no one was the least bit interested in my social history, nor was I concerned with theirs. In fact, one night in the cafeteria, a friend of mine had a revelation. He stopped eating and began studying the noisy room intently. "Oh my God," he said. "What?" we asked. "We're all the kids that no one liked in high school." We all looked around and had a good laugh.

It wasn't entirely true, of course. The point is that it didn't matter. My friends at Berklee were my friends because they were cool guys to hang out with, not because of who they were three months prior.

When I think that the whole mess of having the right toys, etc. can begin in preschool I shudder. I guess I want Grace and William to be blissfully ignorant of the more unpleasant aspects of life for as long as possible. As I put each of them into bed last night, I lingered just a moment in the doorway of their rooms. Soon enough they'll need the right jeans, the right hair, the right everything. For now, they're content with a bowl of grapes, a story on my lap or a walk around the block.

"Hold on just a little bit longer," I thought. "There's still plenty of time."