When I was a little girl, a bit older than Griffin is now, I went to Brownie camp. I can’t remember how many nights I was there for, probably a weekend, and we were going to be sleeping in tents. About a week before, we got our checklists showing everything we needed to bring with us. Mom and I had fun gathering and packing everything on the list. We already had pretty much everything I needed, but there was one thing we had to buy…a piece of plastic to put under my sleeping bag. The plastic was to be part of a “bedroll,” which included your sleeping bag and a piece of plastic rolled up nice and neat with a piece of rope holding everything together that formed a handle. The list suggested we go to a home improvement store and buy a certain length of plastic off the big rolls they kept in the warehouse. My mom was (and still is) a Supermom who could do almost anything, but this item put her out of her element. This was Dad’s territory.
I remember going to the hardware store with my Dad and checking out the rolls of plastic. While I was checking out which one I was going to be going home with, Dad was checking out the prices. He said, “hmm… I think I have something better at home.” I thought COOL! And home we went.
When we got home, I excitedly waited inside while dad went out to his garage to find me the super awesome plastic that he had obviously been saving for such an occasion. I was sure I’d have the best bed roll at camp. When Dad came back in with a sheet of Tyvek, my six-year old heart sank.
If you don’t know what Tyvek is, it’s the white papery-plastic stuff you cover your house with during construction. It’s ugly, white, and has writing all over it. And it’s not clear plastic, and it’s not what was on my list. Dad didn’t even cut it into a neat rectangle shape, he just ripped a piece of the roll and handed it to me and told me how awesome it was. The ends were jagged and I was crushed. I was going to camp the next day and the hardware store was closed for the night. I was stuck with the Tyvek.
Dad spent that evening trying to convince me that Tyvek was way better than plastic anyway, and that I would be the driest kid there. I tried to believe him, and by the time he had wrapped my sleeping bag up with the white monstrosity with writing on it and a scrap piece of frayed, itchy yellow rope (that’s another story), I was convinced that this was not weird at all, and slept well knowing that I would be the coolest kid at camp the next day.
But I was wrong.
I was not the coolest kid. Not even close. There were so many girls there and I was the only one with a bed roll that looked different. The difference was clearly evident when we were tested on cleaning up our tents and rolling up our own bedrolls properly. I couldn’t do it because my piece of plastic was a piece of paper. I wanted a hole to magically appear in the ground so I could jump in.
This story has become a sort of infamous joke in my family, and if you know my dad, you’re probably thinking, “Mmm hmm. Sounds like something Terry would do.” You’ve heard me talk about my Dad before and how he is two parts Red Green and one part Mike Holmes, and now that I’m all grown up (according to my driver’s licence), I get it; I really do. Dad calls it his “Creative Flair.” I used to call it, “how-to-embarass-your-kid-in-one-easy-step.” But more and more, I see these odd traits appearing in myself.
Here’s the problem though. Because I am genetically predisposed to this sort of behaviour, and because I am a mother now, I fear that I may unknowingly subject my kids to kiddie ridicule. Before you shake your head and say, “oh, no, that’s ridiculous,” hear me out.
Kids just want to fit in.
It’s plain and simple. Until they become teenaged zombies, kids just want to fit in. They just want to be like their friends, and what happens on the playground is everything. Their social life, their reason for being, revolves around what happens at recess and lunch.
Griffin said something recently that made me think of it again, and how seemingly harmless decisions, or changes to our children’s perceptions can make them feel pretty horrible. He told me that if we don’t take our Christmas lights down soon, people will think we are weird. He used the word weird. It was a simple statement, but it was profound to me.
Just as I was about to go on a tirade about not caring what other people think and telling him how awesome it is to be different from everyone else, I thought about my experience at Brownie camp. I then opened my mouth to tell him that we wouldn’t want people to think we’re weird, and I stopped again. Instead, I decided to say:
“You’re right, it’s March now, time to take the Christmas lights down.”
He was fine with that answer, but it’s been bothering me a bit since. I want my kids to be unique individuals who don’t give a crap about what anyone else thinks. I want them to wear clothes that they think are awesome and I want them to stand up for what’s right, even if their friend’s don’t. BUT, I know that right now, they just want to fit in. I know that someday, there will be a good time for me to swoop in with a wicked “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” speech, but now is not the time. Now is the time to let them wear Spiderman shirts because all their friends do. Now is the time to let them take water in a plastic water bottle instead of a stainless steel water bottle because all their friends do. They’re building relationships right now, and I know that’s what really matters to five year olds. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is just to stop, slow down, and remember what it was like to be their age. I think it’s called sensitivity.
So, just how much did the Tyvek traumatize me? Enough to make me aware that while I’m in charge of making most of my kids’ decisions for them, I’ll follow the list that is given to me. But oh man, am I looking forward to the teenage years when I can take them to a thrift store and say, “now this is where the coolest clothes come from!”
And obviously, I came around to embrace and appreciate my dads practicality and quirkiness; I can pinpoint the day it happened. I was 22 and was heading off on a six week European backpacking and camping trip and I was frustrated trying to figure out how to attach my sleeping bag to my back pack. Nothing I tried was working. Dad disappeared out to his garage once again, and came back in with two blue fire extinguisher straps he had saved from an old renovation job because he knew they might come in handy one day. They worked perfectly, and off I went to Europe with a new place carved in my heart for my Dad.
Unfortunately for my future husband though, a new place was also carved in my brain. Ken calls it hoarding, but I call it “always having the right thing at the right time,” and Griff thinks it’s awesome 🙂