I hope that my children turn out to be misfits. Geeks. Nerds of the worst sort. I hope they don’t fit snugly into a world of perfect hair and football uniforms where things come easy. Because self-esteem comes from knowing you’re worth more than the stereotypes. Because failing miserably over and over builds up deep reserves of character. I want my children to fail because I love them so. And loving them means I want them to develop a strong moral fiber, and a confidence that only comes after the breaking. And when they hear the words “you are not of this world,” I want them to feel the words seared into their very own scars.
In 6th grade, I had a deep crush on some boy with glasses. Everyone knew it, and the mean girls would write notes and slide them under my desk as if coming from him. Letters covered with hearts and cheap men’s cologne that I believed for a solid four days, telling me to wait by his locker for a kiss. It was a lie, as I soon discovered. And when the history teacher wasn’t looking, someone threw gum in my hair that stuck and my mom ended up cutting it out and wedging stray strands free with Vaseline. Let’s be honest: school sucked. Especially when I fell over backwards and broke both wrists at the same time, waddling around in high tops and matching arm casts. Try and top that, fellow nerds of the world.
One day at recess in the 7th grade, before the days of school shootings and metal detectors, someone lit up and threw a smoke bomb at me, the red ball singing with pent-up explosive authority, causing me to topple off a ledge and break my ankle. And there was the time I was so desperate to wear Guess jeans that I sewed one of those triangle labels on the back pocket of an old worn-out pair of Levis. And for a blissful few hours, I felt special. Until the label started to unravel in English class and I stood in front of an entire room of kids pointing and staring, practically curled over in raucous laughter. The feeling in my gut sunk deep, and I can still feel its weight after all these years. I was so hungry to fit in. I ached to belong. I just wanted time to rush by so I could enter the seductive world of adulthood. But children, you aren’t ready. These lessons have to simmer slow.
Growing up is hard. It should be, because this world is hard, and it can at times be filled with pain. You have to learn these lessons at a time when you can still run home to the loving and accepting arms of family. Many times we would take weekend trips to the city, because mom could tell my sister or I had quite enough. The defenses were tearing loose at the seams, and we just needed to breathe. That’s what true family is – it’s a space where you can let out the air and take off the mask and learn who you really are. Loved regardless of what you do or what you say or what you wear. A fierce love. An elegant love. A love that stands next to you, so that no matter how far you run, you can’t ever overtake it. We’d order pizza and flop around in the hotel pool and just be our glorious, goofy, nerdy selves.
I will die running to tell my children how they can never disappoint me. How the lives that they see as silly and disjoined are like masterpieces to me, patching their father and their grandparents and their own twisted strands of cells into a pride in me that swells. Oh my loves. The flesh of my flesh. You will never do anything too vast or too dark to create a chasm in my heart. And if I can wrap my heart around you like this, you can only imagine how much more God can love.
There are times I wish my childhood was different. I wish I had cooler stories or adventures across the globe or wild weekends of desire. I cringe at my own feelings of inadequacy, feeling stupid for being tall and clumsy instead of whimsical and witty. I didn’t go to fancy camps. I didn’t join a sorority. I wasn’t in cheerleading or wear name-brand clothes and I only made All-State Choir as an alternate.
But I was so deeply loved. And now I’m so grateful now for the trials, because they only get harder, and your strength is tested, and it’s the ability to rise above them that matters. After all these years, I laugh more. I judge less. I have learned that great courage is found in the vulnerable places and to succeed you first have to feel the sting of failure. I rise up and arch my back against the blazing sun with tears drying on my cheeks. I throw my hands up to the heavens and say thank you to parents that always believed, and ran along side of me until their sides heaved with hurt, and never let go. Because I know that no matter what happens, I will be okay. I will rise again. I will be loved.
That’s what it’s like to be a misfit. And it’s beautiful.