Ever notice how kids have no qualms about being quirky? Most of us start out pretty confident about our own preferences and peculiarities. Just today when I tried to break my 3yo’s fresh-baked zucchini muffin in half so it would cool faster – patience is not his strong suit – he shooed me away. “I like it whole, Mama.” And don’t even TRY to cut his sandwiches in half. He also likes to wear his clothes backwards on purpose and considers pants optional.
His older brother has equally strong, equally eccentric preferences about his clothes. His favorite shirt is a washed-out tie-dye, he wears striped socks with Crocs, and he refuses to wear collared shirts, ever. One time when I forced him to wear a polo shirt – more concerned about laundry than looks – I picked him up from school to find he’d tucked the collar inside the shirt. That scheming little… Reminds me of a certain Catholic high school girl who used to roll up the waistband of her uniform skirt because she thought it was too long and frumpy.
So we start out aware of, proud of, or at the very least unconcerned with others’ opinions about what makes us different. Then at some point it changes. We try to be just like everyone else. Almost every single girl in my high school wore her skirts the same way, wore the same kind of shoes, had the same hairstyle. (Which may have involved a crimping iron, I’m sad to say.)
Later, we might even turn into an “I don’t care, honey, you pick the restaurant/movie/vacation destination” type of person. This is a huge mistake. Subverting your own desires and idiosyncrasies can only lead to unhappiness. Sooner or later it’s bound to boil over, and that’s how you end up with middle-aged women in strip-aerobics classes and stockbrokers with tribal sleeve tattoos.
But every once in a while, you meet a person who doesn’t lose their handle on what makes them tick as they get older. They manage to remain true to themselves into adulthood. I have a cousin, T., who is one of those people.
One of my favorite anecdotes about T. is from the time we were both living in the Washington, DC area. I was a corporate drone, working a soul-sucking job to pay my sky-high rent on a tiny, generic 1-bedroom apartment. He was a free-spirited grad student living with a bunch of friends in a decaying old mansion that was formerly an embassy for some small eastern European country. He was in a band and played in a kickball league on weekends.
One night my then boyfriend/now husband calls me from Adams Morgan, a funky DC neighborhood full of bars and restaurants. “I think I just saw your cousin,” said C. “He was playing the accordion on the street and wearing a fedora. Or a bowler hat, maybe?” Of course it was T. I had no doubt. That is SO HIM.
A couple weekends ago, many years after the rest of us lemmings got married and started having kids, my cousin got married. His new wife seems perfect for him. They both wear skinny jeans* and like offbeat 80s bands and play Frisbee golf. Their wedding was as unique, nontraditional, and full of personality as they are. Their vows may have included a promise to “be awesome” to one another always.
I hope as my sons grow up, they are able to hold onto some of what makes them special and different. Maybe one day they will meet their soul mates, who also enjoy inhaling muffins whole and wearing their clothing backwards, and they will wed in a lovely garden ceremony attended by their cousins. A mom can dream.
*My husband read this before I posted it and said, “I don’t think he wears skinny jeans.” Then we had an argument about whether or not T. would be upset if I falsely accused him of wearing skinny jeans. I could just ask him, but he’s busy being a newlywed so maybe to be safe I should just say “they both wear stylish clothes that give them a cool, hipster vibe.” No one should take offense to THAT, right? Sheesh. I’m just trying to paint a picture with words here, people.