Today was my youngest's fourth birthday. He claims he's still three. In fact, he was furious that I started off his morning by telling him how excited I am that he's now a big four year-old.

His response? "No I'm not. I'm going to be three forever!"

Gosh, is he an LA baby or what? Already lying about his age!

Due to the birthday, I trekked to school this morning with chocolate cupcakes for all the other students in his Pre-K class. Yes, all the trash that we've been walking past for the last week is still there, and even more has been added. Now there's also a half-full discarded shopping cart alongside the cookstove.

Anyway, I normally drop my son off with his teacher at the Pre-K gate. But, because of the cupcakes, I followed the kids to the classroom. That's when I discovered something: My son's the "popular" kid in his class.

It's weird how obvious it is that the other kids think he's all that. When he gets there, they cheer. Everyone wants to sit next to him, stand next to him and wear his Buzz Lightyear t-shirt. After school, other students don't want to leave till they've given him a high five. They ask if they can come over and hang out. They want him to come over to their homes. Their mothers look exasperated over this reluctance to say goodbye to my son.

I think the arrival of the cupcakes just sealed the popularity deal. He's not just popular now. Nope, now he's a rock star in there.

I have never had this experience at school. I've always had a couple close friends at school and that's it. In fact, I don't think I even had friends at school till maybe fourth or fifth grade.

I remember a girl in kindergarten said I did something to her. The teacher, Mrs. Bowman, pulled me into the hallway and she was going to paddle me. She actually had the paddle in her hand, but fortunately, I managed to convince her I was innocent! Yes, being falsely accused was pretty much the extent of my interaction with other kids at that age.

I skipped first grade. I'm one of those gifted kids, so no memories there.

The kids in 2nd and 3rd grade called me Oreo, zebra and salt and pepper because of my being half white and half black. They tried to beat me up on the playground. We clearly weren't friends.

In 4th-6th grade, I had two Anna's as school friends. I went over to their houses every once in awhile. I even spent the night sometimes. And then 7th grade hit and I suddenly wasn't cool anymore. I spent most of 7th grade wishing that I had something to fit into a bra and sitting by myself at lunch.

In fact, I was so unpopular that I remember going to sit down on the gym floor to eat lunch with the other girls from my class. (We had no cafeteria so we ate in the gym.)

All ten or eleven of these girls got really quiet. And then, one by one, they stood up and silently moved to another section of the gym. Once there, they burst into laughter and continued with their lunch.

I was humiliated.

Needless to say, I ate my mother's tofu and cucumber sandwich all by myself for most of the rest of that school year.

In high school, I had a couple of good friends. Sure, there were people who liked me and were friendly. But I was never one of the really cool, popular girls. I was always the chubby, nerdy friend of those girls.

In college, I made a couple of really good friends that are still my friends to this day. And I'm grateful beyond belief for them. By then, I didn't want to be popular. I just wanted to be myself, comfortable with lots of folks but just as comfortable being alone, listening to Vivaldi and reading Anna Karenina.

No, I was never the trendsetter that my youngest son so obviously is. And I wonder if this will continue throughout his life. He's so extroverted, and even at his age, so ready to party at a moments notice. He's magnetic, larger than life. We sometimes joke that he's going to be the president of some frat house at college. Or he's going to be the male version of Oprah Winfrey. One of the two.

What about you? Were you popular in school? How did you deal with your popularity (or lack thereof) as a child?


thailandchani said…
My experience sounds similar to yours. In fact, I may have avoided all of it even more than you did. Eventually I got the same point of not caring much, one way or the other.

I'm glad for your son in a way. His life will be much easier through school.


Anonymous said…
I used to read books at recess in elementary. Enough said.
Anonymous said…
I didn't have the looks, the money, or the prevailing social standards to be a popular kid, but somehow my confidence, positivity, and the fact that I was always having a good time made the other kids gravitate toward me. And later I may not have been asked out by the cutest guys or invited to the hottest parties, but somehow the people who were always wanted to be my friend.

Looking back, the most mystifying thing about this is that I didn't really care. As long as I was having fun, I didn't care.

It's funny, I am embarrassed about my lack of maturity at that age, but that attitude was probably the one mature thing I had going for me.
Toussaint will probably be King of the World someday. Or maybe a cult leader.

Oh, wait. He already is. I can't believe he's got the L.A. Peter Pan thing going at four!

I was an oddity in that I was "popular" with other children but always felt like an outsider, maybe because I was not very well accepted in my own home.

Your experience in the lunchroom/gym was perfectly horrible. Kids (and adults) can be incredibly mean, which is the main reason I didn't feel like I belonged even when I seemed to.

I was not mean, or cool, I skipped a grade, too, my family was Jewish, and my mother didn't drive so there were issues. I think the other kids liked me anyway, in some cases more than I liked them.

I grew up to be someone who has a few friends and many friendly acquaintances.
Liz Dwyer said…
It's a nice feeling when you get to the point of not caring at all, isn't it? For me, I wish it'd happened sooner rather than later. I guess I have mixed feelings about my son's popularity. I probably worry that he'll get used to it, and then one day, he'll suddenly not be the cool kid and then not know how to deal with it.

I love it! Sometimes reading books is so much better than playing tag on the playground or sitting with a group of gossipy girls!

I think about those sweet sixteen shows on MTV where those kids have those outrageous parties with hundreds of "friends". I always wonder how many true friends those girls have and how many of those so-called friends would be around if there was no money for a ridiculous party.

Having fun with those you love and those who love you definitely trumps hanging with superficial acquaintances.
Liz Dwyer said…
King of the World or cult leader...LOL, yes, he already has both going. I suppose that's what we get for naming him after an emperor.

I absolutely relate to feeling like an outsider...and being a Baha'i and my mom didn't drive either...yes, I definitely feel you.

And, I've never forgotten that lunchroom experience. I still feel surprised sometimes that they actually did it.
none said…
I was very unpopular as well. I think kids pick a target and can smell self consciousness like a dog smells fear.

Those were not good days.
Nerd Girl said…
Happy belated birthday to your son!

I think my blog handle "Nerd Girl" pretty much says it all. A good book or socialization - I'll let you guess which I was (and still am) apt to choose. I definitely had friends, but was never popular. Heck, I was called an Oreo and both my parents are black :)

I am amazed at how similar and yet different my daughter is from me. She, like your son, is extroverted, ready to dance, sing, and party at the drop of the hat, and has never - never - met a stranger. She rocks!
Ian Lidster said…
It's an interesting question, aside from you outlining the reasons why I hated school.
But, I always had considered myself to be an outsider, and then, a few years ago, I ran into an old friend from high school days and she said: "Well, you of course were part of the 'in' crowd." I told that I thought she was, and I wasn't. Go figure.
Jameil said…
he'll likely be like that his whole life. it'll be fun. i was popular in a different way. i had friends in all different groups... who simultaneously couldn't stand each other. that meant i was a floater on the playground and everywhere else. i can fit in pretty much anywhere. lot's of fun. lmao @ "I'm going to be three forever!" glad he's a popular kid. i wasn't the one w/the rich popular kids but they liked me. my sister was popular in a different way b/c she was a cheerleader and she's nicer than i am. she's more trusting, too. happy birthday youngest baby!!!
M said…
I've been making that cult leader joke about Spike for years! Maybe our boys should join forces! Spike has the same thing going on as Toussaint does. They have had to institute a seating chart in his classroom for the past three years running because kids fight over sitting next to him. I'm proud - but it kind of freaks me out, too. There are times when he is actually bothered by all the attention.

I had a lot of friends and I got along with almost everyone in school -but only because I went to a teeny tiny alternative arts school where my quirky nerdiness was seen as desirable. If I had gone to a regular mainstream school I would have surely drowned.
Liz Dwyer said…
That's probably true. Plus I find that kids are taught to value certain things and teachers reinforce those kinds of things. Alot of popularity contests are merely a form of bullying and teachers let it go on.

Nerd Girl,
Thanks for the birthday wishes. He wants to know if you're coming to his party. LOL! He thinks the whole world is coming!

You're an Oreo also? Yeah, Oreo's of the world unite!

My son informed me today that he's kicking me out of his rock band. I guess I'm still not cool enough.

Yes, those are all reasons folks hate school, aren't they? I wonder if folks would see me as being an outsider or not. I'm sure that some would not. I suppose it's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

I think it'll be neat to see how he develops. My other son is so mellow and easygoing. I can't wait to see how the differences in their personalities play out.

Oh my, fighting to sit next to your son...LOL! I wonder if all that's in our future. I guess it could be just as challenging to be the parent of the child that is a total social outcast. Hmm... and an alternative arts school is exactly what my son needs. I can see it in his future!
I was a big, big nerd. My bf would pay me to do her geometry homework. My friends would call me square and wierd Connie. I was so glad when college started that I would purposely wear clothes that didn't match because no one could say anything about it. **sigh** That was a great feeling.
Ms Angela said…
Popular, me? I'll put it this way--the schools I attended until junior high were integrated when my sister and I walked through the front door. I was black, overweight, and contradiction. One minute I was playing army with the boys on my block or getting into fights, the next I was inside reading and listening to music.

Like you, Liz, I often sat alone during recess and at lunch. My nickname amongst my white classmates was "Aunt Jemima". They never called me that face to face. Always in a group. And of course, the name was hilarious to them.

Something strange happened in junior high, though. All those years of living in predominately white neighborhoods created a gap between me and the black kids at my school. They said I talked and acted like a white girl. I also heard the term "Oreo". I couldn't understand it. I was finally around kids with skin color like mine, and I was labelled "white". So I went "superblack" on everyone. Afro, Black Panther-lovin' revolutionary child.

The things we do for acceptance.
Liz Dwyer said…
Weird Connie? I've never heard that one before. And don't you love how when you go to college and your clothes don't match then it's okay!

What you experienced goes beyond unpopularity and borders on being terrorized by other kids. It happens because teachers and other adults in positions of power tolerate and/or encourage it.

So interesting that you flipped the script and became superblack -- I know plenty of folks who've done that as well. One woman I know was raised semi-vegetarian and now she claims she loves chitlins. Yeah, right. Whatever! LOL!
Interesting topic.

I too heard the Oreo slam at first when I went to college (although 90% of my friends in college were black). I went to Jr and High school in a small, rich, predominately white town in the suburbs. If we had stayed in NYC not sure I would have listened to that much Led Zepplin, Bon Jovi, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran (haha). When I got to college some black kids thought I dressed too preppy and sounded white. sigh.

I did have to deal with some racial crap in high school but I had a really great group of friends and was very social. I wasn't a cheerleader but active in sports/music and did well in school. I couldn't worry about what the super popular girls were up to, because I was too busy dealing with strict ass West Indian parents. There was no way my parents were going to let me go to those parties or spend that kind of money of clothes.

Also my school was so small the cliques overlapped. We had cool kids, jocks, pot heads and honor society kids in band and playing sports. I don't think I would have done well in a massive school.

I wonder what happened to the kids who called me an Oreo? Are they active in the community? How do they feel about their kids listening to Robin Thicke or Justin Timberlake?
Anonymous said…
I was the outsider...My hair was not permed...My clothes were from goodwill and that was BEFORE goodwill was HIP! I never wore the hip clothes...My good friends in elementary school all ditched me in middle school...I finally found a good group of nerdy girls that pushed me to excel in school my Junior and senior year...

I hated school until highschool...

Honestly kids are cruel...and unfortunately my daughter is going through it now! Funny enough she's like me...she can play by herself at a moments notice..but she's very sensitive!
Anonymous said…
With his lying about his age and his immense popularity, I have a feeling that he's going to be suggesting "acting classes" very soon in Hollywood.

I was never popular. Thus, I now blog.
Liz Dwyer said…
Good thing y'all moved to the burbs so you didn't miss out the the Depeche Mode, right? LOL!

I agree about the strict parents sort of impeding popularity. Mine were super strict. I definitely didn't have the social freedom that my peers did. And my mom would not let me buy certain clothes, etc. That's why there's a whole lot of black leather in my closet today! I'm living out my punk rock fantasies at the age of 34!

What's up with everybody being called Oreo? That's so interesting that almost everyone black has that's commented has that shared experience. Such a good point about kids nowadays grooving to JT and Alan Thicke. Wonder if they call their own kids "Oreo"? Hmm!

Ugh. I wish your daughter wasn't going through this right now. It's good that you can be a support to her and help her realize that she's still going to grow up and be a phenomenal woman. I'm sure it still hurts her though. Gosh, goodwill back in the day was not a cool place to get anything, but now, everybody's up there!

I wouldn't be surprised. He loves to be up on stage any chance he gets. He's been saying for the last year and a half that he wants to be a rock star. In fact, we were playing "rock star" last night -- a fun game that consists of me listening to him bang on his drums and play his guitar. If I walk away, he yells, "You're not listening to my song! Pay attention!" Indeed, the ego of a rock star already.
Anonymous said…
Good read.

Elementary school we had to fill out this questionaire, asking questions like "If you could have one friend sleep over who would it be?". The results were tabulated and we were given our secret number. A big poster was hung with an inner circle, and outer circle with all our numbers pasted somewhere.

A somewhat friend was smack dab in the inner circle; and my only close friend (she lived across the street from me, so knew each other since three) was just outside that inner circle. Of course all the girls wanted to know each others numbers and it was totally humiliating.

I was way on the outside of that outer circle with the other 1 or 2 class "losers". It got worse in Junior High. High School had me singing along to Little Anthony and the Imperials "On The Outside Looking In".
Liz Dwyer said…
What in the world could the teacher have been thinking to do something like that. That just fosters the sort of ridiculousness that kids keep going. And I think girls are much worse than boys so it seems like teachers should be more vigilant. However, I think teachers like to promote certain kids as being popular, unfortunately.

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