Finding Hope, Redemption, Courage... from Cancer

"(At one time) my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don't know what lies around the bend, but I'm going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend." - Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Cancer Has Taught Me, Part 356: Embrace your Inner Dork

Hey, you, over there, keep the L up in the air
Hey, you, over there, keep the L up, cause I don't care
You can throw your sticks and
You can throw your stones

Like a rock and just watch me go, yeah
L-O-S-E-R, I can only be who I are

I know, you're thinking, what? She's excited to be a loser? And where's the first 355 parts of what cancer has taught her? Let's just say those 355 things are not really written down, because they don't need to be. Those are the givens, all the cliches anyone can imagine you'd learn from confronting your own mortality. Things that can all be wrapped up in a neat box called 'perspective' and saved away for the next time you get caught up in a melodrama that was never worth more than 30 seconds of your time or energy.

But part 356 kind of took me by surprise. It's one of those things that fit the perspective box too, sure, but I didn't expect to become so excited about it. Maybe I knew it all along, but was scared to admit it. Maybe I thought if I took that leap and said, sure, I'm a dork and I don't care, that the world would laugh, that it would make me one of those people, you know, the ones on the fringes that are always being made fun of by the cool people?

Except guess what? I am one of those people, whether I like it or not. And I finally like it.

No, not totally, of course. It hurts sometimes. Only months ago I was crying because of something humiliating someone said about me publicly. But I'm not five or fifteen anymore. I have a choice on how I handle this stuff, don't I? And I think its time for a new strategy.

Confession time: Yes, I let my girls listen to the Glee soundtrack sometimes when we're driving in the car. Wait - no, I'm not the negligent mother you think. I only let them listen to the PG-rated stuff. Some of those songs have become Noelle's favorite going-to-school music. I wasn't terribly surprised - my girls love to sing, and Glee makes just about anything singable.

Second confession: I should have caught on to what I'm about to tell you much sooner than I did. Three weeks ago, Noelle started asking for one of the Glee songs over and over on the way to and from school. Every time I'd try to change it to another she'd beg for a repeat. She'd ask for me to explain what every line means. Those of you who recognized the lyrics I quoted above will guess which song it is - "Loser Like Me," the original song composed for the recent regionals episode.

Just go ahead and hate on me and run your mouth
So everyone can hear
Hit me with the worst you got and knock me down
Baby, I don't care
Keep it up and soon enough you'll figure out
You wanna be, you wanna be a loser like me

At first I just thought Noelle had found a catchy song that was fun to sing. But Wednesday on the way home from school I realized it was much deeper than that. See, my girl, even with all the initial struggles she's had adjusting to the routine, LOVES to go to school. She loves her teacher, she loves the kids, she loves to draw and read and sing and run and just learn. She would cry and plead with me to go even when she'd be ridiculously sick to go anyways. Yet, for the last three weeks, yes, the same amount of time we've been hearing "Loser Like Me" on repeat, she's not wanted to go to school at all. I've had to coax her into getting dressed, coax her into getting her backpack, wrestle with her to want to go see all her friends.

Little did I know that that was the problem: friends.

Well, that's a loose term in elementary school, hey? I mean, let's face it: we've either all been tormented at the hands of our peers, or we've done the tormenting, those of us on the receiving end labeled 'dorks' and those on the giving end celebrated, even envied for being so 'popular.'

Before you think I'm going to rag on the 'popular' people - although, really, what the $(#*%& does that even mean anymore? - let me say I'm the first to fall into this trap. In the second-to-last year of high school, I decided I would try to 'break in' to the 'popular crowd,' both at school and at youth group, and not really for any other reason than just to see if I could do it. I did, well, sort of; I got to the place where I was allowed to come to their parties and eat lunch with them and laugh at their jokes and yeah, some of it was really, really fun. They were entertaining people who knew how to have fun. But it came at a cost. I hurt some of the people, one person in particular, I remember, who were - and guess what, still are, my longest and closest friends, people who let me be me.

Of course, I realized, not too much into my experiment even, that I would still rather spend time with the people who let me be myself and who loved me for it. Because the 'popular crowd,' as fun as they were, kind of required me to be a certain version of myself in order to have fun with them. I don't think they knew they were doing it. At least I hope not. That was just what you did when you were 'popular,' when you had that intangible 'it' factor that the rest of the world deems is definitive of success and worthy of social elevation. And when I realized that the 'it' factor was okay but was kind of exhausting to try to maintain, I went crawling back to my real friends, the ones who'd been kind enough to embrace me from the beginning, the people who knew what it meant to hurt and cared enough to reach out to others on the fringes, the ones who were already okay with their social status. I was grateful that these same people were still giving enough to forgive the hurt my foray into the metaphorical teenage elite may have caused.

I hope my girl is one of those who'll forgive the friend who's currently doing to her what I once did to my best friends, if and when she ever realizes the same thing.

For now my daughter is on the receiving end of the elementary school mocking. Noelle reluctantly admitted on the way home from school on Wednesday that the girl she thought was her best friend was now not only friends with the girl who made fun of her, but also encouraging others to make fun of her.

And of course my daughter's tears just broke my heart.

Noelle says, that at least through her five-year-old tender-hearted eyes, that they've been making fun of her for three weeks. She couldn't name specifics. She said she didn't remember. Maybe she didn't want to remember, I don't know. And maybe its not as big as she's saying. But the point is that she feels it, regardless of what actually is going on.

I guess I wouldn't really be a true mommy if that didn't make me cry just a little bit.

I can't run in and save her, of course. I can't fix it. I can only try and help her navigate it, hopefully in a better way than I did when I was her age. Some of these painful things are necessary, of course. Unfortunately, its often the only way we learn social cues of how to get along and how to fit in. And really, those are good skills, things I have to use everyday at my job and at my church and in my neighborhood and with my friends: find out whatever pieces of common ground you have with someone and connect.

And I think, the more that I've talked to Noelle, that its probably not as dire as it seems. Likely her friend has just decided she doesn't want to be friends anymore, and like I've told Noelle, as much as it hurts, she's allowed to do that. We can't make anyone be friends with us.

No, we can't, but I really wish sometimes that we could all grow the @(#*$& up.

Yeah, I meant that expletive. These kids are five, of course. Five. And they're allowed to act that way. But I still see this stuff at 15, 20, 30, heck, there are some 40 year olds I know that are more than wonderful to engage with individually, but when they're all in a room together the air shifts and they become that 'popular' clique again, one I, and really, most people, are definitely not part of.

But maybe, I don't want to be.

There, I said it. I don't want to be popular. No, wait, don't throw things at me. Don't say I'm lying. I mean it. Last year I ran into one of the girls who tormented me in elementary school, one of those 'popular' people who managed to extend enough grace to accept me by the end of high school, and thought, hey, we're 30, we can find some common ground here, right? And about two minutes into the conversation - all of which was positive, by the way - I was slammed with an alarming thought: you're not that interesting.

Not to rag on her - she's a lovely person, really. Especially now that she doesn't feel the need to make fun of me, or make me guess as to if I'm her friend this week or not. But also really, I don't care about what she cares about. I care about - gasp - dorky stuff. Music. Arts. Reading. Parenting. Learning. Writing. Hockey. The most interesting people I know are either doing crazy-ridiculous degrees at ivy league schools and really trying to integrate what they learn with how they think and act, or are super-passionate about raising healthy, grounded, fun kids, or who love to get up and dance when they hear their favorite song, or who, like me, have watched hockey their whole life and will jump up and scream at the refs like my dad used to. But really, what all of these interesting people, beneath all their dorky behaviour, have in common is that at some point in their life, they experienced deep pain.

Pain, I think, can connect us with others quicker and longer than anything else in the world. Sure, on the outside, we bond over happy things, shallow things: clothes and vacations and events and news and all sorts of things that, at least most of the time, don't dig too deep into who we are. And I'm not suggesting we embrace our inner masochists and only think about things that hurt. But in sharing that hurt with the right people - usually those honest enough to know they're just the same as us - we become a more united front. Stronger, somehow. Less afraid of what the social elite can do to us.

Hence - beware, another dorky confession - my deep love of Bones. That show - ridiculous and brilliant and at times wickedly funny, if you share our macabre, off-beat sense of humour, that is, is really all about the dorks ruling the world, and the cool guy realizing he'd much rather have Brainy Smurf than Smurfette, along the way, of course, teaching Brainy Smurf how to interact with people.

And that's really what matters, right? How to make others feel like they count? The most truly popular person I know is actually popular, I mean, by definition, she's just one of those people who draw others around her because she is so inclusive and affable and fun.

The other thing about her? She's not afraid to be who she is. Interesting, isn't it?

What most baffles me is that those who embrace who they really are - dork, cool, or both - become a little more interesting to the rest of the world, popular or not. Why is it that when we stop caring about something we become a little more able to attain it? If we're honest, we all know that deep down there's a part of us we're too ashamed to share, the part that makes us vulnerable and weird and broken. The part we try to apologize for.

What if, instead of apologizing, or trying to forget its there, we actually let that part out and - gasp - celebrated it?

David just told me about a junior high dance where he spent the entire night playing ping pong with two of the geekiest kids in school. Guess what? Those two guys (not to mention my pretty smart and capable husband!) have crazy successful jobs today, and you know what, they're also functional adults in the social world. Dorks really are ruling the world now, or haven't you noticed the iPhone revolution? It might make you cool to have one of those phones, but guess who made those phones? You guessed it. Ironic, hey? (Yes, I love my phone too).

Push me up against a locker
And hey, all I do is shake it off
I'll get you back when I'm your boss
I'm not thinking about you haters
Cause, hey, I could be a superstar
I'll see you when you wash my car

So yes, I'm a dork. Facing cancer has taught me that. But its also taught me that I LOVE being a dork. I mean, who cares that I sing at the top of my lungs to certain songs? Who cares that in another life I would have hoped to be a broadway dancer? Why does it matter that, as I'm about to turn 31, the dorky things I loved as an awkward seven year old - knitting, watching hockey, and writing stories - are the things I still deeply love today? DorkNation is sweepin' the nations, people. And I say, bring it on. Because really, when I look at those 'cool' kids today, and think of the 'uncool' choices I've made over the years, I think really, that I'm happier than they are. More at peace, somehow. And that is SO worth the torture of the first however many years of my life. Who am I kidding? Its worth the snickers and I-can't-believe-she-just-said-or-did-that looks I still get today. Its worth even the snorts of those of you reading this! ;)

You may think that I'm a zero
But hey, everyone you wanna be, probably started off like me
You may say that I'm a freakshow - I don't care
But hey, give it just a little time, I bet you're going to change your mind

Yes, as much as I want to teach my little girl the things that make her socially acceptable, I also hope I help her grab a whole lotta' confidence in the best and brightest parts of who she really is. I hope she'll be one of those who picks what she believes because she believes it, not because it seems the cool thing to do. I hope she becomes a strong character, a deep woman, a successful adult.

Which is why I hope she grows up with a healthy disrespect for the ridiculous criteria of the reigning class.

After all, as my husband says, we are the cool people.

So there. Come on, you guys. Embrace your inner dork. All the cool kids are doing it. =)


  1. How I treasure your vulnerability and honesty! You have always been amazing, but the way you have grown through this journey you've been forced to take is truly incredible. You inspire and challenge me, my wonderful friend!

  2. Thanks for these thoughtful words Lana. I've read this post several times, and while my kids aren't in school yet, I think every mother fears dreading her child will be the one made fun of. Your words though made me rethink my dread of this, and made me think about how to use it as a teachable moment.... and reflect on my own experience, of course. Keep it coming!

  3. Ah yes, those 'forced bends in the road' sure put us on steep learning curves whether we like them or not, hey? I think I'm glad though, because i like myself better now, I'm not as obnoxious to be around I think (I hope), since I feel better about who I'm suppose to be. Amy... so thankful you found this encouraging! Definitely one of those things we hate to watch but can actually bring about really good things for our kids... remember, end goal: responsible, happy, productive, adult. And most of the people I love the best got made fun of growing up. They're awesome, so hey, let's help our kids ride out the hard parts and let them become awesome, too. Thanks again ladies, and I'm sorry my response to your comments was so late. I'll be better about that when we switch over to the new blog (soon!!)