Childrearing

I Don’t Fit In At My Son’s Swanky Private Nursery School — But I Hope That He Will

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My son goes to a private nursery school on the Upper East Side of New York City.  Yes, every image that statement just conjured up in your head is accurate.  Perfectly manicured mothers tote behind the nanny at drop-off.  Mothers with post-Pilates glow show up with the nanny at pick-up.   I don’t have a nanny, I’ve never been to Pilates, and I rarely get polish when I get my monthly manicure.  Remember Sesame Street: one of these things is not like the other?  Three kids happily doing the same thing, dressed the same way, while the fourth was completely unaware that she doesn’t match the rest of the scene?  I’m that one.

And now I’m terrified that my son won’t fit in.  Is there an outsider gene that I could have passed on?  He’s too shy, he’s too smart.  He’s too short, he’s too sensitive.  I could come up with 100 different ways he won’t be embraced by any one group of kids at school.  I know because that was my own childhood path.  Never bold enough to be a freak, never smart enough to be a nerd, never pretty enough to be cool.

It’s not something you grow out of, because I’m still on the fringe as a mom.   I work in an office 2.5 days a week, but it doesn’t earn me the respect of the career moms.  I mostly stay home with my kids because I want to claim a stake in their lives before their peers get the best of their time and attention.  Which also means I have no hired help, unlike most of my friends.  I’m not rich.  I’m not poor.  I’m both a helicopter mom and a free-range mom, depending on the child.

It was a recent comment from one of the administrators at my son’s very conservative school that made me realize that I have finally embraced my fringe status.  After drop-off, when she was sure no one else was in the room, she very quietly complimented me on my hair.  “It is purple, right?” she asked in a hushed tone.

“It is in fact purple,” I responded at a normal volume.

I believe she was genuine in spite of what might have been the appropriate party line for the school.  Conservative-minded people don’t dye their hair unnatural colors!  Yet here I was, a supporter of this school, a mother of two, a former lawyer – with purple hair.  You could see it just didn’t add up to her, yet I owned it so completely that she felt comfortable (sort of) giving me the compliment.  I find many mothers relate to me in the same way.  I’m an acceptable outsider.

I’m also an adult.  It’s taken me a long time to get to this place of acceptance in my life.  It was rarely an easy path.  My son is a child, barely out of his toddler stage.  Unlike those early linear phases where he learns to walk and talk, the winding path to uncover his identity will take years.  He will struggle to find his place in life and I dread the thought of having to watch him go through it.  I want him to find a place where he feels he belongs very early on.  I want him to find what motivates him at an early age.  I want him to find his lifelong passion while he is still a child.

Except I know from experience it’s not that simple.  The confidence and understanding it takes to own up to your decisions – good ones and bad ones – comes with time.  The perspective it takes to know the world will not collapse in on you with every mistake you make comes with experience.  Yet I desperately wish I could bypass that for my son and download all my knowledge into his delicate little brain.  I’d tell him it’s easier to fit in.  Find that place for now.

My son is just three years old and I have to hope this gets easier as he gets older.  At the very least these obstacles will be less theoretical and I can be in the background to support the actual struggles he encounters.  Maybe he’ll find some comfort in all my stories of never really fitting in.  Maybe he’ll slam the door in my face and tell me I’ll never understand.  Who knows?  For now, he thinks I have the answers to everything.  And he still lets me hold his hand, the place he’ll always fit in.

(photo: Pixelbliss/ Shutterstock)