I’m so much of a nerd that I wrote my college admissions essay about it. I’m so much of a nerd that I not only tabletop role-play, but play systems that aren’t D&D. I’m so much of a nerd that one of my favorite places growing up was the New York State museum. I’m so much of a nerd that I’ve dragged very small children to multiple comic book conventions.
And yet, I had a crisis of faith about my nerd self this Halloween.
After our Guardians of the Galaxy costumes last year, I had my eye on dressing Sprout as Max and the rest of us as Wild Things this Halloween. I found directions online and assured Chris (and myself) that we’d figure it out. With some help from my mom, we completed the costumes at one o’clock in the morning the night before Halloween.
You’d think I’d be proud of my accomplishment, but doubt nagged at the back of my mind. Dressed in a giant wig, furry brown dress, and bright yellow leggings, I was supposed to look ridiculous. But ridiculous in a good way, like the person online who looked in her costume like she was throwing adult worries to the wind. In contrast, I wanted to constantly adjust my wig like the shy girl with runaway hair on the first day of school.
As we walked across the parking lot at Sprout’s preschool to march in the Halloween parade with him, I tried to hold my head high.
“You know, Shannon, you may be the only parents in costume,” my mom said.
I swallowed. “Then they just don’t have enough Halloween spirit,” I declared, my voice almost trembling. What if we were the only ones? What would they think of us? I figured our costumes would be the most elaborate, but what if no one else was at all?
Entering the building, I scanned the hallway to see if other adults were in costume. I spotted a few and breathed a sigh of relief. Once we were in the classroom, Sprout’s teacher complemented us on our hard work. She said that she typically makes family costumes for her husband and four kids (!), something that reassured me that our commitment to dressing up wasn’t totally absurd.
But then we faced the other risk to those of us who like to dress up – people not recognizing what your costumes are supposed to be. A fellow parent asked, “Are you… cavemen?” When I chirped back, “No, Wild Things, from the book Where the Wild Things Are!” she gave me a blank stare.
Unfortunately, this was not the last time we had an encounter like that on Halloween. One of the great joys of last year’s costumes were that people recognized us immediately. It was disappointing to see not only how many people didn’t have a clue who we were but didn’t recognize it even after we explained it to them.
While I could take this as a lesson in the dangers of nerddom – people simply “not getting” you – it shows me both how much I’ve grown and how much I still have space to grow. As I wrote in my college essay, “A nerd is simply someone who is a unique individual and recognizes it, a person who refuses to compromise herself for the sake of others, a person who can tell the world her feelings and opinions.” It’s fundamentally about being yourself regardless of what anyone thinks.
On one hand, I shouldn’t be ashamed of my love of children’s literature and dressing up regardless of what anyone thinks. On the other hand, I took a big risk that I wouldn’t have in the past. While I’ve looked pretty silly before, it’s always been in the guise of anonymity or a “nerd space” like a convention. Going to my son’s new preschool, where my husband co-ops and we’ll be interacting with other parents for years to come, was a whole different level of social vulnerability.
But I was glad that I set that example for my sons. I want them to accept both themselves and other people simply for who they are. I can’t teach them that if I don’t model it myself!
In fact, we had a test of accepting Sprout for who he is just after the preschool parade. All of the kids filed into a big room in the adjacent church building for a group sing-along. While Sprout had been dragging his feet during the parade, I thought he was just moseying. Entering the room, what was potentially a slow pace quickly turned into outright refusal. I asked him, “Are you sure you don’t want to sing with your class?” and was met with a definitive “No.”
While I could have dragged him kicking and screaming, I offered him the opportunity once more and then just let him do his thing. While I sometimes forget, he needs sometimes needs space to adjust to major schedule changes or sensory overload. Later in the day, he joined right back in the activities like nothing was the matter. Allowing him to be him was the best thing we could do.
Being a good nerd mom isn’t about passing on a love of comic books, museums or science. It’s about accepting and loving yourself: quirks, weird passions and all. And it’s about accepting and loving your kid for who they are. Halloween, that holiday of disguises and masks, is a great time to embrace your inner nerd.