It’s All About Popular

It’s all about popular.

It’s not about aptitude,

It’s the way you’re viewed,

So it’s very shrewd to be,

Very very popular.

Lyrics from the song “Popular”, Wicked

Many years ago one of my then nursery school age children said something about wanting to be “popular.”  I quickly set said child straight by assuring him that I didn’t believe in the whole notion of “popular” and I didn’t want him using that word anymore.  Well, that was that.

A few years ago I was at a bat mitzvah and went into the ladies room.  There I saw a group of alpha girls primping in the mirror while two or three other pre-teen girls who clearly were not in the popular clique, but desperately wanted to be, looked on. The ones in front of the mirror were helping each other sweep their long silky hair into updos. One of the “peripheral” girls (for lack of a better characterization) made a comment, perhaps as a tentative foray into the popular group, and was quickly and ruthlessly rebuffed.  She looked stricken.  The whole incident, which took all of perhaps five minutes, stuck with me for its raw emotional impact.

I remember at the time aching for the outcasts, aching for their feeling of being lesser, unwanted, for their feeling of not belonging. I remember wanting to tell them that it all works out in the end, that 13 is just the beginning and that someday those mean girls won’t matter at all.  Not. At. All.  But it wasn’t my place. Or, was it? Perhaps, I lacked courage. But, I took the path of least resistance quietly returning to my table, saying nothing.

Last weekend, my husband and I succumbed to our 16 year old son’s pleas to have his classmates over for a party at our home. I worried all week about keeping the party on the straight and narrow.  As far as I know, everyone behaved, but as a paranoid and responsible parent I kept my eyes open for any illicit behavior.

It wasn’t misbehavior that caught my eye but rather normal teen-age behavior. As the kids arrived and settled in, I noted that just like academics, socialization comes more naturally to some kids than to others.  Some kids are just more comfortable in their own skin and some are well, to put it bluntly, awkward. I couldn’t help but feel empathy for the ones who hang around the group’s periphery in a state of uncertainty. I found myself wondering where confidence or its converse, lack of confidence, come from. Is it nature, nurture or more likely, a complex combination of the two?

Once again, I thought of the things I wanted to say to those on the outer circle.  I wanted to assure them that their time will come and someday they too will be comfortable in their own skin.  It just takes some of us a little longer to get here.  But, maybe getting to that place of ease with oneself is that much sweeter because of the journey. And, hopefully the journey will make them more empathic and more open to others.  I wanted to say don’t try so hard to fit in, dig deep and find those qualities that make you stand out. Nurture your uniqueness because that’s what will make you an interesting person.

My 16 year old roused me from my reverie. “Everything is good, mom. You don’t have to hover.” And, once again I took the path of least resistance.

And, I said nothing.

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