Hi! I’m Kate, and I’m a weirdo. I like salt on my French toast instead of syrup, and my husband and I shared a unity pizza at the altar and exited our wedding on an aisle of bubble wrap. How did I get to be so unapologetically weird? The answer involves 29 years of tiny interactions and events, starting with some truly awesome choices made by my parents. When I was born, my mom swore to herself that she would always let me wear whatever I wanted, no matter what. When I was painfully shy, they signed me up for theater camp, where I learned that the things that came out of my mouth were funny and useful. And when I was in middle school, my dad used airline miles accumulated from work to take us to Morocco, where kids pointed at me because they had never seen red hair before (which blew my preteen mind in the best possible way). Now, I love seeing the small humans of today learn the same lessons about the coolness of standing out. So, here are this odd duck’s tips for showing your ducklings that weirdness is radness, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Establish a positive narrative about your own weirdness. If you haven’t gotten cozy and comfy with your own quirks, now’s the time, because you need to model what it looks like; and if that feels like a struggle, it’s totally okay to show your kids that. In fact, it’s better if they see you actively working on it, because learning to love your oddities isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing — it’s a practice we all have to revisit throughout our lives.
Equally as important, watch the way you talk about others. We throw words like “crazy” or “weirdo” around as if they don’t mean anything, but they do mean something — they send negative signals about anything outside the norm. To reinforce the idea that being different is cool, consciously praise the uniqueness of others instead of using negative words, even if it feels harmless in the moment.
Connect the dots between being a weird kid to being a seriously cool adult. When I was a teacher and a student was driving me crazy, I would step back and remember that the kids who question authority and think outside the box grow up to be the coolest adults. What was Albert Einstein like as a teen? Michelle Obama? Tina Fey? Connect these dots out loud with your kids’ favorite adult figures, and find out if any of them have written memoirs you can listen to on audiobook on your next road trip.
Travel with your kids, if you can; and if that isn’t feasible, give them chances to interact with people from other cultures. When traveling, you learn just as much about yourself as you do about wherever you go, as interactions with different kinds of people can often teach us about ourselves. One of the first times I gained a real sense of the culture of the American West, where I’m from, was when I went to France. I bounced down the street cheerily greeting every passerby with a huge grin and a “Bonjour!” as if I was in a Disney movie, getting stares in return. Clearly, saying hello to people you pass wasn’t the norm in that corner of the world — but it made me realize that greeting and being kind to everyone I meet is a part of myself that I like and am proud of, and it comes from the values of the place in which I was raised. The experience allowed me to file something new under “Things That Make Me Who I Am,” and it’s a lesson I might not have learned if I hadn’t traveled (or interacted with people from another culture, which is just as helpful for budding young weirdos!).
My goal in writing You’re Weird, a creative journal for uniquely awesome people, was to make that statement — “you’re weird!”— a compliment. By raising kids who believe that, you and I are in this together, championing the neat humans who bring their uniqueness to our collective table and make this world a better place. Carpe weird!