Of all the things I am grateful for, one of the best is growing up in New York City. So many aspects of my personality and belief system were developed in that city. I grew up in a place that reflected the diversity of the world – every colour, ethnicity, religion, belief, argument and oddity plays out and is represented daily there. It is the art of non-conformity personified!
From the age of 12 I attended an amazing school where self expression was a normal part of life. Kids walked the halls sometimes barefoot and other times wearing clothing with controversial messages. Classroom discussions could get heated and some teachers preferred to be called by their first name. Kids came from all over NYC so represented quite a diverse socio-economic pool of families.
Thanks to this environment at a critical point in development I truly became an open minded, free thinker. Yes, I wore clothes from the Gap like everyone else and planned to go to college because that was what you did, but I had a groundwork laid that would make me who I am now as an adult.
I worry a bit, watching the environment my children are growing up in. Where we have settled is as far removed from NYC as I think I could get. I love the lifestyle here – it is almost like stepping back in time – low crime rates, great climate, outdoorsy lifestyle, lots of holiday time for my husband and public services that are not available to most people in the States.
The part I struggle with is that overall it feels like conformity is the order of the day. I am different and will always be an odd one out (my accent gives me away before my liberal ideas are ever revealed), but I have to be true to my own beliefs. The kids attend a fabulous public school, but in a uniform just like everyone else and where even nail polish and a bracelet are banned as if they will be the downfall of our children. They are both artistic (music and visual arts) and just like the rest of the world, funding in this area means less and less creative pursuits at school as they grow – becoming extra-curricular instead of as important as math or writing.
I want them to be able to freely express themselves, dress how they want as a reflection of who they are (and to be comfortable as they grow if they do not like the skirts and dresses mandated by the uniforms), challenge a teacher if it is appropriate.
I still remember attending an introduction to microeconomics class at a top American University and watching this senior professor drawing a graph on the board with chalk. I looked around to see if anyone else was finding his work odd and people were just writing it down. Finally I raised my hand to ask if perhaps he had his info on the wrong axis lines. He did and it got corrected, but imagine if I kept my hand down like the 200 other students?
I want my children to be that way- to think for themselves and decide when to raise their hand, challenge facts, push for change in life. So often these days I hear the response “it has always been that way” and it drives me crazy.
I don’t want the lesson my children learn to be “play it safe” and “don’t draw attention to yourself”. I want them to break out, be creative, develop new ideas, invent something, choose a life they love even if it means low income, decide whether they want 2 kids or 7 or none at all, a partner or not.
My 6 year old came home this week and asked me if Santa is real. Her friend at school had told her he is not and that there is also no tooth fairy, but instead it is parents coming in and putting money under your pillow. My response was – what do you believe?
I could have come clean, but then again we have had discussions about faith several times now. I have taught my children that faith is believing in something when there is no physical evidence to prove it one way or the other. She decided she believes in both for now and explained her theories. I told her that it was fine for M to not believe and also fine for my daughter to believe. One does not cancel out the other and she should never change her beliefs just because a friend or someone else tells her their belief is different. Even if she is the only one with that idea it is okay to stand alone.
So many times in history it is the one who stands alone who makes the changes in the world! That is the child I am trying to raise today.
I want my girls to love themselves – as they are! Whether they are big or small, top of the class or struggling with a subject, get asked on dates or hang out in their room reading books. It all comes back to the idea that conforming to what “everyone else” says or does is more damaging (in my mind) than “causing trouble” or standing out. When your children come to you with a problem or idea I hope you will join me in helping them accept that their ways and views are just fine the way they are.
Let’s raise a generation of children who feel accepted and confident enough to stand alone if necessary. Let’s raise children who will also stand beside someone who is different from the pack and share their strength with them rather than following the crowd.
If I am able to remove one word from my children’s vocabulary I hope it will be “should” – before it becomes a factor in their decision making.
Did you stand out as a child? What are your thoughts on non-conformity? Do you think parents and kids should just tow the line and “get through” life?
Find your simple,
You can go your own way available from etsy for purchase
Different drummer – wall stickers available from etsy