I’ve never been cool. It doesn’t bother me. I reconciled my wishes with reality many a moon ago. When I was a child, I didn’t fit into the popular group. Instead I had a small gang of loyal friends who were occasionally lured away by the temptation of the cool kids but generally floated back to us second or third tier inhabitants before too long.
On reflection, I think it would be fair to call me a swat. I behaved in class, always did my homework and tried my hardest most of the time. Too school for cool, that was me. I had my life plan and that was my focus. I rarely let things distract me. Even my boyfriend played second fiddle to revision.
But it wasn’t easy, never quite making the grade with the Queen Bees. It is natural to seek approval and to be bathed in the golden glow of the class favourite’s attention was something that I craved just like everyone else. It was just that my drive to do well was a stronger draw.
Now that I’m 44 I couldn’t care less. I am what I am and people can take me, foibles and all or leave me untalked to. Apart from the odd wistful glance at gaggles of giggling women, being popular is neither here nor there to me. But this is something that has come with age. It is not the same for my children.
As far as I can see, not much has changed in the scary world of school. There are still the ‘too cool for school’ mob, strutting about and ruling the roost, graciously giving and then retracting their favours with wanton abandon. Very occasionally you find a child that is highly popular with all groups and yet pleasant and motivated but it’s still a rare commodity.
Beneath these kids there are a wide selection of less cool groups and each child, despite any aspirations that they may harbour, knows exactly where their place in the pecking order is. My task is to ensure that my children are happy with where they have landed, as indeed we all have to be. I need to show them that being in with the in crowd holds very little benefit in the long term. Cool seems to equate to distraction, cheek and underachievement as far as I can see and none of these attributes lead to school success which I consider to be highly important.
And yet, when you are a child, all these things have a irresistible sparkle. It is hard to see how ultimately unsatisfactory it can be to modify your behaviour and looks in an attempt to fit into a place that you were never destined to be. Even if you say the right things and wear the right clothes and laugh at the right jokes, the popular crowd can still drop you like a hot potato on a whim and then what is left of your true self?
I try to ensure that my children’s self esteem is strong enough to survive the vicissitudes of the playground. I repeat, ad nauseam, my mantras that being cool is not always the best policy and that it is always better to be true to yourself than try to ape those around you. But my heart breaks every time I wipe away their tears because they have been inexplicably mocked or ditched.
But ultimately it is a lesson that everyone has to learn for themselves. And until you do I think it’s a struggle to find true contentment, which is what we all strive for for us and our loved ones.