I remember when it first hit me that my little boys weren't like other kids. We were enjoying a picnic lunch with one of those "Let's Compare and Complain" mommy groups I joined in order to get away from Oprah. I noticed, with a healthy dose of fear and pride, that my sons were the only toddlers listening in on our grownup conversations.
Perhaps this was when I ruined them forever. They could see that while other mommies were trading tips on what to do when their offspring threw temper tantrums in public, their own mom was trying to discuss foreign policy and the shit going on in Iraq. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and now, so do they.
I'd always found it frustrating when other moms wanted to discuss issues that simply didn't relate to me and my kids. For instance, the tantrum thing. Oldest and Youngest never threw tantrums in public. Instead, when they didn't get their way, they preferred to debate or remind me that time-outs were no way to treat my "gifts from God."
Don't get me wrong — mine aren't perfect children. Once they argued with me for a solid hour over why 6-year-olds should be allowed to ride bikes without helmets. They didn't win this argument, but after enduring logic that would make a law professor proud, I put them in front of PBS and called my mom.
"What happened?" she asked, alarmed. "Did they refuse to eat your cooking again?"
"No," I replied. "I'm devastated because I wanted our boys to be like their father, easy-going and delightful. Instead, they're a lot like me: bold and opinionated, with what appears to be curly hair and rather large foreheads."
"Oh," my mother sighed, calm and sympathetic. "Don't worry, Catherine. They're not like you. You and your hair were much worse."
Thankfully, Oldest and Youngest are not obnoxious or overbearing. They are sweet and polite kids with just the right mix of intelligence, humor and self-awareness.
But they are not normal. That's for sure. Now that they are about to finish elementary school, I am acutely aware of everything that sets them apart from other preteens.
For instance, my children:
• Leave the room to blow their nose.
• Get along with each other. This confounds their classmates to no end. Apparently brothers and sisters are supposed to hate each other.
• Laugh during Monty Python & The Holy Grail. The fart jokes are a huge hit, so maybe we should give them one point for normal.
• Never call people "gay" or "retarded."
• Rarely interrupt or annoy the shit out of me.
• Consistently say "thank you," "please" and "What is John Boehner crying about today?"
• Follow breaking news in the Mideast. (Really. A few days ago, Youngest emailed me from school all excited that Syria's president and cabinet had resigned. He's 11.)
Parents don't typically admit when their kids are different. Oh sure, lofty moms proudly announce when the fifth gifted test they paid thousands of dollars to privately administer finally comes back positive. Their precious darlings can't properly aim into a toilet or make eye contact with adults, but totally understand the ramblings of Nietzsche. That kind of different is okay, but most want their kids to fit in with other kids. There's no other way to explain all those grown-ups trying to score Justin Bieber concert tickets.
To a certain extent, I'm the same way. I'm not worried that my children will be ostracized because they've never seen the inside of a McDonald's. I'm worried they'll be ostracized because they don't even want to.
My sons don't fit any particular mode. Even in their Jewish day school, they stand out because they play football without shrieking. The other day, we watched a video of a young girl singing a pop song about Fridays, with lyrics my 2-year-old niece could have written. (She's not normal, either.) Youngest watched for a few moments and said, "This is what the kids in my class enjoy. They make fun of me for liking The Rolling Stones, Beatles and Billy Joel."
Oldest shrugged his shoulders. "Twenty-first century music stinks. Who wants to play a game of Texas Hold 'Em?"
I looked at my precious boys and smiled.
"Do you mind being unusual?"
"No," they both said. "We don't want to be like everyone else."
Good thing, I thought, with that same healthy dose of fear and pride.