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please let my kids be nerds

At bedtime last night, Finn leaned in close and tenderly stroked my cheek, as he always does when he’s about to ask me to buy him something. “Mama. You know, I don’t have any cool stuff to share for sharing day.” Stroke, stroke, nuzzle, nuzzle. “So, I was thinking…I could buy some crystals. At the crystal store.”

Crystals!! Could thunder eggs and postage stamps be far behind?

Hot diggity. Now we were talking.

I have friends who don’t want their kids to be nerds, or to hang out with nerds. But these friends are going about it all wrong. In my experience, it’s hard to turn out interesting as an adult unless you were a nerd while young, or at least, had friendly, sustained contact with nerds. Don’t believe me? Think of the most outwardly-attractive-yet-inwardly-boring adult you know. I guarantee that person has never been a nerd.

finny bike

Of course, the inverse of that doesn’t work as well. Not all nerds flower into something cool. But look around at your nerdiest friends. Aren’t they often the people you want to hang out with the most? I mean, for short periods of time.

Not to brag, but I was a huge nerd for the majority of my youth. On my first day of kindergarten, I wore an itchy wool dress and a matching hat. A MATCHING HAT. As a new immigrant who barely spoke English, it’s amazing I wasn’t stoned by the other kids. Who cares though. I had no idea how inappropriately I was dressed. Because I was a nerd.


In 7th grade, my plastic glasses broke and I fixed them with a band-aid, because band-aids are adhesive as shit. In 8th grade I walked down an entire hallway at Meadow Park Intermediate School with the back of my skirt tucked into my tights. I played cello. I wore a Guatemalan braided belt. I’m not Guatemalan. Some of my best friends were teachers. I was a nerd.

But it’s ok. Because nerds are tough. While the popular girls were collecting Esprit bags, I was learning how to develop stuff that would help me later in life, when it really mattered. Like a strong will, to cope with the teasing. Or a sense of humor, which helped me make friends with the other nerds. Somewhere along the way, probably in high school, I stopped wanting to fit in with everyone else, and started wanting to be different. That’s when I learned to embrace the nerd, to become one with it.

photo (10)

Finn wears glasses and loves karaoke, but, crystals aside, he’s exhibited few other signs of classic nerd-dom. But Tate, he’s got some serious nerd potential. My youngest has an unnatural fascination with ninjas that only seems to be growing with time. All signs indicate that he’ll be the 14-year old with the Bruce Lee obsession who can quote every line from “Enter the Dragon.” When Tate gets dressed, he invariably tucks his t-shirt into his elastic-waist shorts before hiking the whole rig up to his armpits. I sure as hell didn’t teach him that. That’s strong instinctual nerdiness right there.

Tom, as a pale red-headed child with freakishly long limbs, was also a nerd. In fact, from the photos I’ve seen, he may have been a nerd until as recently as 1998. Given that my kids have nerd on both sides, I’m confident that blood will tell.

Yes. My boys have nerd in them, and I can’t wait to see it shine.

38 Comments Post a comment
  1. I laughed so hard I cried. You are so funny. I want my children to be nerds too. I can’t wait to read more.

    November 30, 2013
  2. Love this. My brother was the Bruce Lee Enter the Dragon guy. He still looks exactly like him at 52. One time he had me paint the scratch marks on his chest with nail polish and take pictures. That’s how nerdy I was – I was the Bruce Lee Enter the Dragon guy’s assistant.

    This post inspired my latest –

    November 8, 2013
    • wait this comment is so funny, how did i miss it?? still laughing

      November 26, 2013
  3. As a nerd from a family full of cool and stylish people, I wish my quirks had been embraced a little more. I’m an adult now and my family is more supportive, but as a kid it would have been much easier to accept myself if my family had.

    November 7, 2013
    • i hadn’t ever thought of having the opposite problem…i have been lucky to be surrounded by nerds my whole life

      November 26, 2013
  4. I have two teenagers who really embrace their nerdiness – they would be the first to tell you all about Star Wars and dinosaurs and super heroes. I didn’t really appreciate this until they started high school and I was so happy that they didn’t want to be cool. Great post!

    Oh, and I LOVE that you wore a matching hat!

    October 25, 2013
  5. stephanieeagan #

    Enjoyed this post immensely. 100% true, and so funny. I am going to quote you back to yourself because this is such a gem: “When Tate gets dressed, he invariably tucks his t-shirt into his elastic-waist shorts before hiking the whole rig up to his armpits. I sure as hell didn’t teach him that. That’s strong instinctual nerdiness right there.” Right on!

    October 18, 2013
  6. shoe #

    Awesome post. Nerds win. It’s a fact. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Stephen Colbert…
    The converse – George W. was probably always the most popular kid in school.

    October 18, 2013
    • you were clearly never a nerd so I’m having trouble taking this comment seriously

      October 18, 2013
  7. Courtney #

    This is great. I’m a non-hip Portlander, and that is character building, too.

    October 17, 2013
  8. Love the pic of you in kindergarten! You look like its 1908 and you’re about to catch a steam-powered rail to spend an Anne of Green Gables-esque summer in the fresh air away from the newly industrialized american city.

    As an avid cape-wearer until I was about 9, I fully endorse this philosophy.

    October 17, 2013
  9. YOONA! This blog might single handedly me getting me through med school. This was laugh out loud funny.

    October 17, 2013
    • oh good! i imagine med school is a great nerd stomping ground

      October 17, 2013
  10. Heidi #

    I love this, you make a very good point! I’ve tried to figure out what makes a kid “cool” at least in the elementary school scene, and it seems to come down to a nonchalant disinterest in most truly interesting topics, scoffing at other kids and their enthusiasms, having an unnatural adult-like knowledge of movies/music/pop culture and an ability to properly use sarcasm. There’s not much that grates my nerves more than an 8 year old being successfully sarcastic. I embrace the nerdiness of my oldest son – fish bone collecting, nose deep in the 3rd Warriors book of the week, checking on the petri dish to see how the fern spores are coming along, planning the Halloween costume of Tin Tin the Belgian comic book detective. It’s a rich and interesting world out there, and I’m glad my kids aren’t too cool to savor it all.

    October 17, 2013
    • OMG. 8 year old sarcasm sounds truly wretched. i hadn’t thought to guard against that. give me bad puns any day. thank you for writing about it

      October 17, 2013
  11. Cloie #

    An often repeated comment to our 11 year old supreme nerd, “Just remember, life starts after high school.” I do intervene with his clothes a little more now that he’s interested in girls and doesn’t realize an 11 year old girl cares if his pants are two inches too short or if his shirt is on backwards.

    October 17, 2013
    • this is so funny cloie, and i’m changing the tagline on my blog in honor of it

      October 17, 2013
  12. Yes! Forget football – I am hoping for nerds too!

    October 17, 2013
    • the best nerds also love football. then everyone wins

      October 17, 2013
  13. Love this piece, it needs to go viral! I too was a huge nerd. Wore dress up clothes (at home) well into high school. My friends got used to coming over to my house and seeing me wear my huge 1950’s skirt with my 1920’s satin slip. (I was lucky and got to raid a very rich woman’s closet when I was 10) Does loving The Godfather, Bob Dylan and Tom Brokaw–I wanted to be the next Connie Chung–at the age of 13 make me a nerd? If so, Dylan’s won the genetic lottery for nerdom. Don’t even start me on Andy. I think Dartmouth loves jocks and nerds!

    October 17, 2013
    • Hilarious. Lucky I did not have access to a rich woman’s wardrobe that early in life. Interesting about Andy. I found Dartmouth to be disappointingly nerd-free

      October 17, 2013
  14. Great post! I know the feeling, most recently yesterday when my 5-year-old came home super excited and wanted nothing to do but read his new Star Wars books from the library (one about space, and one about Yoda).

    October 17, 2013
    • i hate to break it to you but at 5, star wars is the opposite of nerdy. now if he’s 15 and still into star wars, you’re cooking with gas

      October 17, 2013
      • well, you may be right, but i’ve yet to see a five year old from his school sporting anything star wars (i mostly see avengers, ninja turtles, etc.)…

        October 17, 2013
  15. Bre #

    Yessss! I’m very pro-nerd everything. I do believe in “be your own nerd” like Janis said, so I won’t force my cool kod to give up her ways to emulate her nerdy mama, but I will cultivate all nerd tendencies that might pop up.

    October 17, 2013
    • yes, no two nerds are alike. it’s the beauty of nerds

      October 17, 2013
  16. Janis Gabriel #

    : Ha! Exactly! I told my big girls it’s ok to be nerds, because I told them, when they grow up and are in real life, nerds rule the world and everything in it! “Be your own nerd!”(-Bre). I was a nerd-athlete though, lol.

    October 17, 2013
    • giving birth to a nerd athlete is like winning the kid lotto, as far as i’m concerned

      October 17, 2013
  17. I love this. Nerds rule. My kids “have nerd in them” too. To be cool or a “jock” would be rather rebellious, for our family. But their interests will be what they are, it’s their character that you should be concerned with as a parent. Again, love this.

    October 17, 2013
    • of course, of course. i find that being different, or having to overcome some hardship as a child, builds strength of character. so for me the two are related

      October 17, 2013
  18. This may be an excellent example of when parenting calls for a little reverse psychology. Nerdiness can become the personality equivalent of piano lessons. How many adults regret they didn’t simply learn to play when they had parents footing the bill and insisting they practice every day? But they just couldn’t. Because they were told they HAD to. Mom or Dad or both simply wanted it too much.

    If the boys intuit you approve of nerdiness in general and are desirous of encouraging their individual nerdiness specifically, it may be the first set of attributes they ditch once their rebellious stage arrives. You might consider at least appearing reluctant when indulging their developing inner nerd in order to have that be something they’ll value independently and call their very own. By the time they’e old enough to figure out you secretly approve it won’t matter any more. Nerd abides.

    October 17, 2013
    • oooh, sage advice. i will be more subtle in my embrace of the nerd

      October 17, 2013

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