Sunday, October 23, 2016

Childhood cliques

I have really tried to restrain myself from writing much about the children, but I think I can say that I was quite saddened to find out that one of them is always the center of attention and one is left out at birthday parties. To some extent, this is age-related sorting, and there isn't much to be done about that. (I don't think in this case there is any intentional cruelty going on.)  It will get somewhat better as they get older, but it would be unwise to claim that the patterns laid down in childhood will be completely effaced in adulthood.

At any rate, I will pivot to write more about my childhood, which is safer territory. I think it must have been different for many of us growing up as Gen Xers that there were certainly kids around but most neighborhoods weren't bursting at the seams with them, like it was for the Boomers. There weren't any kids my age or my brother's age on our block, and there were a few kids closer to my brother's age one block away.   My friends were further, and I did spend a fair bit of time with them, but I had to travel a fair bit.  Fortunately, we lived in an era where even 2nd and 3rd graders could go by bike many blocks away.

We moved into a different neighborhood just before 4th grade, and the kids next door were my brother's age or younger. I still had to travel several blocks to see friends from school. This held all through high school. I was also in the Boy Scouts, so I wasn't quite as isolated in childhood as it may sound at first. As I got older, I was able to go pretty far afield to see my friends, and by high school I was actually able to drive halfway across town to hang out with various friends. My brother and I were both latchkey kids and were raised basically free-range, though I had a later curfew than he did, since I was more trusted and a bit older.   In one way, I am sorry that my kids won't have the same essentially guilt-free freedom to drive all over town (Kimmy Beach's In Cars really captures this era well). Not only is there too much congestion now, but you have to do all this moral calculus whether the journey justifies the emissions. On the flip side, they are living in a city where transit will take them almost anywhere they want to go.

I do have some fond memories of times I spent with schoolmates, including hanging out with Neil, who lived on a small lake on the south edge of town. I got to go on their sailboat a few times and tried water-skiing, though I was not good at that at all. I also hung out late at his place and we played some of the very early games for Mac and watched movies like Brazil and The Quiet Earth. Occasionally I got invited to Tim's house for pool parties. On a couple of occasions Brian and Ryan invited me to go sledding. But I wasn't particularly popular, and often I was invited as kind of an afterthought, and sometimes I only found out later that some people had been hanging out. There were quite a few Fridays I spent staring at the phone before giving up and playing Atari in the basement...

I think there are a lot of reasons for this, including I can be seen as a bit of a wet blanket and in particular I didn't want to be around people who were drinking. (It's interesting and sad how this reputation somehow stuck in college (and even grad school!), and the parties that I threw were inevitably huge flops (even though I had bought alcohol). Curiously, the only year I was ever completely part of the in crowd was during my Master's program at UToronto.)

Being always somewhat on the periphery means that you become far more independent and self-reliant and yet lonely. You tend to be less swayed by popular opinion, since you have to justify to yourself that you are following the right path (and of course there is a huge danger in coming across as too judgemental or self-righteous). In my case, I think of friendship as fleeting and somewhat contingent. It doesn't surprise me that I have to do most of the work in maintaining friendships and when I stop working at it, then we drift apart. But there are advantages in not having strong ties, namely that you are more open to changing careers and, in my case, moving to different cities and even countries. And perhaps I should say that I usually end up having interesting discussions with work colleagues that stand-in for the talks I would have with friends, but you do have to be more guarded in talking with colleagues and they tend to only last for a few years, at least given how often I change jobs. For me the trade-off has been worth it to prioritize openness to new opportunities over stronger place and personal ties, but barely so.

I'm getting closer and closer to taking up The Study Group again. What I would like to capture is a bit of this insider/outsider perspective. Even among the smarter kids there were kids who ended up kind of loners and some that were more popular. I suppose I was relatively lucky in that, in my high school, the academically talented kids weren't completely shunned and some were quite popular indeed. There were some weird tricks that we played on each other (notes in Latin in lockers and such). Probably we were completely insufferable to everyone else, but as I said I don't think it was quite as extreme as what you saw in the TV shows Square Pegs or Geeks and Freaks. In my high school, you didn't have to be ashamed of being smart, but there were still other somewhat painful dynamics involved. I'll just see if I can represent it adequately, and then I'll see if anyone else is interested in this particular story. So stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment