When I was 9-years old, my elementary school asked us to fill out a ‘time capsule‘ template to be buried for 25 years. While I vaguely remember doing it, I certainly couldn’t remember what I wrote. But I do remember feeling like an awkward kid at that time. Too experimental with my clothes, too focused on academics, and not good enough at sports to be accepted by the “cool kids”. Trying desperately to wear the latest trends but always seeming to fall short of feeling accepted. I had a few friends, but most were also trying to climb this strange “social ladder”, and our friendship was conditional on my “hip factor” that week. I’m sure many kids feel the same way.
At our school’s 50th anniversary celebration, the school unearthed our time capsules and hung the templates on the wall for the adult versions of these kids to read. I saw dozens of templates talking about wanting to be fashion designers, baseball stars, doctors, etc. When I finally saw mine, I was horrified. I just wrote, “When I grow up, I want to be popular”. Ugh. That’s all I wanted: to fit in and be ‘cool’. In the ’80s, cool meant wearing the same labels everyone else did, listening to a specific pop (but not too pop) music, and cutting your hair like all the other kids. I am awkward by nature, so the goal of fitting in was a lofty one.
Soon after the ‘time capsule’ reunion, I had a kid of my own. As I write this, today is his 10th birthday, and I can tell you his time capsule would have been entirely different from mine. He’s never been interested in fitting in. He knows perfectly well what’s trending but doesn’t waste a single moment if it’s not his jam. We’ve tried putting him in hockey, buying him trendy clothes, listening to pop music with the hopes that he would not endure the pain I felt as an outsider. But the difference is he doesn’t care. He’ll let you know that sports aren’t his thing, that he likes wearing t-shirts that express his favourite topic that month, and he prefers 90’s hip-hop to anything on the radio.
I am positively delighted by all these “quirky” traits about my son. Still, I’ve also been present when Rio has talked at length about weather systems, Simpsons’ trivia, or top 10 worst animated features of all times (sometimes for an entire hour) … and I recognize the uncomfortable look on people’s faces. I know he’s been teased in gym class. I worry he may get picked on about his clothes like I once was. I’ve lost sleep thinking friends won’t be easy to come by for him. I fear he’ll be excluded or bullied. A mom once told me, “You should bring your son over to our place- my kids will play with ANYONE!” (I think my heartbreak was audible at this potential pity friendship).
But Rio’s not worried. Nor should he be.
His beautiful zest for life, inability to manipulate, deep laugh, silly impersonations, kind heart, brilliant mind, and passion for art make for the perfect friend. And some lucky kids already know that! They have been calling to chat, learning about his interests, and begging for playdates. Rio said last weekend, “Gawd, everyone wants to hang out with me!”.
I’m ashamed that I ever thought he would struggle. Like all parents, I didn’t want him to experience pain. I didn’t want him to feel lonely or excluded. But he has taught me something that took me 40-plus years to learn: showing your “true colours” is magnetic.
I feel sad for “young me”, wasting so much time worrying about what everyone else thought. How tragic for that little girl that she didn’t understand the awesomeness of individuality. How sad that she couldn’t understand that achieving social status via conformity meant giving up or hiding some of the most authentic parts of herself.
(Read Jen’s first blog: Why I Became a Naturopathic Doctor)
How fortunate I get to have the privilege of being taught lessons in the beauty of individuality and non-conformity by my son. He certainly isn’t friendless. That’s the funny thing about shunning the status quo; when you do it, you attract others who do it too. My son’s friend group comprises some of the coolest (quirky) kids I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.
His friends are unique, thoughtful, inclusive, hilarious, and kind: the friends my boy deserves.
They are interested in learning about each other’s passions, even if it’s not their own. When you have a kid who falls outside the mainstream, you begin to embrace other people who are anything but typical. You learn that normal is a setting on a washing machine, not on a human being. And that none of us are actual ‘normal’ anyway, some of us can just hide our quirkiness better. Which is a shame that we do.
As a Naturopathic Doctor my sweet boy has given me more lessons in being healthy than 10 years of medical school ever did. The health effects of truly being yourself without shame sets the backdrop of a whole, nourishing, and fulfilling life. I wish I could have known him when I was 9 years old.
I have always wanted to be a naturopathic doctor even before I knew this career existed. As a kid, I loved learning about the power of healing. I talked at length with family and friends about vitamins and minerals and, because I grew up with social worker parents, I was also passionate about mental health.
Like so many others, I ignored my heart and followed another career path. But I was miserable and lost. I worked as a flight attendant for a few years and, while traveling the world, decided to be a doctor.
Unfortunately, my personal life took an unexpected turn: I got sick, divorced, and depressed. All three, while connected, were also a painful eye-opening gift. I needed to prioritize my health and decided that I had no choice but to go back to school and become a naturopathic doctor.
It was not easy. I worked full time while in medical school and had a baby in my third year just to keep things interesting. But it was who I was meant to be and I never looked back. That’s why I’m so passionate about helping others become who they are meant to be. As E.E. Cummings stated, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”.
Dr. Jen is a licensed naturopathic doctor. The content of her videos are intended for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to substituted for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Please consult your physician or qualified naturopathic doctor for medical advice.