All this time I’ve been looking out for inappropriate words in books, movies and television shows that had to do with sex, when in front of me all this time is the most awful word in the human language. That word, as you will find out as parents, is not "penis" or "sex" or even "sperm," but the word “popular.”
My daughter is not popular. I know this because she told me she wasn’t. I found this fascinating, having this conversation with my 9-year-old, so I asked, “How do you know you’re not popular?”
My daughter answered, “Because no one crowds around my desk.” So, in grade four, you know you’re popular when a group of classmates crowd around your desk. It’s that simple.
Last week I ran into a friend whose daughter is also friends with mine. I told her that she should bring her daughter by for a playdate.
“That would be great,” she answered and continued stating the fact that her daughter “has only two friends. We’re working on that.” Her daughter even told her she was like the character in one of the books she was reading. “Not the popular one, but the other one who has no friends,” her daughter said to her. My friend said she almost cried when she heard her daughter say this. I, too, almost cried when my daughter told me she was only popular for “like, two seconds” when she brought in photos of her new baby brother. “Then everyone crowded around me.”
Thankfully, when I asked my daughter if she cared about being popular, she answered, “No, I don’t care.” Which is good, because as I’ve explained to her, one doesn’t need a ton of friends. One only needs a handful of good, nice friends. She doesn’t quite get why the popular girls in her class are popular because they are also the mean girls.
“If they’re mean, then why do people like them?” she asked.
What and how is a mother to answer?
Then I started looking at my daughter’s books and paying attention to her television shows. She loves the Diary of A Wimpy Kid series and all the pre-teen shows, which always seem to feature the popular girl and the poor sod who just wants to have a dance with her.
Forget about sex being everywhere. “Popular” (and therefore not popular) is everywhere! But what do you do, or say, to your children about this when I still can’t figure out what made the girls in my schools or camps popular? Some of them were pretty, but not all of them. Some of them dressed well, but my daughter goes to a school with full uniforms (so it can’t be about wardrobe), some had a lot of money, but some didn’t. It DID come down to them being sort of, well, just mean.
My daughter, thank god, has a good head on her shoulders and understands that being popular isn’t the "be all and end all." I asked her again, this morning, if she cared (I told her I was writing about it) and she said, “I don’t want to be popular now. I want to be popular later, like when I become a rock star or actress, when it matters,” she said.
“Oh,” I told her, “you mean you want to be famous? I guess that is like being popular.” At least she sees a bigger picture. And, as I’ve told her because I also read US Weekly, not one famous actress has ever been quoted as saying they were “popular” in school. I tell my daughter, too, that I would rather be an interesting, nice person, than popular (which is good because my daughter is also into those World Record books and can tell you things like who took the longest bath in the world, and who has the most face piercings.)
I tell my daughter all the time that she’s weird, but personally, I rather have a weird kid than a popular one. The odds are in her favor that she’ll end up successful later in life, and I’ll read about her successes, see her face on the cover of a magazine, and read a quote from her that says, “No, I wasn’t popular. No one crowded around my desk.”
Because, really, where does the popular go?