I wasn’t a typical geek or nerd in high school. I had friends and I was never made fun of or teased. But I didn’t quite fit in. My problem was that I was always considered ‘mature’ for my age. That created a weird dichotomy. I was perceived totally differently by the adults in my life and by my peers.
Grown ups always loved me, including teachers and friends’ parents. Parents did not endear me to their kids when they admonished them to be more like me.
I was an only child and grew up surrounded by loving adults. I hung out with my parents’ friends from an early age. I sat in on grown up conversation at dinner parties from the time I was nine or ten. I actually ate at the dinner table and was a full co-hostess at parties starting in my teens.
I was very comfortable with adults. I was intellectually sophisticated, articulate and had a large vocabulary. I’m told that my friends’ parents commented on my envied vocabulary to my friends. That didn’t help either. But I felt accepted and appreciated by adults. I was more insecure with other kids.
I was really just a mini adult. So to adults, I was a super star. I was considered beautiful and sophisticated, intelligent and witty, charming and delightful. My parents got nothing but accolades about how wonderful I was from their friends and other adults who knew me.
I happen to have a dramatic example of how differently I was perceived by my classmates and by the teachers at my high school. Our senior year musical was “The King And I”. I was in art class when the parts for the play were posted. I was with my best friend, Anne and a few other girls. Someone came running in to tell us that she’d seen the cast list briefly and that I had gotten a lead role. She couldn’t see which one, but I was definitely one of the three female leads.
I wasn’t a good enough singer for the main role of Anna, and everyone knew that my friend Susan would get the part. But there were two other female roles. One was the beautiful Princess, Tuptim, who is sold into slavery into the King’s harem. Tuptim is also the romantic lead. She tries to run off with her lover and they have two wonderful, classic love duets.
The other role was Lady Thiang. She is the King’s oldest and favored wife. She runs the palace and oversees the harem and the children. She is solid, mature and wise but plain, stiff and matronly.
Anne said to me, “You must have gotten the role of Lady Thiang. What else could you be?” Everyone else agreed. That was the only role they could conceive of me playing. In fact, I got the role of Tuptim. Obviously the adults who were casting the play, saw me as the star-crossed young Princess. Yet my friends assumed that I had to be the frumpy old head wife. To my friends, I was a sensible shoe. To adults, I was a glittery spike heel.
I had trouble reconciling the ways I knew I was viewed by adults versus peers. I hated feeling stodgy and overly responsible and serious. I wanted to be fun and cool and easy-going.
My mother used to tell me to be patient. She said I was just more mature than the other kids and that they would ‘catch up with me’ any day now. However, it wasn’t until I reached my thirties and became a parent that the gap between me and my peers began to close. As a young mother, I finally felt that I was ‘like’ my peers and that I could fit in.
Ironically, now, in my sixties, my best friends are around fifteen years younger than I am! Now I’m fun and cool enough to hang out with the younger generation. Go figure!