When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I bought a scrapbook to document everything from the date of the positive pee stick to other quasi-significant events leading up to her first birthday. I recently got a similar book in anticipation of daughter No. 2 (and hereby vow that it will be just as thick as her older sister’s, despite the fact that my older sister’s baby book is the size of the Oxford English Dictionary while mine is the width of a pamphlet on syphilis).
I flipped through the book for daughter No. 1 not long ago and realized it hadn’t been completely filled out just yet. There’s a page that still remains blank for “Hopes and Dreams: Our thoughts and aspirations for you when you were born.” Since No. 1 is turning 3 shortly, I figured it was probably time to put pen to paper and finish the scrapbook already. Of course as soon as I tried, I realized why that one page has received the Phil Collins treatment (no reply at all) from me for so long — after all, how do you sum up your wishes for your kid’s entire life in the space of a few lines?
I spent some time giving it thoughtful consideration and ultimately decided it might be just be a good spot to paste an auspicious fortune from the cookie of a recent Chinese meal. But like the lo mein, the idea ultimately didn’t sit well with me.
Then over the weekend I finally got around to reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants book on my Kindle, which is when I realized after the stomach pains from the laughter subsided that I’d like both of my girls to grow up to be like Tina Fey. I don’t mean I think they necessarily need to create, write and star in their own critically acclaimed yet low-rated sitcoms. But I wouldn’t mind if they spent their lives as nerds.
Tina Fey is a pee-in-your-pants funny kind of nerd, only the kind you generally laugh with and not at. She’s navigated her way through the elite and male-dominated world of television comedy to great success because of her unfailing humor and confidence.
But at the same time, I don’t think she’s necessarily paved the way for other women to follow in her footsteps as an award-winning actress, producer and writer. There’s still a glass ceiling so thick for countless female writers and comedians that it will require way more than one woman in signature spectacles to shatter it beyond repair.
What draws me to her instead is her success despite the fact that she’s shockingly geeky and normal. Her husband is about a foot shorter than her. She openly struggles with her weight. She was and remains close with her parents. She seems to have the same guilt, internal conflicts, worries and ambitions as a working mom as, say, I do. Still, none of that is really news.
What I never gave much thought to until reading her book is what she must have been like as a kid. Unlike so many tweens and teens who spend so much time worrying and being heartbroken and anxious about keeping up with the popular crowd, Tina pretty much knew her place as a wallflower with nothing special to offer when she was younger. So instead of trying to impress others just for the sake of inclusion, she pursued more meaningful interests (theatre and gay boys).
When I look back now on the kids I grew up with, it seems like it’s some of the nerdiest ones who’ve had the most success and, more importantly, happiness in their lives. The kids who were unconcerned with sitting near the prettiest girls or the most athletic guys have had the time space to pursue and achieve things of greater value.
Even today I can easily rattle off a list of grown women (and some men) who seem to drain their days — and souls — whispering about what everyone else is doing, saying, wearing and spending. And they’re the ones who ultimately seem most unhappy with their lives.
It’s no way to live. Or it’s a way to live, I suppose, but I have higher aspirations for my kids. Fulfillment comes in many forms, and sometimes the package that seems least desirable in the beginning yields the most fruitful results in the end.
Which is why I hope my daughters can be happy just being happy without measuring their results against anyone else. Of course an Emmy and a pair of signature spectacles wouldn’t hurt, either. But we’ll take it one well-documented baby step at a time.
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