A friend shared the article on Facebook. It was about me, and how I’m irresponsible and dangerous and possibly a smidge un-American. How I make bad choices. Isn’t it crazy, how someone could be as crazy as me? A bunch of people agreed, in the comments underneath. Under the article itself, back on its host site, a fierce, self-important debate raged. “Anyone who acts like this is an idiot and should have their citizenship taken away. We don’t need people like you in this country,” announced “ArmyMom” from North Carolina.
“If you met me, you might not think that,” I wanted to say. I always want to say that and I never do.
It wasn’t the first time an article like that has been written and shared. And of course they’re not really about me, individually (although this has actually happened once or twice, too! But usually on someone’s blog, not, like, in New York Mag). They’re about people like me. Weird people who do weird things. A representative from the League of Normal People has to come along and write a chastising explanation about why we are bad.
Sometimes it leans towards tough love: “I know you think you’re doing yourself a favor now, but you’ve got another big, loud, smack-in-the-ass think coming REAL SOON, honey.”
Sometimes it’s sneering: “What is WRONG with these people? Do they have any contact with reality? Um, hello. Reality is over here, weirdos, with the normal people. Get over yourselves and maybe we’ll consider one day sharing our cold, hard, real-American pizza with you.”
Sometimes it’s scientific: “Recent Conclusive Statistics show that your weird behavior is more likely than our normal behavior to result in death and lower SAT scores and also bad breath.”
Sometimes it’s defensive: “APPARENTLY, according to the weirdos, we’re SUPPOSED to do this crazy thing…And I felt pressure from the weirdos to think about my life differently. But then I decided not to, because that was too hard and weird, so I’m doing the normal thing but I’m mad at the weirdos for even suggesting that there is another way to do it!”
I am amazed by the volume of articles in this last category. I see them everywhere. People proudly defending their right to do the totally expected, ordinary thing against the imagined onslaught of opinionated weirdness.
But where are all the opinionated weirdos? I wonder. I glance around hopefully. Anyone? Hello? Where are the influential, popularizing weirdos who are marching at the front lines, waving their banners and demanding that everyone follow suit?
There are a couple, sure, I guess. But mostly, people doing something really different seem to keep pretty quiet about it. I know I do. Because it’s uncomfortable, in mixed company, in most company, to be the eternal other. Or even when it’s perfectly comfortable, it’s awkward to get into a whole discussion about it. You worry about sounding confrontational, even when you’re just stating facts about your life. You worry that your weirdness might come off as threatening. So you throw it out there like litter from a car window and you hit the gas and keep moving. “Yeah, I had a home birth, but whatever! To each her own type of birth! GOD, I’m glad it’s finally spring. What a friggin’ winter, right?”
There are many pieces of my life that make me alternative and strange and threatening. Some I chose, some my parents chose for me, some I was born into.
I am weird now, as a parent, in so many of the ways that people like to get worked up about. People like to mention moms like me in their articles about how they got an epidural (thank god!) despite the preaching of the supposed “sanctimommies” who had natural births just to prove that they’re stronger and better than everyone else. I am a huge wimp and I think all of my friends are stronger than me and I had a home birth. I plan on doing it again. And what of the breastfeeding Nazis? (I cringe at any usage of the word that doesn’t refer to actual Nazis who slaughtered real people instead of just annoying them.) I am big on breastfeeding and not planning on weaning any time soon. I do it because it feels right in this gently obvious way that gives me refreshing relief in the absence of stumbling around uncertainly until I wander into some sort of reasonable-sounding answer. I don’t have to ask. I’m already sure. Much to the disapproval of the baby books and pediatricians, my baby sleeps in bed with me. That too feels happily simple. Universal, even if it isn’t trendy in America right now. So I am more likely than everyone else, according to some but of course not all recent studies, to kill my child. Or spoil her. Or both! Yet another free-roaming, wild hippie baby in Brooklyn, literally spoiled to death.
(a DIY flower crown! not that anyone else was going to DI for Y, but still! yes! source)
I even made an effort to use cloth diapers at first.
“I’m not really a hippie,” I told a mom I’d just met, apologizing after being forced to reveal incriminating details about my weirdness. What I really meant was, “You’re getting an incomplete picture. If you heard other details, you’d think something else of me entirely.” (Isn’t this always the case?) What I really meant was: “I am not trying to do these things for the sake of being anything. I’m just figuring it out as I go.”
“You sound like a hippie,” she said.
I laughed uneasily. Her words stayed stuck in my head for days. For weeks. Had she been teasing me when she said it? Probably. It was probably good-natured. But maybe she felt superior? Had she catalogued me in her head, slotted beneath the “weird” tab? Would she listen to more of the story?
My favorite foods are cheap New York pizza and 5 Guys bacon cheeseburgers. I love superhero movies and Agatha Christie novels and I watched a lot of Burn Notice while pregnant and sick. I watched a lot of White Collar while breastfeeding a newborn. I’ve watched a lot of similar TV without a good excuse at all, just because I like it. I went to a state school for college and I worked the whole time. I try to make a good impression on people but sometimes feel awkward. I am friendly. I can’t run a mile to save my life. I haven’t seen very much of the world and I really want to one day. I tend to like people. I am trying to be more confident.
(but Sam is my favorite character…does that make me weird? source)
The weirdest part of being weird is discovering, bit by bit, year after year, in so many tiny, subtle ways and so many huge, plain ones that I am actually boringly, surprisingly, obviously normal.
We all know, in one way or another, what it’s like to feel like the odd one out. We become a “woman in tech” or stay single longer than most of our friends or marry our high school sweetheart when everyone we know is staying single. We are the only vegetarian or the only one still eating whatever we want in a sea of careful, restricted diets. We don’t have a degree. We have three degrees and are doing something that has nothing to do with any of them. We don’t have sex until we fall in love. We have experimental sex for pure fun in an abstinence-only environment. We decide never to have a child and are pleased with that decision. We want to have a huge family in a time when birthrates are declining and the word “selfish” is lobbed at people juggling three or more kids. We have a BMI that other people feel entitled to judge harshly and vocally. We are gay. We quit a stable, boring job to have an awesome adventure. We work at a stable, boring job every single day because we need the money, even though we are always reading about how important it is to pursue personal happiness at all costs and be creative and take risks and distinguish ourselves spectacularly. We are married to a stay-at-home dad. We are a stay-at-home dad. We are born into something that strikes people as “alternative,” like an unexpected combination of cultures and ethnicities. Like the way we look compared with the way we talk. Like our job compared to a stereotype of kind of work “someone like us” tends to have.
I didn’t go to school, growing up. I am Jewish. I am mostly proud of who I am and what I do.
We are all weird in many ways, we are all normal in many other ways. So much so that the weird/normal dichotomy begins to sag under its combined weight, and little tears appear in the fabric. But when we do or are or try some of these relatively rarer things, and other alternative things I haven’t mentioned, we will inevitably notice an article, shared on Facebook, about us. Especially if we are choosing to do something most people wouldn’t.
What’s interesting to me is that there isn’t really a contest. Not enough people homeschool to truly undermine the school system, even if this practice were actually undermining anything. There aren’t enough women in tech to restructure the dominant maleness of the field. There aren’t enough stay-at-home dads to rewrite the common story about work and fatherhood. Not enough (American) women have home births to make it the looming, inevitable second option, after going to a hospital. Not enough of us do the weird stuff in strong enough numbers to make these choices statistically equal to the more typical, familiar paths they get endlessly pitted against. This is not a battle between two similarly sized armies. This isn’t a battle at all. It’s just the world, where sometimes some people decide to do things differently, or can luckily afford to do things differently, or make big sacrifices to do things differently, or just experiment briefly with doing things differently. Where people are always, always a little bit different from one another. It’s OK.
So if you find that you are threatened by the idea of rogue difference, and imagine that there really are breastfeeding Nazis who are currently hating you forever for feeding your baby a bottle, then maybe you should take the time to talk to a weirdo like me. I’ll probably be friendly. We might even hit it off. I promise, I will not yell at you to be just like me. That would be weird.
* * *
What makes you weird?
Unroast: Today I love the way my hair curls loosely. It always looks distracted.
Speaking of birth, I wrote this piece for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life, about how I feel about hiring a birth photographer.
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