The Nerdiest Time of the Year

Fan Expo has once again come to Toronto. If you wander around downtown near the convention centre, you are going to see scads of people dressed as super heroes, science fiction characters, and Doctor Who (because he deserves a category all on his own.). Muppet and Monkey went off this morning with a skip in their step. Mini Me, true introvert that he is, didn’t want to face the crowds. That may change when he earns more appreciation for the girls in skin-tight Harley Quinn outfits. But, I digress.

In our house, we lovingly embrace the words nerd and geek. Muppet is a geek of long-standing – a true blooded Dungeons and Dragons playing, science fiction reading nerd who somehow convinced me to hang a mounted movie poster of the Matrix above our living room couch in our first apartment. It has now been relegated to the basement man cave along with the video games and Nightmare Before Christmas collectibles.

How did I, a woman who always swore she couldn’t stand science fiction, get tangled up in this geeky web? Turns out I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

I grew up on the original Star Trek series and I loved it. I think I had a little girl crush on Captain Kirk. When Muppet and I were first dating, we watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer together and I was hooked. The pretty girl chasing the monsters for a change? Sign me up! Then came Doctor Who and Christopher Eccleston and Rose and… Well, that was that. I earned my nerd membership later in life than many, but the Dalek sitting on my desk as i write this speaks volumes.

The kids were exposed to all things nerdy pretty much from the womb. Muppet read Lord of the Rings to Mini Me while he kicked away happily inside me. His first toys were Star Wars action figures. Monkey’s favourite stuffed animal as a baby was a promo toy from a video game.

Now that Mini Me is 13, he joins his dad and all of his friends for their Nerd Nights – role playing games that are taken very seriously and played while consuming Twizzlers and Cream Soda (blech!). It gives them something to bond over and all of Muppet’s friends welcomed into their fold with patience and love. Monkey is not there yet, but as a kid with ADHD, the patience it takes for the games just escapes him by about 7pm. He will get there, though.

Being a nerd is different now than it was when I was younger. Nerds fully let their flags fly and the internet means you can always find somebody who shares your likes/obsessions/hobbies. You don’t have to feel alone. Better yet, there are more nerd girls than ever before. Nerd love is possible. I’ve seen it.

I may have been a late-comer to this whole nerdy geeky world, but I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it now. Nerds and geeks are some of the most kindhearted, accepting, open-minded people you could ever meet and there are much worse things that I would hope for my kids than to be a part of that world.

Kids Are Mean

In my family, we pride ourselves on preaching the value of being different. In a household (and extended family) full of what could best be described as “quirky” individuals, we all get along just fine. But then sometimes the outside world comes along and rudely reminds us that being different is still something that is to mocked – a reason to be shunned.

Monkey is 10 now and its been a year and a half since we had his ADHD diagnosis. His was a pretty typical type of ADHD, with emotional rather than physical impulsiveness and an inability to stay focused unless it was something he was VERY interested in. He is doing unbelievably well on his meds and noticed the improvement so much that he demands his pill every morning before school.

Of course, being an ADHD kid who is also a bit quirky and a huge nerd has made him a target for some of the kids at school. He isn’t being beaten up or picked on necessarily. He has lots of friends and loves to run around and play outside with them. Where he has run into trouble is with kids mocking and devaluing the things he loves. Let me explain.

I may have mentioned before that Muppet makes video games for a living. He works for one of the major gaming companies in the world and his work is not only fun and rewarding, but lets him travel to places like San Francisco, LA and Paris. Pretty sweet.

So, like any boy his age, Monkey wants to be just like his dad. And honestly, he has a pretty good chance at pulling it off. He has natural artistic talent, an ability to create original structures out of Lego that blow my mind, and a creative mind that loves thinking of stories and scenarios. Recently he made a functioning gumball machine out of Lego.

He loves to play video games, of course. When he was 8 he created the entirety of Sponge Bob’s Bikini Village in Minecraft. He also created a functioning amusement park in the game with rides and attractions. He built houses with functioning rooms, giving thought to their livability. This kid has talent.

But, he also likes to talk about what he’s been doing to other kids and here’s where the problems start.

Imagine a mocking 10 year old boy voice.

“All you do is play video games.”

“Why would you spend all that time to do Lego?”

“Why do you spend all your time watching Youtube?”

“Who cares about that stupid game?”

He’s also a cautious kid who likes to think things through. This is the kid who only told me weeks later that he left the neighbour’s backyard and came home in a huff because the boys he was playing with were running their fingers through flame from a lighter they found as some kind of initiation into their backyard club.

“You need to be more brave.”

“Don’t be such a chicken.”

“See all these scabs on my knees. They didn’t hurt AT ALL.”

“Suck it up.”

We all know that kids are mean. That little boy bravado starts at an early age and it’s rough on the kids who don’t conform. What I would dearly love is for the parents of those kids to hear what their kids are saying. I want them to talk to their kids about the value of not following the crowd and how brave it is to do your own thing. I tell my own boys that all the time.

My kid has talent and I think he has the skills to do exactly what he wants to do in life. Devaluing his love of video games comes from that blanket idea that “video games are all evil and pointless.” I get that.

Maybe I would be the same way if I didn’t live with somebody who has obviously found his perfect job and who has intelligent discussions about how to make the industry more female friendly and less violent. It may interest them to know that our own kids aren’t allowed to play the very games that Muppet makes because we both strongly believe that those ratings are there for a good reason.

I would like them to know that creating video games takes artistic talent, knowledge of math and spacial relations, programming, creative writing abilities, a talent for narrative, and attention to detail that would astound most people. My kid has all those skills and one day he’s going to kick ass at whatever he wants to do. But for now, he’s just a 10 year old kid dealing with the mean, thoughtless words that come out of other kids’ mouths.

Confessions of an Adult Gleek

Maybe it’s just the circles I run with, but I tend to get funny looks when I confess to loving the show Glee. Maybe they’re surprised because I am a 40-something woman and they see it as a young adult show, or maybe they just don’t know what a geek I truly am in real life, but I have watched it religiously since it aired.

I mean, come on. I was raised in a small city in Ontario. I always wanted to move away to the big city. I looooove Broadway musicals and show tunes. I adore pop music and dancing. I was even in a drum and bugle corps, which you’ll have to trust me, was about as understood and respected as being in a glee club. I had a close group of friends who were in drum corps with me and we felt like outsiders, which is why we are still friends today. If Glee had been around when I was 16, I would have been the biggest fangirl out there.

I am still a geek at heart. I still love pop music and dancing and show tunes. I find the endless covers of populard music, past and present, gives me such joy and never fails to bring a smile to my face. Cover version of Tom Jones? Bring it on! Paradise By the Dashboard Light? I was in heaven! Plus I hope I don’t sound like a dirty old lady but Darren Criss is pretty easy on the eyes.

My kids don’t watch much night-time television but Mini Me has sat down and watched at least parts of Glee with me a couple of times. I want him to get the message that good friends love you no matter what, that you can be who you really are and find acceptance, and that it is important to be there for your friends when they are going through hard times. I cried when Burt Hummel gave his son “The Talk” and if either of my boys comes to me and says they are gay, I will probably try to recite it verbatim to them. I love the show’s message of inclusion and acceptance.

So, if my friends want to give me funny looks I’m fine with that. I have the season premier marked on my calendar and I’m counting the days. I am a Gleek and proud.