Geeky girls and cool moms

Last week’s fun with the Nerd Test brought this comment in MaryP’s post, where she said in response to someone else’s remark that “I always knew I wasn’t cool”:

I’ve never really aspired to it… Here’s the ironic thing: I was a geek all through high school, when I would have been most likely to care; now that I have teen-age children and truly have no patience with the idea of striving to be cool? I am “the cool mom”, or so I’m told.

I have described myself as the “chief nerdette” of my high school. High grades, no athletic skill, always reading or drawing, involved in some activities but not the high-profile ones, some friends but not much of a social life, no known vices, short, skinny (once upon a time!), and four-eyed (I’ve been told by several eye doctors they’ve never met a patient with vision as bad as mine. Now there’s a Dubious Achievement Award) – I think these characteristics establish my geek credentials pretty well. With all that baggage, only someone with a tenuous grasp on high-school reality could possibly aspire to “cool.”

But standards change. I think I’d been out of high school nearly ten years when a younger co-worker called me a nerd, and then had to explain why it was a compliment. I apparently missed that metamorphosis. Nowadays, with everyone running around attached to portable technology and conducting their lives online, the nerds have inherited the earth.

But I have achieved “cool” in one – and just one, as far as I know – domain; like MaryP, I’ve also been “the cool mom.”

I don’t think the fact that I’m only 20 years older than my son plays much of a role in my mom-coolness. It means it’s been easier to relate to various phases in his life because I haven’t had to dig back as far in the depths of time to remember similar times in my own history, but apart from that I doubt that youth really contributes much. I think that regardless of age, mom-coolness tends to emerge as your kids get older – with little ones, it’s more like you’re trying to be a “keep-your-cool” mom.

In my case, I think “cool” has meant knowing how to speak my son’s language while not forgetting that I’m the parent. It’s meant being approachable, open, and honest. It’s meant mutual respect and finding common ground. It’s meant being welcoming to his friends while being clear about the boundaries. It has NOT meant dressing or acting like I’m his age. It has NOT meant satisfying every whim or want.

I posed a question about what defines a “cool mom” to the cool “Work It, Moms,” and got some great answers:

“The kids are always welcome here, and they are here often!–but we have rules and expectations of their behavior. They think I’m cool because I ‘get’ it and am a techie, and I’m the only mom with a tattoo. I think it’s also because I respect them, and find their perspectives and personalities amazing! I’ll check out their video games and music, and pay attention while I”m doing it-some things I like, some I don’t and we talk about why I don’t like things that they like. … I also think because I always make sure everyone has rides, has eaten, has a hoodie, everyone has money for the movie, and then push them out the door.”

“By cool, I am thinking that it would be someone who is up on the trends and can relate with them at whatever given age they think they are cool at. I’m young at heart and I definitely don’t look my age, but I don’t think I want to be thought of as “one of the kids” by (my son) or his friends. I would love to be the kool-aid mom that all the kids love, but love because they know they can talk to me and that I will be honest with them.. however that I will not tolerate breaking rules and disrespect. Then yeah.. I hope I’m the cool mom.”

“(C)ool doesn’t mean “satisfying every whim and want”. I think that a lot of parents try and be cool and lose their kids’ respect in the process. I have a baby…so she thinks I’m pretty cool right now regardless. I would like to be thought of as a cool mom, but definitely not a push over. I plan to just be myself, and keep up with my daughter’s interests.”

“My husband says I am a cool mom, but I’m not sure what he means by it. Probably that I am fun (generally, although when my daughter is testing me, it’s less fun for all!), wear funky t-shirts (his words), make up fun activities to do with my daughter, etc. Me – I don’t know if that’s so cool!”

“I’m a cool mom. I know what’s up and I know how old I am and what my role is in the relationship. (My daughter’s) friends like me and think I am nice…I like to watch teen movies, with popcorn and cokes. I am an information-aholic and a Web hound, so I am able to give her way too much information on almost anything she needs to know. I introduce her to new web technologies and encourage her…I have an uncanny knack for finding clothes that she adores, so she prefers to go shopping with me. I think what is most important of all is that I *like* her and I am happy to spend time with her. I am also okay if she goes off with her friends (just so you don’t think I am smothering her.) I am “cool” because I am willing to share myself and my interests with her, and to go in any direction she is interested in pursuing. :)”

The “cool mom” has had a quite a few representations in popular media, especially television. One of the first I can remember is Ann Romano, the divorced mother of two teen girls in the comedy One Day at a Time in the ’70’s. In the 1980’s, Clair Huxtable of The Cosby Show and Elyse Keaton on Family Ties showed that moms didn’t have to be single to be cool. These TV comedies all had a serious bent at least part of the time, and two of my more recent examples come from the more dramatic side of the spectrum, Lily Manning of the late, lamented divorce-and-after family drama Once and Again (well, OK, I miss it), and one of my favorites, Lorelai Gilmore of Gilmore Girls, which was often a very funny drama. (I should note that alongside with the emergence of the “cool mom,” we’ve also seen the “dorky dad.” It’s been quite awhile since Father knew best, apparently. If you want to set the Űber-Nerd – who is a cool dad in every way, and it’s one of the things that I love most about him – off on a rant, bring up that topic. And if you’re talking about shows that take the POV of child or teenage characters, then nearly all the adults will be dorks, no matter what.) If you have other favorite examples of fictional “cool moms,” please mention them in the comments!

My stepdaughter, now in the 8th grade, has asked me a couple of times if I was cool in middle school. When I stopped laughing, all I could say was “You’ve got to be kidding.” She liked that – she says she’s not cool, either. I sometimes get the impression that being cool isn’t as cool as it used to be, and I am totally cool with that.

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  1. When I was your stepdaughter’s age, the word was “unpopular,” which was Working Girl’s category. It taught her not to care what other people think.

    Comes in handy later in life, for sure!

  2. Working Girl – I think Tall Girl is learning that already, and good for her! It’s taken me a lot longer to come around on that lesson.

  3. (KatieK, from WMI)

    I took the Nerd Test. The results indicate that I am a “Super Dorky Nerd Queen”.

    I was “popular” growing up, but by the end of middle school I had decided that my “cool” friends were all idiots and lost myself in writing a medieval adventure novel (I never finished it– I got distracted drawing the maps and deciding on economic zones).

    It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I decided that it was time to “embrace my inner nerd”. I was sick of hiding my true interests, making nice with the women at baby group. And then came the blessed internet. If only there had been an internet when I was a teenager!!

    I am very happy with the title “Slightly Dorky Nerd Queen”. I have worked hard to let her come out and flourish. 🙂

    I think my daughter would also test out as a SDNQ. She says she doesn’t fit into any of the typical groups at her high school– she is whip smart, has nerdy interests and is good looking. The other people bore her. We have a great time together as we are both seriously nerdy at home with our laptops out while watching Star Trek or Babylon 5. I’ll be coding a website and she’ll be working on her pixel doll art.

    About being a “cool mom”, one thing I have found is that other moms do NOT think it is cool if you and your daughter get along really well. This is seen as an aberration!

  4. KatieK – Thanks for stopping by and taking me up on that invitation I left over at WIM.

    Among my “cool mom” character examples, Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory are the best of friends, and that mother-daughter closeness was very cool, I thought. I don’t know firsthand, though, since I raised a boy, and I’m part-time “second mom” to my new teenager.

    I hope you’re able to help your daughter embrace her inner SDNQ from the very beginning!

  5. My kids have each, in their own time, concluded that the “cool” kids are not who they want to be. They have their friends. The “cool” clique is irrelevant.

    “Why are the cool kids almost always the nasty ones?” The girls have both mused on that. (Not the boy, which probably says something about girls and boys – but whether it’s because girls are nastier or that boys just don’t muse as much, I’m not sure!)

    In fact, one day the Class Cool Girl’s chief minion came over to invite Emma, my youngest, to sit at her lunch table. The girls at Emma’s table were very impressed by the invitation. Any one of them would have hopped up and gone over: their entree into “COOLNESS”!!

    Emma told her, “No, thank you. I’m sitting with my friends.”

    I am so PROUD!

  6. MaryP – Good for Emma! Tall Girl is pretty much the same way -having friends is more important to her than being “popular.”

    I’ve always found it interesting – well, since I’ve left those years behind, at least – that what makes one “popular” in adolescence is often unconnected to what makes one “likable” in adult life. That “mean girl” stereotype has some kernels of truth.

    And you’re right that the boys don’t seem to be nearly as concerned about this – I know my son wasn’t.