I started thinking of conformity yesterday, in a holistic sense.

In a lot of ways, it’s pretty beneficial for people to conform to their social group. I don’t think there’s a lot of value in total conformity, or purposely aiming for 100% likeness between all group members, but by and large, conforming to others is what makes our society work.

I was thinking about this, and thinking about the kids. And then thinking about being a kid myself. I like to imagine that I can take a step back and consider the implications of things relatively fairly. But when I was younger, I know I strove for conformity without realizing it, and often while trying very hard not to lose myself.

I moved to America when I was ten. In under a year, I lost my thick British accent, because no one in my tiny American school understood me, and it was very embarrassing to be using the same words as everyone else and not be able to trigger recognition; to share no common language.

The first place we moved, this was years earlier, was to New Delhi, India. We went to an international school and spent our free time at ACSA (American Community Support Association) at the American Embassy. Our school was extremely heterogenous. ACSA was extremely American. But in India, it was normal to be the Other. We were intruders, and kept gated behind high walls.

After India, we moved back to England. I had imagined, despite being told otherwise, that we’d move back to our house, to our neighbors. We didn’t, of course. This time, we lived in Wimbledon, near the tennis courts. We took tennis lessons at the David Lloyd Centre. Our instructor was an American; he asked us to imagine we were balancing a dime on the edge of our racquets. I didn’t know what that was, and was too shy to ask.

In Wimbledon is where we found out I am dyslexic. I went to therapy for a time, and learned some tricks, that I still use, to force my brain to read and write the way the words go. I remember some of the flashcards I had to revisit a lot. One had a drawing of a bed, with the letters making up the drawing itself. It helps me still remember which one is a “b” and which one is a “d”. Rote memorization helped me consistently letter an S versus a Z (important to get right every time, as my name was Zandy Svendsen), along with a semi-helpful flashcard of a sheep, which was friendly at least.

When I struggled to read and write, I very much wanted to be like everyone else who could read and write so easily. I was ashamed that the s, z, b, d didn’t look any different to me, that my brain wasn’t able to distinguish them internally to mark them down, but no one else had that problem. Don’t even get me started on numbers.

I think as a teen, I wasn’t so much into being like everyone else. I went to a very small high school, and we wore uniforms; the external stuff was more or less the same, so there wasn’t much pressure. I had wonderful friends. I still have these friends. I think that’s where I found I really liked making friends. Not so much alliances, or when your friendships are determined by proximity, but getting to know people, and befriending them.

I was thinking of some of these things, not this in-depth, yesterday, with the kids. There’s a lot I want for them. I want them to be strong, independent, and kind. They are those things now. I want them to want those things, too. Being part of a community means being able to conform to certain set of guidelines – some you have to tacitly understand, some are made very clear, very vocally. But there is a lot that is left to each individual to grasp, to grow, to make their own; at least there is in the best communities.

Right now, Henry very much enjoys arts and crafts. He likes gluing pom-poms on popsicle sticks; he likes drawing cars (he’s getting really good); he likes getting his nails painted. Eleanor is drawn more to stories – digital and books. She enjoys watching shows, then imagining herself and her toys into similar scenarios. She’ll sit quietly with a book, studying the images, the words she can’t yet read, the letters she can. She likes to dress up as a dinosaur.

The things that draw their interest, that give them a thrill of happiness, we encourage (well, Eleanor might be willing to marathon Bo on the Go on Netflix, but that’s not going to happen). There may come a day where they shy away from the things they’d like to do, because it’s not something they’re supposed to do, as a boy, as a girl, as a child. I hope that day doesn’t come, but I expect it will. I hope, further, that when it does, they each can look back on that, and see. Not with regret, but with acknowledgement and a new glimpse of perspective, another chance to take a different path. To take the different path.

3 responses to “Conformity”

  1. Great post! (I know, late to the party, I’m catching up on your awesome blog).

    I remembering going through the same cultural struggles when we made all our moves too. I think I missed out on 90% of the third grade jokes because they were all about farts and boogers and I had no idea what those words meant. I became an expert at smiling and laughing along, so I wouldn’t look weird. There are some great books about culture shock and kids and ‘third-culture kids’ that you might find interesting. I think we fall in that category somewhere.

    I realize now, I never processed how your dyslexia affected you growing up. I mean, I knew about it, it even featured a bit in the essay I wrote on you in 6th grade (we had to write about someone we knew really well! I picked you!) but I remember just the sheer number of books we would read together. Thinking about that and reading this–holy cow, Zandy, you’re a bad-ass!

    Also I totally remember my jealousy when you got to practice all the cool letters when we were writing our names in class. I wanted a Z and an X so bad!


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