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'Destined to be a dork' as high school hits home

My son was talking to a former schoolmate. Their paths had diverged: The friend had landed in an arts-focused high school, my son in a strongly academic one.

"There are some cool freshmen and sophomores," my son said, "but by the time they get to be juniors and seniors, they're all dorks."

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Then he added, "I guess I'm destined to be a dork."

This assessment of his present status, and his stoic resignation to his future, were poignant moments for me. With the heart of a skateboarder, video gamer, and band member, and with an independence that veered from the jock set and the preppy set, my son perceived himself as cool.

Yet, with a wisdom beyond his 15 years, he already understood that the coolness was destined to dissipate, not simply through the vagaries of time, but by the pressures of a choice he'd made: a rigorous academic pace.

Subject to the normal quotient of maternal guilt and self-doubt, I asked myself whether such resignation was premature. Had the accelerated pace of contemporary life also accelerated the pace of teen defiance - and collapsed it too soon? Did the road of over-scheduling and over-performing lead to this? Or was the resignation due to the early assumption of adult values?

Three years of adolescent chaos had prepared me for anything - anything but an intimation of its end. There was the nightly phone rondo of three-way conference calls, the role-playing video games wherein the role became almost as consuming as reality, the amoebic nature of group-think, where it took a half day of phone calls to arrive at a tentative plan of action, and the nature of those actions - the hanging out and hanging around.

Then he embraced skateboarding, and all the nebulousness coalesced into one consuming passion: skating and its tricks and stunts. Also, its shabby, battle-scarred paraphernalia and demeanor ... and the parents waiting to exhale until the skater returned home.

So I was acquainted with the milestones of adolescence and the fuel that propelled its pace.

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I was there when my son chose his first brand of deodorant. My husband was there to buy his first shaver (more symbolic than required by the baby fuzz). My husband was there, time after time after time, testing one Internet filter after another, when the pull of hormones overwhelmed the honor system.

And we were there at the 60-second glimpses, as one short-term girlfriend succeeded another. We were there during party drop-offs, band drop-offs, soccer pickups, baseball pickups, and as volunteers at school fairs, observing mock marriage ceremonies across the gym floor.

We were there also during the dry spells, when his frustration hurled itself as anger against us. When it looked as though no girl would ever look on this boy again, let alone with a sparkle in her eye, we were safe havens for his frustration.

It is this son, this growing boy, who is beginning to reflect on his own growth. Instead of just taking thoughts in, he's digesting them. And he's come to the conclusion that he, too, will change. As evidenced by the forces around him, the juniors and the seniors, there seems to be an inevitability to this kind of growth. The turmoil begins to settle, then is gradually focused and directed.

After the chaos comes a measure of calm. "Dorkdom" is not merely the assumption of the adult values of diligence and self-discipline. Dorkdom is also resignation to the inevitability of adulthood. It's answering Peter Pan's insistent refrain, "I won't grow up" with something slightly sad - such as, "Yes, you will," or, "I guess I'm destined to be a dork."

I think this is what my son saw.

It's tempting to be nostalgic, but it's not time for nostalgia yet. There's enough of his coolness left for one wild roller-coaster ride ahead. But when he's ready, my son will travel from coolness to dorkdom - with eyes wide open.