The Cool Kids (And the Rest of Us)

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Memo for all parenting questions (Preston Street, Ottawa)

You guys are cool, I’m sure several of you were popular kids at school. Could you… ahem… share the secret to being popular? Maybe there’s a manual I can source on Amazon? Like one of these william hill promo code everyone has?

Oh, it’s not for me, it’s for a friend.

Okay, it’s not for a friend.

It’s for my son.

Feng and I weren’t high on the status hierarchy as students and heredity caught up with Mark. Six weeks into Grade 1, he’s discovering schoolyard politics, a non-politically correct—but with a limited vocabulary range—version of any workplace. There are six-year-old “alpha males” and “queen bees,” the accepted kids, the controversial kids, the neglected kids and the rejected kids.

Do popular kids even realize they draw others to them, that they are able to instill fear and loyalty?

Most nights, when I’m chopping carrots, washing rice and boiling eggs, the kitchen doubles as a classroom where Mark is doing French homework (Feng is responsible for math). And once in a while, it turns into a therapist’s office. It looks like I’m focused on the cutting board and on whatever is cooking on the stove, but in fact, I’m on autopilot and I’m all ears. Mark knows it. And it may be because we don’t meet eyes that it’s easier to connect, talk and share secrets.

“Mommy, can I be cool?”

“What, you’re cold?”

Okay, there’s one downside to chatting in the kitchen—the fan above the stove is a bit loud.

“No! I want to be cool.”

“But you are cool!”

“Jack didn’t want to be my friend today.”

“So what? You have other friends.”

Does he?

“Uh-uh, everybody plays with him. And if I don’t do what he says, he kicks me out of the game. He is the boss, you know.”

“Why? Like, why is he the boss?”

Mark shrugs. “He just is.”

I don’t push further. Honestly, I have no idea why half of managers and directors are promoted to such roles despite shitty people skills and psychopathic tendencies, so I get it—there’s nothing to get.

“Okay, so Jack is the boss.”

“Yeah. And I’m not because I’m not cool.”

“So, what makes Jack cool?”

“He can run the fastest and he knows all the games. Oh, and also he said he was the boss so, like, you know.”

“Can’t you guys vote… —I mean, pick a new boss every day? Using eeny, meeny, miny, moe?”

“Nobody does eeny, meeny, miny, moe. That’s like, for preschool.”

“Oh, okay.”

Damn. That’s how I was about to choose the sauce for my rice.

“So, what happens if you tell Jack that maybe, he shouldn’t be the boss all the time?”

“I told you, he will kick me out.”

“Would that be that terrible if he kicked you out?”

Mark looks at me as if I were insane. “Huh yeah. I’d be all alone.”

As a 35-year-old, I’d pay to be left alone. But as a six-year-old, I guess it’s a scary perspective.

“Okay, what would make you cool?”

“Huh… bringing a gun at school?”


“Not a real one, gee. A Nerf gun.”

“Yeah, not gonna happen.”


“Anything else?”

Mark shrugs.

I shrug too. I have no idea what makes some kids popular.

Mark is cute, funny, mostly kind, he learns fast and he is competitive. But he isn’t one of these kids who speaks with confidence to anyone, including grownups. He is a bit goofy, he doesn’t have great social skills in a group setting. Sometimes, he is completely clueless and it shows.

Oh, shit. Is it a parenting fail?

“I’ll teach you a few tricks to be cool.”

“Yay! What? Tell me!”

Gee, buddy, let me learn them first. My party tricks are limited. I can write Chinese characters (always impresses both Chinese and Westerners), I speak five languages well enough to jump into a conversation in English, French, Mandarin, Spanish or Portuguese, I… my fingers are very flexible, does that count?

In middle school, I was definitely lame. I wasn’t taking ballet lessons, I had glasses and the rules of popular games like tag were a mystery to me. In junior high, I was briefly popular when some of my classmates realized I could forge parents’ signatures very well. Strangely, I never did it for me but I may or may not have “helped” a few friends in need. In high school, I didn’t give a shit about being popular because after travelling to China alone at 16, I had one goal in mind—graduating with honours and getting the hell out of there (I did, on both counts).

“Mark… do you think I’m cool?”

“Yes. You have muscles.”

That… that’s a strange reply. Never mind, let’s move on, call me Hulk from now on.

I take a deep breath. “Well, I wasn’t cool at school. I was just a regular kid. And you know what? That’s okay. Because maybe you don’t think you’re cool now but you will make friends anyway, and you will be cool to some people. I find you cool.”

Phew. Who are those people who look back at their school years with nostalgia?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


    • I can’t say I was ever bullied (not persecuted, anyway) but I wasn’t really part of any cool group either. I’m still not into groups. I’d rather see two or three friends at the time than attend a by party, for instance.

  1. Martin Penwald on

    I forgot : why don’t you wear glasses anymore? Surgery or lenses ? I never thought you needed to correct your eyesight.

    • No surgery, no lenses, the good old “don’t give a fuck” method 😆 I don’t have great eyes, mostly I can’t see out of my left eye. It can’t be corrected though. I haven’t had an eye exam in… quite a while. I don’t mind wearing glasses but I never found they helped much with astigmatism (which is, if I remember correctly, the latest diagnosis).

      • Martin Penwald on

        That’s weird. I think my father is astigmate too, and he needed correct vision on both eyes to drive a truck. I’m surprised that there are cases where it’s not possible to correct it.

        • Astigmatism can be correct, I think mine is mild enough that it doesn’t bother me much. My left eye, on the other hand, is a whole different story and can’t be corrected.

  2. Yes! You described the ‘parenting dilemma’ perfectly on the ‘cool/popular’ kid dynamic in elementary school. I didn’t grow up in the same environment (i.e. US), so it was tough for me to provide any ‘valuable’ advice to my daughter, other than from an adult point of view (which perplexed me as to how those kids described to me were popular). The definition of ‘popular’ sort of evolved from 1st through 4th grade BTW. 1st grade – “bossy, mean but somehow still attract many followers”. 2nd grade – “pretty feminine girls (who typically dress up everyday) that attract boys’ attention”. 3rd grade – athletism became more of a factor. 4th grade – social skills, thereby having more friends and well known. It is crazy! Thankfully by 3rd grade, my daughter doesn’t care anymore and content with her own group of co-ed friends. Once in 4th grade, she casually mentioned that she was quite popular as well and I was in shocked, wondering if she has become a “mean girl”? You know, the movie 🙂 Fortunately she explained that a lot of people know her because she is sociable. Who knows, by 6th grade, she probably thinks everyone hates her…..

    • I may be stereotyping but I think it’s even harder for girls to fit in. Boys don’t seem to play too many “mind games”, they play together or they don’t but they don’t taunt or tease each other. The meanest thing to say ever in grade 1 is “I’m not your friend anymore”, which probably hurts but can be handled.

      Where did you go to school? Feng and I always thought French kids and Chinese kids were kind of mean and pretty competitive, but that Canadian kids would be more mellow. Canadians are pretty easy-going and accepting (on the surface at least…). But I found parents in kindergarten were not so friendly and easy-going so I assume kids are the same :-/

      Thank you for your useful description of what makes kid cool, I find it… quite puzzling as well!

      • I went to Chinese school in Malaysia. Culture was very different then because you were ‘well known’ if you did well academically. In US, I feel that excelling in sports helps elevate ones’ popularity in school. I guess it is because US is a sports crazy country. Majority of American parents seem to place more priority on sports than academic.

        • I completely agree with you! French don’t find sports is very important unless you are *actually* very gifted. French parents typically stress on academic success and passing all the national exams (at age 15, 17 and 18). I find French parents and Chinese parents have a lot in common when it comes to school.

  3. Ooooh this is hard!
    Why does it have to start so young?
    And I am sure you did not fail anything because your kid is not «cool» or a socialite at 6, almost 6? years old.
    I would definitely like to hear about what you manage to learn about being cool so I can know what me and my kids are doing wrong.

  4. I was a regular kid too. I was attracted by the popular kids but couldn’t stand them when I had the « chance » to be in their groups. I mean, popular kids are not always the smartest kids, right …? B. is not a social animal, some mornings I stay a little longer and look at her, she’s alone or she runs next to another kid, she doesn’t chat, or really interact with other kids, but to my surprise, she doesn’t seem to speak to adults either. I thought she was going to be the kind of little girls who love to hold teachers and educators’ hands – they are always a bunch of them – but she doesn’t to care or need it. I mean, so far she has a good attitude, she follows rules and plays with other kids in her class, but she has never been seeking for attention. We’ll see, the year only begans. And sorry I definitely don’t know the secret of popular kids, but as an adult I really don’t give a shit about all this crap 🙂

    • Mark is a bit like B. I see him running after other kids but he seems to be the one working to be included, i.e. it’s not like his friends are waiting for him or cheering for him. I think he is too eager to make friends and it shows, other kids can feel it.

      • Actually, she doesn’t even try to make efforts! This morning, a boy from her class waved his hand with a gigantic smile and said her name. She did not reply. I pushed her a little and she just nodded her head. He left and when I asked why she didn’t reply, she was like «whatever, I don’t care».

  5. Oh God, why do bloggers need to remind me of the most humiliating times of my life! LOL In primary school I briefly wanted to be popular, and thought that I would run for “conseil de classe” (no idea what it was for, basically a popularity contest?). Needless to say I failed miserably. Then I realised I din’t care for it after all! 😆

    • Definitely a popularity contest, except in 6e where students are naive enough to believe it’s about true representation and changing the world/the school 😆

  6. Ohlala, ça me rappelle les années de maternelle de mes enfants, il y a avait de véritables guerres de tranchée entre “copains” et “copines”, j’ai toujours trouvé cela insoutenable … Mon fils a eu de la chance, il s’est fait un super copain en première année et ils ont fonctionné en binôme soudé et complice pendant les trois années de maternelle. Ma fille a eu plus de mal à se faire des copines, car elle n’aimait pas qu’on lui impose quoi que ce soit, donc très fréquemment elle rentrait de l’école et me disait “je ne suis plus copine avec une telle” “ah bon pourquoi ?” “elle a voulu me décider” (en langage enfantin, elle voulait dire que la copine voulait décider à sa place, et ça, ma puce n’a pas aimé … Aujourd’hui elle a 17 ans et elle est toujours aussi réfractaire à toute forme d’obligation ou d’autorité.
    Je compatis au désarroi de Mark, mais hélas, les choses ne s’arrangent pas dans les classes supérieures, au contraire … c’est pire à l’adolescence !
    Comme tu le dis si bien, c’est hélas le reflet de la société dans laquelle on vit, on le constate aussi dans la vie professionnelle. Pourtant on aimerait que nos enfants découvrent cette triste réalité le plus tard possible … Je trouve super que tu lui montres qu’il est cool à sa façon, et que peut-être il n’est pas le plus rapide à la course, mais c’est probablement celui de sa classe qui a le plus voyagé dans sa vie (il vous a déjà accompagné sur 3 continents et connaît sûrement le nom de tous les pays que vous avez traversés, des langues qui y sont parlés, etc … de quoi épater quelques copains et faire taire les pseudo mini-boss prétentieux)
    Bises de Grasse

    • “Me décider”… j’adore! C’est mignon comme expression!

      Je crois que je suis naïve, j’avais l’impression que les petits Canadiens biberonnés au multiculturalisme, à la tolérance, aux oeuvres de bienfaisance et au “tout le monde il est beau et gentil, soyons inclusifs!” seraient du coup super sympas à l’école. Ben en fait, pas du tout. Idem pour les parents, en passant… la guerre des tranchées commence au portail de l’école :-/ Je me suis demandée si c’Était moi, si je lisais mal les codes, mais en discutant avec une maman 100% canadienne du quartier dont le fils va à la même école, j’ai appris que non. Cette histoire de “cliques” est bien réel.

      C’est vrai qu’on n’est pas des gens super sociables. On ne reçoit pas, on ne fait pas de goûters, etc. Depuis peu, j’essaie de voir mes amies (deux ou trois ont des enfants dans les âges de Mark) “en famille”, pour que les enfants apprennent à se connaître. On ne l’a pas trop quand ils étaient petits, parce que quand on se voyait, ben justement, on prenait un peu une pause des enfants 😆

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