Now for all I know, my sons will choose not to marry at all and they will be forced to look after me in my dottering senility. They may be gay, and I may end up with someone who will happily shoe shop with me. Or even more likely, these girls who seem so sweet in grade school will turn out to be nightmares later in life, daughters-in-law-zillas. Who knows? But last week I was lost in misty memories of my own wedding, and in a few days of saccharine emotion, I found two lovely little girls for my lovely little boys.
I’ve had my eye on Noora** for a while now, mostly because of her sweet resilience. She started off the school year without a word of English and in my eyes, any child that can hold her own in the midst of catty, third-grade-girl power struggles instantly rises in my estimation. She is tall, has gorgeous hair, smiles frequently, rides horses, dances and swims on a synchronized swim team. But the clincher for me was watching my son’s third grade assembly last week. During their presentation, a few students entertained the parents with a musical interlude. A few played the recorder, a few the piano, one a trumpet and one, God help my son when he is applying to college, played a nearly perfect prelude by Bach on the cello. But Noora dragged her suitcase sized case onto the make-shift stage and took out an….accordion. I was smitten. How can you not love a girl who plays the accordion?
He could do worse, right?
For my youngest it is a tiny firecracker with strawberry blonde hair and one brown eye/one blue who reminds me of the first friend I made in 2nd grade. She (the firecracker) climbs like a monkey, hides behind her mom’s leg when you say hello to her, and has a smile that lights up the room. She is the embodiment of the word feisty. She is fierce, but shy; giggly but quiet, and always looks like she is about to commit some secret act of mischief. (The other day I had to tell her mom that I’ve decided that my son should marry her just so she wasn’t shocked if/when she reads this.)
He could do worse, right?
Though completely unlike me physically, both girls have attributes that I value in others. Both of them stand out to me, but not for the reasons most people stand out. They hover just slightly at the edge of what most people would consider the norm. They are quirky. As a former cheerleader for non-conformity, I shouldn’t be surprised that the type of girl I want my sons to be attracted to would be at home on the Island of Misfit Toys.
If you are American and of a certain age, you will recognize the reference. For those of you that don’t, it comes from the 1964 animated holiday classic, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. When Dasher and Dancer and all of the other reindeer refused to let Rudolph partake in their reindeer games, Rudolph takes off. He hooks up with an effeminate elf who longs to be a dentist and a loner named Yukon Cornelius. Ah, the 60s. In their escape to find a place they belong, a place where their differences will be accepted, they come across the Island of Misfit Toys, home to all the toys in the world that are…slightly off. Trains with square wheels, a Jack-in-the-box named Charlie, a cowboy that rides an ostrich. They are all perfectly normal, functioning toys, aside from the little quirks that make them assume they are unworthy to others. They’ve convinced themselves that nobody wants them and they all live together on a remote island lorded over by a kindly, winged Lion. Remember, it was the 60s.
I’ve been slightly obsessed by the Island of Misfit Toys for a long time. In college I wrote a short story called Drunk on the Isle of Misfits in which the protagonist was a 6 foot 2 inch giantess who carried her drunk boyfriend home in a firefighter carry most evenings. I have always seen New York City as the real life embodiment of the Isle of Misfit Toys, a landing-place for when the rest of the country shakes out its pockets of rubber bands and lint and leftover detritus; freaks, geeks and all the rest.
For me, moving to New York City when I graduated high school was like coming home. I was suddenly among my people. At the same time, I was surrounded by every kind of misfit imaginable. Gay girls and boys who felt the freedom to finally come out and hold hands with boyfriends or girlfriends on the city streets; wall flowers who blossomed when watered by the city’s magic fountain of acceptance; awkward, gawky, ostrich-riding teenagers who, living among eight million other people who didn’t give a shit what they wore or said or who they dated, finally grew up. In New York, there truly is a place for everyone. Not because New Yorkers are more accepting, but because there’s always someone stranger than you around the next corner.
So it is no surprise that I would gravitate toward children who are walking on the edge of normalcy, and walking it with confidence. The girl who swims like a dolphin and plays the accordion may find herself on the outs with the cheerleaders some day. The little redhead with two different color eyes may have to defend her differences to people who don’t know better. But they will be stronger for it. They are not misfits, they don’t belong with King Moonraker on that desolate, icy island cut off by ice floats. But in the end, neither were those toys. They just looked different. There were girls and boys who wanted them, who were thankful for them.
Of course my children are free to walk their own path in life, but I would be dishonest if I did not admit that I hope there is a bit of funk to their walk, a little bit of quirk on the path they choose. But maybe if we do our job right as parents, they won’t even notice, because they will just take everyone for what they are.
Maybe there will be no need for an Island of Misfits.
Fun Trivia: Dolly is a seemingly normal girl rag doll with red hair. Her misfit problem is never explained on the special, but was possibly revealed on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! news quiz show (broadcast December 8, 2007). The show revealed that Rudolph’s producer, Arthur Rankin Jr., says Dolly’s problem was psychological, caused from being abandoned by her mistress and suffering depression from feeling unloved. (source: Wikipedia)