Friday, July 20, 2012

Who the Heck Is Sue Heck?

Sue Heck – socially awkward 14 year old on ABC’s The Middle; habitual failure at everything.

Sue Heck is my hero.  Her whole-hearted optimism in the midst of a sea of failures forces even the most cynical of viewers to tone down their sarcasm, lower their all-too-cool guarded façade, and let this geeky teenager into their hearts.  I have yet to hear of anyone (blogs and forums included) who does not love Sue Heck.

Before you think I’m delusional, let me assure you that I do realize Sue Heck is a fictional character and does not actually exist.  Be that as it may, I think we can learn a lot from her.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Sue’s character is the fact that she’s completely oblivious to her own social awkwardness, despite the best efforts of her older brother Axl, who constantly reminds Sue of her own lameness, nerdiness, and weirdness. 

I wonder how many of us would have what it takes to be a good parent to Sue?  How many of us could set aside our own desires for living vicariously through our children and truly give Sue the support she needs to just be Sue?  As her mother, would I be emotionally secure enough to be seen in public with her dressed in her favorite strawberry sweater?  Or would I be trying to change her, trying to make her fit in with the rest of the crowd?  These are hard questions to answer, especially in today’s world, where it seems that we as parents experience such exhilaration through our children’s lives.  If your child was perfectly happy with being a badly-dressed, socially-awkward failure, would you still offer that child the same love you give your good-looking, athletic, popular kid?

I’m so very thankful that my own parents could.  And did.  While I will not claim that I was such an extreme case as Sue is, I definitely could be placed down toward the negative end of the adolescent popularity scale.  Yet, still my parents loved me unconditionally.  My parents encouraged me.  They never saw my name on a varsity (okay, not even a JV) sports roster.  They never saw my name on a class officers list.  My name never appeared on a homecoming ballot.  I never made straight A’s.  I never had the privilege (yes, this is sarcasm dripping from my lips) of attending the parties hosted by the popular kids in high school.  I’ve never appeared in a high school drama production. My picture was omitted from my 11th grade yearbook, and I can guarantee you that no one at my school even noticed. 

Even in the midst of all these negatives, I was a happy teenager!  My parents never made me feel like I was less of a person because of these things (even though they both could truthfully answer an affirmative YES to many of those items above, as they were BOTH popular, athletic leaders in their schools during the 1950’s. Thankfully, they did not automatically expect the same out of me!)

All in all, if MY parents had relied upon ME to relive their youth, they probably would have died of boredom by the age of 50.  Thankfully, they didn’t depend upon me for that.  Instead, they taught me valuable lessons (lessons that I hope and pray I’ve instilled in my daughter, who is so close to entering the world of adulthood herself).  One such lesson involved Al Bundy and began when I was around 14 or 15.  We all know that the subject of boys becomes very important in the lives of 15 year old girls.  Often young girls run the risk of being completely infatuated with the popular athletes of their schools. 

Through the character of Al Bundy, my parents taught me to look past the athleticism and good looks of such boys, for a good number of them grow up to become the Al Bundy’s of this world, who waste away their adult years reliving the glory days of the past.  (Remember Al Bundy’s famous line?  “I played high school football.”)  Now, as the mother of a very pretty teenage girl, I’m more thankful than ever for that lesson, delivered at the expense of Al Bundy, for now she has the common sense to look beyond the popularity façade, picking and choosing her dates wisely (even though I would prefer she not choose any at all, at least until after college!)

Ultimately, I believe that we can learn a lot from Sue Heck and her parents, who love her unconditionally despite her failures and disappointments.  When you think of encouraging your daughters to choose their dates based solely upon popularity, just remember Al Bundy!

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