My name is Tad and I’m an exchange student

There is a running joke in my house that I am the butt of. (Actually there are several, but this post is about one of them.) It started a few years back when Steve stumbled across some old pictures of me from grade school. Before we go any farther, let me paint a little picture of me in, oh, let’s say anywhere from grade 3 to 7.

Me_in_blue_stop_Exch_student_Sept2013

Tall. Very tall — almost always the tallest kid (not just girl, but kid) in the class.

Glasses. With taped, lopsided frames that were perpetually broken because I took them off and then stepped on them or sat on them or — in one instance that I can remember — fell on them.

Avid reader. This, of course, was long before the advent of book clubs and e-readers and enrollment in journalism school. This is circa 1977 when boys wore mullets, girls wore tube tops, and tall, book-reading people with glasses were spazzes.

You get the picture.

Needless to say, when Steve came across these old photos of me, in some album in the back of some closet (ours, I guess), he said, “You look like an exchange student.”

No offence to any foreign students who, simply by virtue of making it into an exchange program are, in all likelihood, a lot smarter than me and will go a lot farther in life than I have.

But you have to admit that the very words “exchange student” tend to conjure up images of crispy shirts and discount jeans and tight ponytails jutting out at all angles on the head.

Then again, maybe I’m recalling a back-to-school shopping trip to Simpsons with my mum: “Tad! Tadsy! I’ve found more coats over here!”

Did I mention my nickname was Tad? It still is, to some degree, though at work and in much of my social life now, people know me as Edana. Longtime friends still call me Tad. Back in grade school, I was Tad to everyone. This was in an era of Nancys and Lindas and Valeries and Brendas. “Maria” was ethnic, and there certainly were no Mackenzies or Crees or Coltons or Noahs. “Tad?” I especially remember French class, where teachers often would try to Frenchify students’ names. Mary. Marie. Theresa. Therèse. John. Jean. Tad. Tad. “Oui madame. Il fait froid et je m’apelle Tad.”

Me_at_desk_Exch_student_Sept2014

How did I get the name Tad? My mum’s name was Teddi, and when I was born (first — the oldest of three kids), I was “a little Tad of Ted”. Somehow it stuck.

The odd name just seemed to reinforce my sense that I was an odd kid. Though it wasn’t until I’d left grade school — probably into my 20s, in fact — that I realized in hindsight that I had been a de facto nerd. I wasn’t ostracized or bullied, thankfully, but I definitely was not one of the cool kids.

I remember, for instance, making up excuses to avoid parties (“Sorry, we’re going to Hamilton that weekend”) because I didn’t want to have face another uncomfortable, ucky game of spin the bottle.

I often had trouble finding pants long enough for me, and ended up with floods as a result. This is in addition to a wardrobe of gauchos (ouch), painter paints (anyone seen Lurch?) and peasant dresses (think Mennonite hooker).

I daydreamed in class, and frequently got called on it, having to suddenly explain the difference between a quadrilateral and parallelogram right when I was in the middle of helping Nancy Drew solve the Mystery of Larkspur Lane.

Math in particular was a weakness for me, which might contradict my nerd theory but in fact seemed core to my nerdiness. You see, being good at English wasn’t admired the way being good at math was. Moreover, it seemed a lot of the cool kids excelled at math. Not I, said the goose. In grade 12, I was informed by my math teacher just before exams that if I didn’t pass the exam, I wouldn’t pass the course. I squeezed by with a 51. It was the last time I took math — and the math industry breathed a sigh of relief.

Now, I’m glad things turned out the way they did because I like to write and have been lucky enough to make my living from it. I’ve also come to believe that writing and nerdiness are closely connected. If you’re not at least somewhat weird and obsessive, how are you going to care whether that sentence calls for a comma or semi-colon? Or whether to use “provide”, “supply”, “offer” or “deliver” in that headline? Or whether that paragraph could be 10 words shorter? These are deep questions, and it takes a certain kind of person to spend their days pondering them.

The truth is, of course, that at heart, we’re all nerds. The sooner you realize that and embrace it — and laugh at it — the more you will enjoy life. Yes, we admire the hero, the model, the mogul, but we identify with the underdog, the awkward kid… the exchange student. My wise mom used to say, “Perfection is dull.” I remind Me_in_class_cropped_Exch_student_Sept2014Steve of that often.

To all the students, exchange or otherwise, who are now entering another school year — and to those of us who finished a long time ago — I have this to say:  To thine own self be true.

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