Writings by Cole Huffman


Twelfthness

“She sees them walking in a straight line, that’s not really her style.

And they all got the same heartbeat, but hers is falling behind.”—Echosmith, “Cool Kids”

A friend once observed there’s no way to look cool drinking from a straw. Your head bows as your mouth reaches awkwardly, then your lips purse, your shoulders hunch, and you make sucking sounds like a little piglet. Cool needs some level of conscious detachment and a straw is too committal. You’re really into that drink, aren’t you?

My youngest daughter is 12 now. Show of hands here: Who wants to relive your twelfth year of life? I don’t. Not a cool time for most. Even the word “twelfth” is awkward with that “f” in it, like some lacy nobleman added it to his generational suffix for flair: Fauntleroy, Twelfth Earl of Arundel! 

Speaking of awkward 12s: At halftime of the 2015 National Championship game, Jimmy Kimmel brought three fans down to the field to show their homemade signs. The Ohio State backer, a dowdyish woman flanked by the most nubile of Oregon cheerleaders, held hers: “WE GOT [OUR] 12 GUAGE AND WE’RE HUNTING DUCKS.” She meant “GAUGE,” her poster a play on the deadeye play and number of her quarterback, but seemed oblivious to the misspelling even as Kimmel couldn’t help himself to point it out: “Spelling’s not great,” he snarked, “but a lot of creativity.”

"I wish that I could be like the cool kids, because the cool kids they seem to fit in. I wish that I could be like the cool kids, because the cool kids they seem to get it.” I think of my youngest daughter when I hear Echosmith croon their “Cool Kids” lyrics. As far as I know she doesn’t wish to be like the cool kids. But at 12 she’s old enough now to “get” that she’s different and doesn’t quite “fit” the norm. She feels it at school. She feels it at church. Only in the last year has she begun to mention it to us. 

As a parent of a child with developmental delays you want to turn all the cool kids into inclusivists. You want to gather their stylish selves together and explain the nature of autistic idiosyncracies, as if introducing them to exotic coffee, hoping they’ll develop a taste for it. But you can’t do that. Relational maturity is not coerced. 

My daughter has a few true friends who enjoy her as she is. Why is that not enough for me? Because I want her to be normal. That’s not it. I want her to be normal-er. Liked by all. We’re not living the script of The Other Sister or Temple Grandin. Our girl is healthy and yet I want her healthy socially and scholastically too. I worry about her vulnerability, her ability to discern subtleties like the difference between getting a joke and the joke being on her. I feel neither embarrassment nor disappointment with her. What I feel is deep love and longing—the longing for those you love to be free of encumbrances. 

Cool is an encumbrance in its own way though. Andy Crouch wrote a Christianity Today article in 2002—the year of my 12-year-old’s birth—called “Thou Shalt Be Cool.” In it he tells of going to a conference where a young man told him he was planting a church “for cool people.” Crouch was mostly embarrassed for him. Of all the shortsighted visions. What happens when some of the cool congregants end up having awkward kids? Cool assumes more control than it actually has.

Early in my career I was told by a younger adult I had “hip factor.” It was meant as a compliment. Pastors are not widely known as—let’s Frenchify it—gens cool. Older now, I feel my hipness starting to wane. I sold my cool truck last summer, content to be without for a time. A generous soul, believing I shouldn’t do without a vehicle, decided to give me their very fit-for-a-clergyman Buick sedan. Alas for my former cachet.

I’ve known my daughter’s peers would leave girlhood sooner than she. She doesn’t really know how to keep pace. She just knows it’s different now trying to relate. As the teen years speed on to driving lessons and Sadie Hawkins dances and college applications she may fall further behind. We don’t know. She may yet catch up and get to do all the above and more. She says she wants to illustrate children’s books when she grows up. No one is better fit for the task than one who never stops reading them.

She rode home with me from church last Sunday. “I like that you’re a preacher, Daddy!” she tells me and shows me the insert from the service bulletin. In crayon, above where she made a menu of her favorite foods, she kept count of how many times I said “verses” and “God” in my sermon. “You should say ‘God’ more,” she offers. I have to say that’s one of the coolest preaching critiques anyone’s ever given me.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 11:33 AM
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