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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fitting In

Recently my fellow friends and writers began determining roommates for the 33rd Annual RWA conference in Atlanta, Georgia… which of course resurrected all my oldest insecurities about fitting in. When I was in 6th grade, my parents took me out of Catholic school and sent me, a very sheltered girl, off to public school. It was…umm, different. Those private school students had been more like siblings and the public school kids—it took some adjustment on that score. My best friend in private school was a boy. We spent half the time in recess playing GI Joe and the other half, playing ‘pretend wedding'. He didn’t care that it was absurdly silly that I spent our recess waiting for a limo that was never coming. He was just my friend and accepted me, little-girl dreams and all.  Fast-forward to my first foray into public school.  The kids were picking kickball teams and I remember sitting on the sidelines.  No one wanted to ‘pick me' because I was the new girl.

I was picked second to last, which in hindsight, I imagine was a good deal harder for the girl who went last, even behind the unknown girl. On my first kick, I drove the ball down the third base line and ran hard for a double. It was the last time I was picked last. Instead I became the girl who could run. And the girl who could kick. I loved being picked at the front of the line.

My son, by nature of his disability struggles with many things. At this point, his speech is unintelligible to most, his gait a bit more awkward than a typical child…and through it all, there are so many things to worry about. 

So what do I worry over?  I worry about when he’ll get picked for kickball. Or will the kids invite him to join in their reindeer games?


When we lived in a bucolic New England town last year, it seemed the epitome of familial and neighborhood perfection. Except, in two years, the students in his class never invited him on one play-date. No birthday parties. And all my earliest fears; would he fit in and would he have friends, seemed to have been realized in those days.

Until last February, we moved our tiny family of three to a new town. And I found that what we waste our days worrying about, yes, those events can come to fruition. But more than that, sometimes, something better happens. People surprise you. 

What I’ve been amazed at through my relatively new journey is just how much we can learn from children and just how desperately I want to freeze-frame these little four-year-olds and forever keep them as the kind-hearted, beautiful souls who don’t need words. Or to win. Or to come in first.  They just love. Because inherently that’s what we crave. We want to love and be loved, and you don’t need words for that.

  
 All you need is the touch of a hand,



Or  the reassuring arms of a friend.




You need friends who, just like you, appreciate good Mexican food.


And friends who aren't ever too big to get into a crib, just to be beside you.




You need  smiles and laughter.  


And if you have all those things? Well, then nothing else really matters.

Not even if you get picked last. 

So how about you? Were you picked first or last? And how did it impact your life?

20 comments:

  1. Christi ~ My son is in his Freshman year of high school and last night we had a similar discussion. He asked me if I'd been popular at his age (he is feeling decidedly not.)

    I frowned a bit, trying to remember those high school years that in many ways feel like a million years ago. I told him I always had a small group of friends because I belonged to my church's youth group (something he does not have nor does he want.) I was never picked first for kick ball, but neither was I picked last. I told him I was "average", that I blended in.

    One of the girl's I'd gone to church/school with called me a couple months before our 10th reunion and asked if I was going. I hadn't decided (and in the end no one went as it was is September 2001 and the country was still reeling from 9/11). But it was what she said to me on that phone call that left me scratching my head. She said, "I don't know if I want to go, but I don't want to unless you're there. And of all of us you were the one with all the friends." I never really felt that way. In those days, I didn't truly fit in at church despite the small group of friends I had there (my personality does not lend itself to that environment.) And I didn't truly feel like I fit in at school. (Then again, maybe no one does at that age so filled with insecurities.) But that was how *they* saw me.

    What I did have going for me was the fact that I was my high school's yearbook sports editor. So all of the athletes and cheerleaders were nice to me (who doesn't want to be in the yearbook?) But I never went to any of their parties and hung out with them outside of school.

    But seeing your child struggle with fitting in is most definitely one of the hardest things to witness as a parent. I always want to step in and make things right, but I know that for him to grow into the man he's going to be, he has to do these things himself. That these are his defining moments, and all I can really do is be there for him when he needs me.

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    1. Thank you for sharing Ava. Sometimes I forget that I'm not very much different than a typical mother. And I can totally relate and understand the difficult time your son is going through. Freshman year is a tough yesr when students are trying to find themselves and their friends. And often times it seems like a very lonely time.

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  2. Oh, Christi...
    When I was in elementary school, I wore glasses and because of that, I was always last to be picked for gym. Back then, being a "Four eyes" as they called us was like having a disability. Then I had my accident at 13 and then walked with a cane for awhile and hen a limp until just last year. Peole were afraid to come near me, except for the kids I knew coming into high school. no gym, ever. So I've always felt different because I walked differently and everyone always asked me why. It made me a shy person, one who wasn't ever willing to be the first to talk or ever go up to someone I didn't know. I always thought they were staring at me.
    My daughter struggled with the usual insecurities when she entered high school, even though she was with the same kids since kindergaarden. She worked it out on her own and it believe it has made her a much stronger person, stronger than me. Kids these days are so more exposed than we were and more accepting. Wtih a mommy like you, Christi, he to will find his way.
    As usual, a wonderful post

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing Nancy. School was a tough time for so many. But I think you're right. And times are changing in a much better way. I know it sounds cliché, to say that differences make you stronger, but they do.

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  3. I had a small group of great friends that helped me survive adolescence. We met in elementary school and we're still friends today. I felt insecure and always thought I was fat due to comments I heard growing up. I look back at pictures and I want to tell those very few well-meaning adults to kiss my skinny butt. I was far from fat. I was healthy, active, and muscular. But my self-image made me shy away from approaching others. With my group of friends, I felt accepted and loved.

    My son also has a small group of friends that I'm so grateful for. He has more social struggles than our daughter. He has always been awkward physically, kind of like a colt trying out his legs for the first time. He has this big body he doesn't know how to control quite yet. In the 5th grade, he became a target for bullies. One day his class decided to pretend he didn't exist and wouldn't talk to him, but his best friend refused to participate. He stood by my son's side, and my son has been great for his friend, who is very shy. That's one thing I can say about my kids. They are not shy! :)

    My goal is to make our home a safe haven from the outside world for our kids. It's a place where they are accepted for who they are and loved. I believe that's what helps them to survive these tough years.

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    1. Beautifully said, Samantha. What children, all children really, need is a place where they feel safe and loved. And you're also right, just one or a couple of good friends, who love you and support you are vastly better than any large number of people who are only superficially friends.

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  4. Such a touching post! I tried to think back, I was always one of those people that got picked in the middle, neither first nor last. Oddly enough though I didn't really care. I was happy to just be doing something whether it was with friends or byself. I was very fortunate that the household I grew up in really made you learn to love being independent and on your own. Many of my friends were not as lucky and I had a good friend recently who had serious depression related to adjusting to fitting in and having friends (or in her case, the inability to get them in the tough grad school environment). i think it's so important to reach out to people, even in small ways to show friendship.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lauren. You are so right. It is oftentimes those small things that save a person.

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  5. What a lovely post, Christi. We moved so much, 13 schools in 4 countries before 8th grade, I learned quickly how to fit in. Still it wasn't always easy.

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    1. No, I can imagine that wasn't easy. But you are an amazing person. So it clearly shaped you in a good Way! I'm looking forward to rooming with you at the conference this summer!!!!

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  6. I was always picked last. I was overweight, wore glasses, has asthma and braces, was one of the nerds...I was never going to be picked anything other than last. It didn't help matters any that I was excruciatingly shy.

    It still surprises me, sometimes, to realize that I have friends now. When people are getting together, I get an invite. If I invite people to join me, they often do. I'm still an overweight nerd with glasses and asthma, but at least the braces are gone. Maybe if they're putting together a soccer team I'll still be picked last (PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME PLAY SOCCER!!!) but it's not for everything. It's amazing how things can change when you're not a kid anymore.

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    1. It's amazing how formative those years are...the things that stay with us and still have strong, lingering effects. Like I said with the RWA conference roommate decisions...it put me right back in the 6th grade kickball line which is so crazy because these women now are my friends and amazingly supportive. And I think Sandra makes a beautiful point... Those experiences shape us and only make us stronger.

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  7. Always picked last. Always had no friends. Always awkward and dorky. Overweight, wore glasses, had a port wine birthmark covering my whole right leg and was dirt poor. Yeah, no fitting in for me. But, here's the thing: these trials make a person strong. You learn how to rely on yourself and get things done. You become aware of what you're good at and why. You find integrity and realize who is important in your life. Dreams are born in between the not fitting in. Not fitting in doesn't matter. There are times even now when this can be an issue, but I've found, if I dig deep enough, it still doesn't matter. I'm still me, and I'm awesome :-) Thanks for sharing your post.

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    1. Oh my goodness, Sandra...this so beautifully captures how I feel. Thank you for sharing...I connect with what you say here on so many levels!

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  8. Interestingly enough, though I was mildly 'popular', (that word makes me think of 80's teen movies) in grade school, I was a huge ball of insecurities. And honestly, I didn't have a lot of friends. I'll never forget when a classmate labeled me a snob - I was reeling! I wasn't a snob - I was terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing.

    Alas, popularity ended with high school. I always felt unbelievably awkward at parties, so I only went to 1 in all four years of college. I also don't really drink, which I discovered really puts people off. I'm sorry, I have absolutely no problem with people drinking around me, but when you're from a family that has raging alcoholism in its past, drinking isn't exactly the same thing to you. Still, I know many have considered me a party pooper, and no matter how much hubby and I used to make the effort to have a good time with our old friends, we increasingly saw ourselves excluded from invites. (Ah, Facebook and Twitter - now you can see and hear all about your friends having fun without you!)

    It wasn't until I became a writer that I finally started making lots of friends - and what great friends they are :) While I still am not the popular kid who gets invited out all the time, its sure nice to finally feel comfortable in my skin :)

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    1. Wow! This sounds remarkably like my own experience in terms of college. In high school I was incredibly shy but acted...and found a voice through the characters I portrayed. And also like you, only really became comfortable in the more recent years of my life!

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  9. Hi Christi!
    I think fear of not fitting in is a basic human trait--no matter your personality, intelligence, etc., we all worry we'll be the outsider in a new situation. I think it's one of life's necessary growing pains to make us discover who we really are or want to be. But dang, it can be so hard! Great post!

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    1. Thank you so much, Andris! And I think you're right...though I look at some people and they just seem like they have 'it'...whatever 'it' is. However like I said, I think you are right in that we all battle those insecurities. Just because we can't see those doubts, doesn't mean they're not real. For everyone.

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  10. What a wonderful post, Christi! I hope everything continues to get better and better for your precious little boy. I wonder how many people realize what a rare gift he is and how beautifully unique his insights and perspective are. It does indeed take the simplicity of a child's love and acceptance to open the gift that is your little man! I hope he is surrounded by insightful aware people from here on out.

    I was always the smart one, the nerd from the very first day of first grade. It made things very hard, especially as I was an Air Force brat and we moved a lot. The best most accepting friends I had were the ones I made in my 6th grade class as it was the first gifted class I was ever in. And the British kids in the village were far more accepting of the bookish Yank who loved horses and English history and bird watching.

    High school started out really awful, but the other brightest kid in school was the quarterback of the football team. We bonded over our insecurities as nerds and rode to school together a lot. I was accepted at many activities because of him. And my band, drama and choral activities helped as well.

    The really funny thing is, I went to my 35th high school reunion not long ago and I was amazed at how many people remembered me and at the respect they had for me. It ended up being a great night.

    And I don't drink either, Erin, and for the same reasons you don't. I am a great bartender, but I have never had a sip of alcohol in my life. Just too risky with the alcoholism in my family AND being a musician. Not a good combination.

    But I will say my writing sisters are the absolute best and make me feel like it is absolutely fine to be myself - quirks and all!

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  11. Thank you so much, Louisa. And thank you for sharing about your own experience as a child and student. I think you've hit it exactly...what's so important is just having a general sense of belongingness. (Is that even a word?) Society puts forth these stereotypical ideas of popularity and perfection when in actuality, just finding someone who accepts you and loves you and who you can truly be yourself around, that's more important than anything.

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