There’s always been an “In” crowd and I was always “Out’.
Deep down, we know what we’re made of.
When I grew up there was a group of girls at school that we called the ‘in’ crowd. They were the daughters of the doctors and lawyers in our town.
These girls had played together since they were babies. Their parents were part of the ‘in’ crowd of adults. Because of this, they would have been considered suitable playmates for each other.
- Not the girls that lived on the dead-end street across from the railway station.
- Not the girls whose father drank a little too much at parties.
- Not the girls wearing hand me downs.
- Not the girls whose mother wasn’t a daughter of a local family.
The other mothers used to try and fix me up with girls who were disadvantaged or lonely for reasons of their own.
‘How sweet for them to have each other as friends’, they would say.
All the while we both resented spending time with this boring person, who wasn’t cool in any way. It only made the situation at school worse.
This kind of pairing cemented us into the role of ‘too smart’ and ‘poor’. ‘The outsiders.’ ‘Not in our group.’ As their mothers would say, ‘not our kind of people darling.’
Yes, some of the in-crowd belonged to the church and sometimes there was a connection between our families, but it was always in a charitable sort of way. The kids knew it too.
As I grew older, my mother tried to get me to take dance or piano lessons. I knew what she didn’t know.
It was too late to start.
If you hadn’t begun when you were just a teeny tot, you would arrive at the class as a beginner, surrounded by cooler more experienced dancers who had been together most of their lives. Again, you would stick out as a loser.
And then there were the leotards.
Second hand, handed down, passed down by someone well-intended, but with a complete lack of understanding of the intense mortification a young girl would experience when she was discovered wearing something that had been ‘donated’ to a charity or sold at a rummage sale.
Girl Guide uniforms were a classic example. I loved going to the meetings at first. It was like belonging to a secret society, where we were allowed to try things like orienteering and learn camping skills. This was a group where I might actually have some advantage. I might have a skill that could be looked upon as useful.
My mom found me a uniform at the Salvation Army and was thrilled that it was in such great shape. Almost new, she said, and deftly made a few adjustments with her sewing machine. The words “almost new” made my heart sink.
I turned up at the first meeting and realized I had one of the ‘old style’ uniforms. They’d upgraded the design and the new uniforms were much more stylish. And worst of all, they were a completely different shade of navy, so I stood out — again.
When you grow up having play dates with the same girls you met in your parenting group, you have the advantage of an instant tribe of friends.
When I moved to the town I grew up in and attended Grade 1, there were clearly established cliques of cool kids and outcasts. I didn’t fit in with either group and spent a lot of time trying to stay under the radar.
Sometimes that meant playing down my talents so I didn’t stand out.
Sometimes that meant choosing something the ‘in’ crowd was doing, to try and fit in with them.
I was a pretty good baseball player; our team had won the finals the summer we moved away. I was small, but wasn’t afraid of the ball and could really hit.
The day we had baseball in Phys Ed, I was excited to play. Here was something I was good at and I was excited about belonging to a team again.
When the teacher chose two of the popular girls to be team leaders, my heart sank. Here it was again. They proceeded to choose players that were their best friends. As the captains chose their teams, they were welcomed by their friends. The teams grew larger as our small group grew smaller.
We were the ‘unchosen.’
Everyone watched in silence as the selection became harder. Sometimes one of the members would whisper suggestions to the captain. I stood in a shrinking line of students, including Beth, who was so clumsy that she would trip over her own shoes and Patricia, who couldn’t run because of her braces.
I was terrified that I would be chosen dead last. When I heard my name, I shuffled over to join the lineup, head down. There was no cheerful welcome, the team members grudgingly made room on the end of the bench.
I have a single clear memory of that first game. I’d like to say the score was tied and the bases were loaded when it was my turn to bat, but I don’t remember. All I recall was the tension as I came up to bat and the pressure from my team.
The captain signaled to the outfielders to move in closer, expecting a grounder or a chance for an easy out. The pitcher lobbed an easy one, not expecting much and when my bat connected with a satisfying crack, the ball sailed into the outfield, sending several players running after it.
‘That,’ I thought to myself, ‘is what I’m made of.’
I set my bat down, careful not to throw it and ran my bases, as my team cheered me home.
When I raised my own children, I recalled how it felt to be an outsider. I was determined that they would have a different experience.
They would belong.
I joined a mom’s and tot’s group when they were babies, and we made friends that we still know today. It should have been a good experience but there was one problem. I was a single mom.
Single moms are risky.
I was accepted in the playgroup, but not included in family outings. Other women don’t invite a single women to events unless they want to set you up with someone. If you have children, that makes it a harder match. Eventually, I realized I was intimidating.
A single woman was a risk to the stability of their marriage.
It’s different for single dads. They’re invited to dinners and group outings. Everyone seems to think they need help. People play matchmaker, setting them up with girlfriends. They take their children after school and help with dance costumes.
Not so with the single mom. She is often left to fend for herself.
No one volunteers their husband to help repair the lawnmower or fix a car. She is dangerous for men to be around. After all, she must be in desperate need of male companionship. The women don’t trust their partners.
When I remarried, things were easier.
Our children were included in the ‘in’ crowd and we often found ourselves sitting in the audience at a recital, surrounded by the ‘in’ crowd of adults, the lawyers and doctors in the town. At one event it occurred to me that I still didn’t fit in. I never belonged to this group and likely never would.
It was discouraging. I was repeating this lesson over and over again. I don’t belong. I don’t fit in.
Then I realized it wasn’t about being accepted into a certain group. It was about accepting myself for who I am.
I discovered this quote from Eckhart Tolle:
“Stop looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security or love — you have a treasure within that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.”
When I read it, something slid into place, like a pin in a lock.
It’s OK if I don’t fit in. It’s not about me. It’s also not about them.
“You have a treasure within that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.”
Each person is a unique and beautiful treasure. When we try to fit in, all we are doing is hiding our gifts.
Now that I understand I am the treasure, it makes a lot more sense.
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