Its my first day of school. I’m in an unfamiliar place full of unfamiliar faces. I’m not really sure if I came in the right door, where the right classroom is, or what I’m supposed to do until the bell rings to signal the start of school. Is my outfit ok? I hope the new people I meet will like me. I find the classroom. There’s no one there, not even the teacher. I guess I’ll go out to the playground? I walk the near empty halls towards the double doors to the playground and then I stop. So that’s where everyone is. I look around for someone I know so that I’m not the only one standing there alone holding a backpack. No luck. My heart speeds up a little. This is going to be a long day. Then I hear a bell and quickly everyone runs towards the school, as if everyone but me was aware of this unspoken rule. There are teachers lining the wall and kids begin to fall into line in front of each teacher. I imagine I’m supposed to do the same but I still don’t see my teacher, so I continue to stand there awkwardly. The next day is more of the same. Except I arrive at school just a little bit later to avoid having to make a decision about how to spend the time before the bell.
This would seem like a normal reaction to a first day of school, if it were my 5 year old daughter feeling this way.
But it was me.
My little one did fine. In fact, she instantly made a friend, grabbed her by the hand, and literally skipped out the door towards the playground. I followed close behind…alone…and, well, you know the rest.
Why did I have no idea that HER first day of school was going to feel much more like MY first day of school? I felt a little Josie-esque (from Never Been Kissed), having gone into this new experience with my eyes wide open, all smiles. So this was not like my first day of elementary school, where I had so little world experience that I wasn’t yet jaded to the world of socialization. More like my first day of college…
I’m walking up the hill to campus from my apartment with my new roommates that I don’t know yet. We’re heading to an opening-semester party with live music, dancing, and fireworks. A few weeks ago back home with all my friends this would have been just my thing. But now I’m dreading standing around in the dark with a bunch of people I don’t know and trying to make a good first impression. Luckily, I don’t really have to. Its dark enough that it takes me a while to realize I’ve been abandoned. So I wander around, again looking for a familiar face, which is unlikely seeing as how I am almost 2000 miles from home. I’m about ready to walk back to my apartment when ONE of my roommates finds me and asks if I want to watch the fireworks with her. It was a pity-invitation but I’ll take it. So we lay on the grass and as I watch the explosions in the sky set to music I just cry and think about what a mistake I made coming here.
Now before you feel too sorry for me, within days I ended up becoming best friends with these abandoners and I’m still friends with them to this day, 12 years later. And not only that but I had incredible, life changing experiences at this college. One of which was meeting my husband. It wasn’t a mistake.
So why did I feel so much like an outcast? And why do I feel that way now. And is my projecting of my insecurities onto my daughter going to hinder her school experience? I would imagine not, because at that age you have no idea how to feel insecure and there would be no reason for you to think someone could not like you. I miss that feeling. Every person I meet I wonder what they’re thinking of me. And as if it wasn’t scary enough to be a parent before the school stage, now my ability to parent will be known amongst the mom group and possibly discussed at the PTO meetings I may not have time to attend. The reason that they say adolescence is the most awkward time of your life is because its the onset of realizing that people aren’t ALL as kind and uncritical as you’d thought for the previous 12 years or so (hopefully longer if you were lucky enough to maintain your innocence until your late teens). For me that realization has never gone away.
Case in point. My daughter was invited to a birthday party recently. She was so excited for weeks and the day before the party we made a special date out of finding a birthday present. The day of the party she sat anxiously at the door and kept asking “Is it time yet??” Finally I told her it was almost time so she could probably go on over (the party was next door). She ran out the door, gift in hand and a smile on her face, and the little girl met her with “I don’t want you to come to my party”. Of course, my sweet girl ran home crying. But as soon as I addressed the problem with the birthday girl, they were again all smiles. Today they’re best friends.
When I was in 7th grade, my best friend got her first boyfriend. I had gone to her birthday parties every year since we met in 2nd grade. But this year was different. Her party was a “couples only” party. And obviously as a 12 year old, I didn’t have a boyfriend. Somehow enough kids did that they formed a pretty sizable group, of which members all ended up being the “popular kids” when we got to high school. I was devastated. Apparently you needed to be “attached” to have any worth. Obviously I haven’t forgotten about it, and it may have been the start to my insecurities.
And today…I’m a grown up. Married. With 4 children. But I’m feeling left out because of the “cool mom” group who joined a relay race team and named themselves “The Real Housewives”. Most of these “Real” moms have kids at my kids’ school; I saw several of them chatting outside on my first day. And now all of a sudden I feel like the unpopular or “unreal” mom because I don’t have the same interests, as much money, or as nice of clothes as the other moms. Just admitting this fact makes me feel even more lame. My sincere question for these real moms is do they FEEL cool? Does anyone who people like me think is cool actually feel that way themselves? What makes someone look “cool” on the outside anyway?
So if I could (and I will) give my daughter any advice as she starts this very long educational/social journey, it would be this:
Just be you! You are SUPER cool. You are someone who I would want to be friends. Give people a chance to see who that person is and I promise you will have amazing, worthwhile friendships and magical experiences. And even if you don’t, your family will ALWAYS love you. Your Heavenly Father loves you and you were made in his image. You have incredible worth. You are every bit as real as anyone else who you may compare yourself to. To me, you are beautiful, you are sensitive and caring, you are the best friend a person could be lucky enough to have. No matter what happens outside our cozy walls, you can always come home. I love YOU!
And if I’m lucky, in return she will tell me, “Mom, I feel the same way about you!”