When my son started preschool I honestly thought it would open a wide variety of social avenues for both of us but I'll be honest, it hasn't. In fact, I almost feel like parenting is cliquier than middle school was, and middle school didn't go well for me. I wasn't "cool" or part of a crowd so much that I really felt like I belonged. I was awkward and chubby and never quite fit into the standard idea of what was 'acceptable' the middle school hierarchy of what is deemed 'normal.' Girls were mean and boys were meaner. There was no winning. I wasn't popular and I really didn't like putting myself out there, but I genuinely thought I was awesome...it was everyone else who seemed to have a different opinion. It was just hard and I hated it. Real talk: when I joke and say Tina Belcher is my spirit animal...I'm not really joking, total truth! We've all felt insecure and misunderstood. So why is preschool giving me serious flashbacks? Well, it's because once again I find myself feeling those old, familiar feelings of exclusion creep back in. This time by members of the same peer group...other moms.
I'm a single parent, currently staying home to be there with my son to help ease his transition into school full-time. I'm not any different than moms with husbands or partners at home. We all struggle with the same things. All parents battle against sleepless nights, potty training, how to get your child to eat, sick babies and skinned knees. I do all the same things the other moms do. So why do I feel so different? It's such a weird feeling to describe. I often feel like I'm wearing the invisibility cloak (ok, Harry Potter references probably don't make me any cooler) and it's like they, the other moms, just don't see me. I could be standing right next to them, wearing the same brands and frequent the same places, but for some reason I just don't fit in. I felt the same way walking down the school hallways. Lonely. It isn't that I don't like some of the moms, it isn't that some of them don't acknowledge me. I'm grateful for the people who I have met that choose to greet me with a kind "hello" and a smile. I don't want this to diminish those Moms who go about parenting with the true spirit of community and support. Let's face it, they are not all that way. There are those who judge and there are those who choose to, by whatever motivation, harbor some deep-rooted insecurities of their own. For some reason it bothers me and that's the truth. I can say a million times that I "give zero f#&%s" about what anyone else thinks, but I do care and I care who it affects my child. Leaving me out leaves him out, and that is something he just doesn't deserve. He's a highly social boy with a loving heart who is kind and sensitive. I love that about him, his dad loves that about him. That's the person we are working so hard to raise.
In a particularly hurtful example of how we have been affected by this type rejection my sons feelings were affected and it killed me. Almost the entire group from his preschool class worked amongst themselves to plan a Disney day with the kiddos. We've all chatted about Disney and it was apparent that nearly everyone is an annual pass holder, and so are we. On this day they all met for a group day at the park. The next day, however, all of the kids were talking about it amongst themselves at school. I had no idea this had all transpired or I would have been more prepared for the tears and obviously painful conversation that occurred at pick up. My son said to me,"all of my friends went to Disney and they didn't invite me." I told him it was ok and maybe we could go next time...but then he said,"they don't like me, they didn't want me to go." I couldn't help it, the tears just fell out of my eyes. I tried hard to hold them in. I am NOT A CRIER. Now that I'm a full-grown adult don't let shit get to me. But this totally broke my heart. I explained to him that they did like him and that I would take him to Disney anytime he wanted to go. He's 3 years old so most of the rudeness and flat-out thoughtfulness of everyone else it lost on his innocent sensibilities and he got over it. I, on the other hand, felt completely cut to the quick. Do I think this incident was intentionally meant to hurt me or my son...NO! I choose to believe this was just an unfortunate thing that happened. But it sucked, big time. For the purposes of full transparency I'll say this: we can't go to every birthday party or join every activity like everyone else. Our family is split between to households and juggling time with Boo is a delicate balance of scheduling and planning each week and weekend between the two parents and sometimes a grandparent.
I'm not writing this for sympathy and I'm not writing this to point fingers at any particular set of moms or another. I'm simply stating that how we treat one another as mothers and parents (although I never hear of the "Dad Clique" but I assume it's a thing) can directly color the way we treat our children and the other children in our community. Whether it be at preschool or the elementary school bus stop or at the soccer field, or dance class... respect each other as members of the same tribe. Being exclusionary creates division where division doesn't need to be. I'm not saying that we all need to be best friends, but how do you know we wouldn't be? I just didn't think at 36 I would feel like a the middle-schooler again...Where do I stand? Who do I talk to? Are my clothes ok? Will they like me? But what's super messed is that at one point I found myself asking the question: will they accept my son regardless of me? And sometimes the narrative in my head would be so loud I'm surprised the other moms couldn't hear my internal dialogue echoing "just like us, we're cool, just please accept us." US, as in, totally hoping that some asshole adult would give my son and I some sort of preschool mom clique seal of approval. Nope, no more. I just can't. I'll smile and talk to anyone willing to return the social niceties, but I won't be made to feel like I'm not good enough to be let into some secret club of people who deem themselves better than myself or anyone else and I surely won't let my son fall victim to that kind of mentality. In an ideal world all mothers would stand in solidarity of one another and we would all genuinely be good friends, but this is reality. Reality is we all don't fit in, we all don't have to. At this point in my life I have to be able to deal with the fact that I still don't fit in, just like in middle school...but maybe other mothers feel the same way. If you've ever felt excluded, over-looked, under appreciated or like a social pariah, come join me at the 'nerd table.'
W & Boo