Monday, February 2, 2009

The Un-Sorority

In the last few weeks, courtesy of this amazing thing called the Internet, I’ve been bombarded by my past. Yes, it has been my choice to put my name out there, which is strange considering my self-confidence is at an all time low and I really have so many things taking up my time that the thought of keeping up with all these new ‘friends’ pushes the insanity button a little. But I think that the stages my children are going through have much more to do with it than anything in my own mind. I’m watching them establish friendships, have fights, rush to check caller ID when the phone rings and then fight over who gets to pick it up… I especially watch my daughter, and she’s approaching that point in her life where Queen Bees and Wannabes are established. I have been reflecting on my own life as I contemplate helping her navigate this social ocean. Will she glide through on a cruise ship or cling to a life raft? Will she have one or two friends, or will she have the sisters she’s always wanted?
I was on a life raft, but it was the one hanging on the side, still attached to the fancy cruise ship. I knew lots of kids in grade school and junior high, but I never belonged to a group. When I was young my family focused on the ways I was unique, special. I was the only grandchild on both sides of my family for several years. I remember Kindergarten being quite a shock – you mean I’m not the center of the universe? There are other kids in the world? And they play together… what is that? Can I just read a book, please? It’s very noisy here and I’m not in charge, so I would like to go home now.
Actually I wasn’t that smart or that confident. It was probably more like I sat at my desk and observed the chaos and had absolutely no idea how to jump in. Jumping in would be rude, and I might look silly, and they might not like me, and… and there lies the heart of the matter really. Not knowing how to jump in and make myself welcome, I singled myself out, and have been doing that ever since.
I had one friend at a time, sometimes two, but the girls I hung out with individually were not friends with each other. Carrie, Cindi, Christy, Heather, Angie– all extremely different people. I had something in common with each of them, though. Carrie was my intellectual friend, Cindi and Christy were my music friends, Heather was my little sister friend, and Angie was my alter ego – the super cool chick I wanted to be but didn’t have the right parents. The one time all of us got together was a birthday slumber party, and the only thing I remember about that night was splitting my knee open on the sidewalk when we decided to go jogging. In February. In Nebraska. High school wasn’t much better. I had music friends and boyfriends, but still no group. Didn’t find the group in college either – Rush was a bizarre exercise in futility since hair, makeup and current fashion have never been high priorities for me. I found myself standing alone near the fireplace at darn near every house I went to. Sigh. Residence hall life was okay, and I met some awesome people, but I never felt like I was part of the group there either.

I still don’t have a group – I have the two friends I’ve had since high school (Jennifer) and college (Sandy), and I have some mom friends through school and scouts. At church there are several amazing women I consider friends. I go out for dinner or coffee once a month with a small group, but I don’t get together with them any other time. My mom didn’t have a group – I don’t recall her ever going out for a girl’s night or hanging out with more than one close friend at a time. Is my daughter destined for that too? Am I worrying waaaaay too much about something that is absolutely no big deal? Probably. But here’s why I think it’s important to worry about it at least a little.

A lot of my friends have their own groups – it seems like every time I stop by one friend’s house, the same women are there, baking cookies or scrapbooking or just hanging out drinking coffee. I have not been invited to one of these gatherings officially, but they wouldn’t kick me out if I had time to stay. I just don’t seem to have time to stay.
I did have an encounter one time that left my confidence dented. I had stopped in at a friend’s house to drop off some hand-me-downs. Her group was all there, and I didn’t plan on staying but she offered me Diet Coke and the kids had started playing so I sat down. One of the other moms made a comment and it caught my attention, so I asked her to explain. She stared at me for a full minute in the silence of the room and then snorted and said, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that. I forgot you were here.”
My friend apologized profusely as she walked me out to my car, saying it was really no big deal, they just didn’t want rumors to get started, etc. etc. Whatever. It was a swift kick-in-the-gut reminder that I’m not part of that group, and probably never will be. The control freak in me wanted desperately to know what was going on, but the other parts of my brain just couldn’t care. I wasn’t really crazy about these women anyway, so it just didn’t matter what they spent their time and energy gossiping about.
But it still kinda bugs me that I don’t have a group at all. I want the camaraderie, the feeling of inclusion, that feeling of being known and liked anyway. I want that for my daughter as she grows up. I want her to have several people she can count on to love her and care about her and help her through the tough times ahead. I want her to enjoy the company of lots of people simultaneously because there’s safety in those groups. Two girls can easily get separated by a boy or a disagreement. One girl is… well, alone. And sometimes lonely. Abby is still young enough to have plenty of friends and not care too much about who’s in and who’s out. But that will come soon. And there’s protection in the pack.

I don’t wish for her to be a Queen Bee unless she’s the queen of being super nice to everyone. (I never quite mastered that skill; sarcasm is fantastically funny but doesn’t win popularity contests. I’m better at sarcasm than almost anything else, and I try to play to my strengths.) I just want her to be happy and comfortable and popular for the right reasons. She’s sweet and caring and considerate and funny, and I want her have a bunch of BFF’s that she can pal around with, who love her for those things.

I made fun of the varsity cheerleaders one day in Science class. They were all heading down the hall for a pep rally and I blurted out, “Let’s observe the herd in its natural habitat.” Everyone laughed, but it was a comment made out of jealousy, really. Not that I wanted to be a cheerleader, I just wanted the group. And now that’s what I want for Abby. Good news – she looks adorable in a cheerleader’s uniform. Even better, she cares more about the girls she’s cheerleading with than the cute uniform.


Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like you're wishing for Abby that she becomes just another face in the crowd. Sure, there's safety in numbers, but do you really want her to grow up thinking that she should do whatever she can to fit in? To just blindly follow along so that she can be well liked?
Whatever happened to thinking for yourself?
Don't get me wrong, I was never really popular, either, but through that I have figured out who I am for myself and not for anyone else. I make my own decisions. And I love the person that I've become, regardless of what anyone else has to say about it. It's a kind of confidence that never could have come out of being a cheerleader.
Really, like everything else in life, there is a very delicate balance.

But then again, it's your kid. Not mine. I just hope you don't try to direct Abby in the direction that you wish your life had looked like. She is not your second chance to become something you so desperately wanted to be.

natalie3m1 said...

Wow, I guess I did sound that morose and desperate. "snort"
Of course I don't want her to become another face in the crowd - I want her to be loved by everyone, not seen as the girl who doesn't quite fit in to any one group. That's all really.
And she's definitely her own girl - not my second anything. Thanks for the comments, though!