This morning, I got to go on a run as the sun was rising. It’s a Tuesday in March, so this isn’t the norm for me, but we have virtual school this week so I get to work from home. The weather was perfect, 41 degrees and a light wind, with the sun shining in my face.
As I was running down the dirt road by my house, an SUV was coming towards me, so I got off the road and waved (like I always do) as the car flew by. Sometimes I make eye contact, and other times I just keep my head down. This time, I looked right at the driver who kept her eyes glued ahead. And, I immediately began to chuckle, as I realized who this person was, and that most likely, she also knew exactly who I was.
A few years ago, my son played on a travel soccer team and I had a bit of a falling out with one of the moms. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a falling out, it was more of her yelling at me through text messages and me saying I would be happy to speak to her about these issues in person, and then her continuing to send very hateful texts to me. At the time, it was quite upsetting. But it’s been a few years and as I was giggling this morning after seeing her, I reflected on how happy I am to be able to laugh about that situation now, because I was not laughing about it when it was going on.
Thinking about that led me to reflect on how much I never really felt I belonged, being a soccer mom. And that led me to reminisce about other times in my life when I didn’t belong.
Immediately after college (two weeks to be exact), I married Will and moved to the East side of Michigan. I had a degree in education and spent the remainder of the school year substitute teaching (I graduated in December). So that Spring, I applied for many elementary teaching jobs. It was hard to get a teaching job in 2002, which is why we ended up on the East side of the state. Well, I got my first call for an interview and was really excited, and nervous. I was heading to interview at a school in downtown Detroit.
Upon arriving, I was led into a room, centered with a long, rectangular table with approximately a dozen African American people sitting around it. When I walked in, the eyes of everyone in that room said, “You do not belong here. You are not who we were expecting.”
I don’t remember a single thing about the interview. I only remember walking to my car and sobbing afterwards. I had never felt so judged or out of place in my entire life. I wasn’t who they wanted. They did not need to ask me any questions or hear any of my answers to know that. I did not belong.
Shortly after that (well, shortly in adult years), I had my first son, Liam. I had always wanted to be a young mom and was thrilled to have a little boy. But, none of my friends had children yet and I soon realized it was lonely to be in a phase of life that no one close to me was in. So, I joined Mom groups online and tried to fit in.
One particular night, I was reading posts and there was a mom who asked the question, “Do your kids where the same pajamas for multiple nights? Or do you always put them in clean PJs?” As I was reading the comments, I read one from a mom that I had actually met and thought I had connected with. Her response was something like, “I ALWAYS put my kids in clean pajamas. Letting them sleep in the same thing for more than one night is disgusting.”
I think I may have started crying immediately after reading the response. Who were these people?! I literally grabbed the pajamas off the floor at bedtime, jammed them up my nose, took a big whiff, and if they didn’t smell like pee, they went back on my boy.
Again, I did not belong. I never read another post in that mom group after that night.
Fitting in as a mom is something that I have always struggled with. Once Liam started school, I felt like it was really important for me to be friends with the moms of his friends in class. I was sure that if I wasn’t friends with these women he wouldn’t get invited to any birthday parties or play dates. So, if I got invited to any mom things, I went.
That year, the first real mom thing I got invited to that kids weren’t also invited to was a jewelry party. It was at one of the mom’s houses and I remember being a bit uncomfortable because it was in one of the big, fancy neighborhoods, in a big fancy house. I grew up on the very low end of middle class….probably actually poor…and still to this day, anything fancy or posh feels very out of place to me.
Anyway, this jewelry party was nothing fancy, and I had no reason to feel uncomfortable. These moms were extremely kind and welcoming and wanted me to belong. But, the only conversations that I remember from the day were about tummy tucks and boob jobs.
I bought a $68 necklace that I didn’t want, went home and cried to Will, telling him that I did not belong. I did not fit in. I was not like these moms.
Fast forward a few more years, when my sister, Rondi, convinced me that I should get into triathlons. I could barely swim, but she had me believing that I could complete an Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run). Her persuasion skills are pretty solid, because she had me believing that this was something I could accomplish and I signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon to test the waters. This was an all women’s event, which made me feel a little less intimidated. However, as I was running the 10K (the last leg of a triathlon) and became lost on the course because they had already taken down the signs for which way to turn as they began packing things up I realized, that once again, I did not belong. But this time, because it was something that I WANTED to belong in, I didn’t let that stop me and I still signed up for that Ironman the day after my first triathlon, where I was so slow that they were cleaning up the course before I finished.
All of these memories came to me on my run this morning, and I thought about how glad I was to be at a point in my life where I no longer cared about what other people think and I am just comfortable being in my own skin.
And then, I turned the corner and started running up a big hill, that I always end up walking once I’m about halfway up. But today, as I was nearing the halfway (aka: walking) point, a car began to pull out of its driveway near the top of the hill. But it just stopped and waited.
Are you serious?!?! Come on. You could pull out of your driveway and back in ten times by the time I get there. Please don’t wait for me!
But it waited. And I could not bring myself to walk up the hill when someone was watching and waiting for me. So I ran on. And I ran passed that car, only to see another car waiting at a driveway two houses down! Then it hit me. These cars were waiting for the bus to come. They were not waiting for me at all. But this didn’t stop my ego from not allowing me to take a walk break (like I always do at this spot). Nope. I needed to maintain my dignity and keep on running.
And that’s when I laughed aloud for the second time on this run. Because really, I don’t think I will ever be done worrying about what other people think of me. I didn’t walk up that hill because people were watching and I didn’t want them to think I was weak and needed to rest. I cared what they thought, even though I have no idea who those people were.
That’s annoying to me, and yet, I’m okay with it, because in that instance, I was trying to show people the me that I want to be. I want to be the person who doesn’t walk up the hill. I do NOT want to be the person who tries to fit in and belong in a space that doesn’t resonate with who I am.
I feel like I came full circle on my run this morning and those runs are priceless.
I’m not always going to belong. It’s not always going to be comfortable. But I’m happy to be in a place in my life where I can decide when I want to belong and when I’m okay with being the outsider, if that means staying true to who I really am.
Let’s go for more runs so we can figure out who we really are 🙂