Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I was on the outside when you said you said you needed me...

Last week Jordan told me that when they have recess in the gym, nobody plays with him.

I always ask if they were outside at recess, because this winter has been cold and snowy and they've had a lot of inside days. Some days they watch videos, and some days they run around in the gym. The latter is by far my preference. They already sit too much.

So on this particular day last week he said they ran around in the gym and I so asked who he had played with.

And he said, "Nobody. Nobody wants to play with me. Why doesn't anyone want to play with me, Mama?"

He looked so sad, with his sweet little face turned up to me, asking for an answer. It hurt my heart.

I doubt the veracity of it, because Jordan has friends, and plenty of kids say hi and bye to him when we're in the lobby of the school. And there's one little girl in particular in his class who just loves him. She has a developmental delay, and she seems utterly guileless. She sees him and beams and gets so close to him that she's practically standing on his feet. They are pals.

When we hang out after school, he has friends to play with. And if his friends aren't there, he sometimes joins in with other kids.

But he is also very much in his head. He will go off by himself on the playground and keep himself entertained digging snow or climbing or some such.

Anyway, what he said was that all the other kids were playing with other kids and nobody ever picks him for anything.

I got it. Oh, I got it.

Whether it's real or not, he feels it. So it's real to him.

I spent most of my life feeling like I was outside. I was standing on the edge looking in, even though I was there, and I was participating. I was hanging out with friends at school, I was in plays, I was a cheerleader. I was in a sorority, I was at the parties, I was drinking, I was laughing, I was dancing.

But to me, I wasn't really inside, not the way everyone else was.

Even in high school, where there weren't cliques. Where nobody was ever excluded, and nobody was in or out.

I felt this way well into my 30s. I don't know precisely when it stopped, but at some point I realized that I wasn't actually different from everyone else. Or anyway, from the everyone elses that I chose to hang out with.

I picked them for a reason. And they chose me right back, the whole me.

So now I can look back and believe that I wasn't really on the outside looking in; I was inside. Hell, there wasn't an inside and an outside. We were all in it together.

I was just too scared and insecure to recognize it.

And so my boy, oh my boy. He's so much like me in ways that infuriate me.

I strive not to do the things my father did when my shyness and insecurity frustrated him. I try to see my son and accept him as his own whole person, and not get annoyed when he asks me to talk to another kid for him, to ask them if he can share toys or have a turn.

I know what Jordan does, because it's what I did for so long.

He waits for people to come to him. I can picture him in the gym, waiting for other people to pick him. Scared to walk over and ask if they'll play, in case they say no. Terrified of rejection. Feeling like he doesn't really belong. Not really.

Why isn't he like Nick, who is the opposite, and acts like he belongs everywhere he goes?

Even if he has nothing overly interesting to say, he'll walk up to a stranger at a party and say it to them. And they'll respond. And suddenly they'll be having a conversation about umbrellas.

Here I must of course add that I do hang on his every word and the bulk of them are riveting. It's the rare instance I'm spotlighting.

But back to Jordan.

I tell him that people like him, that he has friends. I give names of people I know like him. I gently suggest that maybe, in the gym, maybe he could walk over to another kid and ask them if they want to play.

He says they're all busy playing with others.

I know how he feels. I know his little heart. I've lived his fears.

And it makes me want to scoop him up, to wrap him in Langston Hughes's blue-cloud cloth, away from the too-rough fingers of the world.


  1. I finally got past that part, not too long ago. And I talked to my therapist about it, and how frustrating it was that I didn't know HOW I'd done it. Because if I knew how, I could help. I think Jordan is lucky to have a mama who understands, and I think that will make it so much easier for him to handle it until he can get past it.

    1. So, I remember an early blogger happy hour before I knew you at all. You were at the bar and in my mind totally on the INSIDE, and I was on the outside shyly sipping beer and peering in. But as it turns out, you were, as my friend Kristin put it, an outsider-insider as well.

  2. Crying. This was me. This is me. It's such a difficult feeling to describe when you're young. However, I have to give you props for being a loving, understanding mother and helping him grow into his own instead of forcing him to act like someone he's not.

    1. Oh, Jo. You totally get it, then. My father was always trying to make me talk to strangers. "Go ask the hotel desk where the pool is!" Stuff like that. And it just made me want to die. My little brother would step up and do it. I sometimes have to fight this urge to push Jordan in that way, I think because it's something I've disliked in myself.

  3. That's me still at nearly 50. Never feel like I quite fit in. Always feel like I am outside looking in.

  4. I think I fall more into the Nick category, but thank you for this post. It's a good reminder that others don't always feel so comfortable and to be sensitive to that!


Tell me about it.