That Girl From the Past

“When we talk about communities, we seldom discuss the margins. But for every person nestled comfortably in the bosom of a community, there is someone else on the outskirts, feeling ambivalent. Ambiguous. Excluded. Unwilling or unable to come more fully into the fold.” – Adam Mansbach

When I was growing up, it was the days when almost every PE time at school was a team sport of some kind. We played kickball, dodge ball, softball, Red Rover, broom soccer, had relay races….any number of things. I was not known as athletic. I was more of the bookish type. So each time teams were chosen, my stomach would be full of pure dread. Each time I was picked either last or second to last. Those moments waiting were interminable. I always hoped for that second to last spot (I had no illusions I could hope for better). If that happened, it was a slightly better day.

I can’t really blame my classmates. I was a liability and not an asset. They wanted to win. So did I. Logically I knew even then that I wouldn’t have chosen me either. But that little girl cried inside. She wanted to be wanted.

Grown up me understands I just was never properly schooled in the games. No one ever taught me the skills it took to succeed and kept teaching me until I “got it”, or at least improved. PE wasn’t really designed that way then. Teaching PE wasn’t quite the same as teaching academic subjects. There wasn’t the pressure to see your students improve. Or at least that is what I remember. I believe they thought “It’s just a game.” But it was much more for some of us.

I’ve realized something lately. Those PE experiences have impacted my whole life. I’m still that little girl, afraid to be chosen last.

How does it manifest itself now? I am super-sensitive about being left out of things. I want to be included. I hate to not be invited to the special moments of friends and family. I want to share the joys and sorrows. Like that little girl, I can hide it. In fact, I can hide it much better than she could. Unlike that little girl, I understand it on a deeper level. But still, it’s one of my great vulnerabilities.

I’ve received “saved the date” cards for weddings to which I was never invited. I’ve had good friends that never sent a wedding invitation to me, though verbally saying I was invited. I was invited to a party and a few days later a note went out that mistakes had been made and people were invited that weren’t intended. I never received the second invite. Obviously I was one of those people. Not major deals to most people. Many would laugh it away. And yes, the logical side of me was fine and could see humor in it. The emotional side of me….well, I still remember it happened, don’t I?

I am generally an includer. In fact, the fear of leaving people out is one reason I hate to plan things. But I tend to stick to small circles. That’s my introvert nature. And I don’t want to make lots and lots of phone calls. OK, I don’t want to make any phone calls. I often just put a post on Facebook. “If you want to do this with me, let me know.” That way I only leave out my non-Facebook friends. I understand that when it comes to things like buying concert tickets and such, small crowds are simply easier. You can find better seats. And I’m probably not the only one who has gotten stuck with people who never paid me for their tickets, or complained about the price of them as they handed me the money as though it was my fault (yes, fees are part of your cost. I hate them, too.)

Facebook makes it worse. Pictures of all of the events that you’re not invited to scroll through your feed. Usually I’m OK with it and enjoy seeing what people are up to. I understand a lot of the dynamics of the invite now. You’re around when the event is spontaneously planned. You have a skill that is needed. Only so many people can attend or it becomes a circus. It’s for couples only. You’re not part of that particular circle. There are assumptions based on your past acceptance or decline of invitations or whether you showed up for certain things or not. So many reasons.

Logically I know I am not going to get invited to everything. Logically I know that we’re all busy and most don’t keep a laundry list of folks to contact at hand. Logically I understand that sometimes you just want to be with specific people for certain reasons. Logically I know it is just how things panned out. Logically I know it sometimes isn’t personal and if it is, it can be for many different reasons, some having nothing to do with me. And logically I believe strongly no one should feel under any obligation to invite me to anything or feel guilt if they don’t.

But yet there is that girl inside. And she just feels. And sometimes she reacts emotionally, knowing it is irrational, until the grown up woman talks herself through it all and understands it’s all OK.

I try to avoid cliques in my adult life. I enjoy spending time with different groups and different types of people and I do. I have friend circles that are formed at times and for reasons, and when we get together I don’t include others so I can focus on those particular people. I am sure that there are sometimes people around that see it, don’t understand the whys behind it, and feel left out. We can’t all walk around handcuffed together and there are some that I believe expect that. I don’t. Nor do I want it.

Ultimately I don’t think as adults we should let ourselves off the hook when we sulk because “my feelings were hurt.” Even if they were. Adults need to deal with it. Often that means putting it in perspective. Often it means realizing that our feelings have less to do with the actual event, but are a culmination of all those times we were excluded in the past. We need to leave it all in the past and go on. It makes our lives happier not to dwell on such things.

But sometimes we also need to walk away from those who make us feel that way on a regular basis and find new circles. Or probably a more healthy approach is to keep that circle, realize its limitations and appreciate its positives, and simply add more circles to fill out our lives.

It is a natural and healthy thing to want to be included and to be a part of things. We don’t need to feel guilt because we do. Most of us crave inclusion. It’s human….and we’re very, very human. And it’s a good thing to be a part of a group or community.

As for me, I hope I don’t get so wrapped up in my own inner needs that I am not noticing others. That I don’t notice that uncomfortable and unconfident child in them and let them sit on the sidelines….or fade from view. I pray I always have eyes for those people. I admit there have been times where I noticed, but due to my own selfish needs I ignored them. I’m trying to be more aware of that in me.

I read a great article this week that said a lot of what we think of as depression is simply loneliness. A lot of the social skills of the past have gone away. But we can’t always expect others to be our social directors. Sometimes we have to do the work, not just for ourselves but others.

From what I understand, PE has changed since I was in school. I’m not around schools much, but know at least some of the teachers that teach it try to design programs that are not only teaching athletic skills a kid can develop for life, but exposing them to a full variety of options they can use to keep moving their body, regardless of “athletic ability”. They are also showing kids that they can be active, but awkward, and improve from where they are….and that is normal and natural. And they try to make it fun. The goal is to have moving kids with smiles on their face, not those who want to escape to the sidelines and hide. We need that in adults, too.

That’s how I want to live my life. Grown up me realizes that there are a lot of people in this world….and I want to hang out with many of them, and they want to hang out with me. I don’t have to waste my time concerned about those who don’t. Sometimes I need to be the one making that happen. I need to be the adult. I need to teach that little girl of my past how to be a grownup, participate in life, and move on when things may not go my way. It may sometimes go against my nature, but adult me can do hard things that don’t come naturally, and if they don’t work out the first time, regroup and try again. You don’t need an invitation to live your life. Just do it.

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