I have this Anthony Burrill print on the wall of my downstairs loo. Ideally I would sit and ponder on it while I use the facilities, though of course I never use the facilities without a curious onlooker keen to hand me loo roll and compare genitalia.
(‘I just love talking to you’, Henry said the other day, when I requested some privacy.
‘Could you love talking to me in the times I’m not trying to wee?’ I asked. No go.)
I think about it, though. Belong to where you are.
It’s what we all want, isn’t it? Belonging? We want to sit in a place that fits, and feel like people are glad we sit there. I think I associate a compulsive need to belong with my teenage years, but really it’s never stopped. Back then there was the queen bee corner where the attractive rich kids sat, and the counter-cool staircase where the kids who unironically listened to Linkin Park sat. My own little tribe, the one I found eventually, was intensely saturated in American TV, films, a few totemic fantasy books and some elaborate in-jokes we all obsessed over. I think for a good five years we mostly spoke in quotes.
Being a shy teenager has left me with some sticky leftovers: one, I will never, in my heart of hearts, think I’m cool enough to be interesting; and two, I harbour an embarrassing, subconscious fascination with the queen bee corner. I’m thirty, and somewhere deep down I still want a popular kid to pick me out of the crowd and talk to me because they think I’m special.
It’s only just recently occurred to me that I can be the one who starts the conversation.
I hope I’m not alone in this (please tell me I’m not) but I’m great at thinking of reasons why I can’t belong.
I can’t be a writer because I don’t have a book deal (or ideas to put in a book, to be honest, apart from a detailed examination of nappy rash).
I can’t be a runner because I’m so astoundingly bad at it (seriously. According to Tim’s heart rate monitor, when I run my heart beats right out of the Maximum Exercise Zone and into the You’re Going To Die, Fool, Stop It zone).
I can’t be an attachment parent because, while I agree with the basic philosophies, I don’t enjoy co-sleeping, at ALL, and also breastfeeding was a hellscape of underfed babies and self-loathing.
I can’t be an Instagram queen because I don’t have any white chipboard to arrange my lunch on. My table is made of TODDLER-SCRATCHED GLASS, hello, so the background turns into an interesting fusion of discarded toast crusts and my own knees.
I can’t be a proper blogger because I don’t have ten thousand followers (don’t think I mind this, little band of followers: I love you with all my heart).
I can’t be your friend at the school gates because I’m young and an idiot and this is my first child and I don’t know what I’m doing.
Blah, blah, blah. Scumbag brain. I’m sure you’ve got lots of your own.
But it’s all nonsense, isn’t it? Who says I can’t try hard at something, and belong there even when I fail? We get to create spaces for us to sit. We get to be the ones to pick someone out of a crowd and start a conversation. We don’t need to wait for an invitation. More and more I believe that you’ll never lose out, being a little kinder than people expect.
Yesterday I was walking to nursery, and a girl walked past in exercise gear. She wasn’t your typical exercise-nut shape, and her headphones were probably a bit too big for a jog, and she looked red-faced and out of breath. But you know what? She was killing it. There was triumph in every line of her, and I knew that whatever she was doing, it was a huge step and she was proud of it. I wanted to be her flipping cheerleader, and follow her around just doing the Rocky air punch. It was fantastic. I beamed all the way home.
So I have decided not to be intimidated by anyone at the school gates come September. Some of them will be older and most of them will be fancier (ulp), but there’s no reason why we can’t be friends.
And I’m going to submit some work to some different places, and see where it takes me.
And I saw headphones girl again this morning, as I staggered behind the pushchair in my lycra towards the end of my four miles. We were killing it, and we knew it. We gave each other a giant wave.
Hey, you know what would be really fabulous? I’ve been shortlisted for a Brilliance in Blogging award in the writer category, and if you have thirty seconds to vote for me, I’d be made up. Voting closes tomorrow night!