Tag Archives: Friendship

Belong to where you are

SAM_1724

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’, H 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.

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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!

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This one’s for the shy boys

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Little boy, you broke my heart today.

We were at your very first classmate birthday party: a bouncy castle in the corner, cake and balloon plates ready on a table, preschooler shrieks echoing batlike against the walls. You’d been talking about it for weeks. You fidgeted as we put on a shirt and jumper, and zipped ahead of me on your scooter as we walked down to the hall in the sunshine.

You hung onto my hand until two of your friends arrived. They ran off to play without a backward glance at you. You went after them when I prodded you, and came back a minute later, drooping.

‘They don’t want to play with me’, you whispered in my ear. ‘I don’t think they like me’.

Honestly, it cost as much for me to hear it as it did for you to say it.

And listen, I know you’re three, and three-year-old shyness often doesn’t last, and three-year-old squabbles definitely don’t. By the end of the party you were fine. You won’t remember this, though I will. But let me tell you some things, the things I wanted to whisper back and couldn’t. Just listen.

You are fantastic. And though you’re fantastic, maybe because you’re fantastic, you might just spend the next fifteen years feeling too small for your own skin.

Today isn’t the last time you’ll worry that someone doesn’t like you. My love, there are hundreds of halls like this. They will be spaces filled with your peers, and you will walk in and your blood will tingle hot with agony, and your smile will edge towards a manic grimace in your effort to seem normal, likeable, friendly. You might find someone you can sit with. You might not, and crawling into a molehill will seem like the only sensible alternative.

Don’t. Resist the molehill. Resist the idea that your worth is measured by your distance from the cool table, or how many people want to play with you on the bouncy castle.

If you end up exaggerating or inventing new characteristics to fit in better, don’t beat yourself up for it. We’ve all done it, because attracting people feels good, and loneliness is so very, very hard. Eventually you’ll gently shed the parts that feel less like yourself.

But don’t be unkind in your rush to be funny.

Don’t exclude because you know how bad exclusion feels, and you’d rather them than you.

Don’t compromise anything you believe in because you’re afraid of being laughed at.

Perhaps there will be halls that will feel very lonely indeed. If you can, when these come, stand up straight. You are good, and warm, and witty, and any one of those kids would be lucky to know you. You are fantastic. You will find friends that understand you and love you for who you are. I don’t mean to minimise the hurt of these moments, because they do hurt. But they don’t last. And the self you’re building – quiet and kind and flipping glorious – will be yours for a long, long time.

I think there’s a power in being the one standing at the edge of the hall. You never really forget what it’s like to be ignored, even after you’ve found your people. One of my biggest, best hopes for you is that you keep looking for those on the peripheries, and draw them in. You’ll change everything for them, when you do.

I watched you dancing today during the party games – forgetting your self-consciousness for once, for once, and pumping your little fists in the air – and thought my heart would explode for love of you. My opinion will count for much less than your friends’, by the time you read this, but if it helps at all, I will tell you this:

I think you are fantastic. And I’ve known you the longest, so I should know.

I see you, shy boy. I can’t go in front of you and fight your battles, but actually, you know, you don’t need me to. May your halls to come be damned.

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