To the girl at the playground today,
When Laurel and I showed up at the playground this afternoon and saw fifty middle schoolers swarming the place, I had my doubts about how the day would go. When it became obvious that someone had seriously screwed up while planning a “fun” field trip for a bunch of 12-14 year olds, I was wary. But most of the “big kids” were just hanging out in the shady spots, talking and screwing around on their phones, so we braved it.
Things went pretty well. Laurel ignored your classmates. Your classmates avoided us. All was well.
Then I saw you. Dark hair streaming out behind you as you ran like a gazelle, dodging around toddlers and jumping the balance beam like it was nothing. I heard the other kids, chasing after you, yelling that you were going to die if you didn’t give back what you had taken. I saw your whirl around, the sweater tied around your waist spinning behind you like a cape. I saw the fear and the defiance in your eyes as you stood your ground, turned out your pockets to show you had nothing that belonged to anyone else, staring down the group of five or six kids who had falsely accused you. I did not hear what they said to you, but I heard you reply, “I have a lot that I’d like to say right now, but I don’t think it would do any of us any credit.” I saw you turn away, calm on the outside but seething on the inside.
I watched you while I kept an eye on Laurel.
I saw you climb to the highest platform and sit in a tunnel until two little boys wanted to go down the slide. You moved aside for them before sliding down yourself. I saw you walk toward the swings, but decide against it. They were filled with girls from your class, but you didn’t want to be with them. I saw you moving from place to place alone, looking busy, purposeful, unconcerned.
I saw you.
And I saw myself.
I remembered the hurt and anger and humiliation that I felt at your age. I remembered acting like I didn’t need anyone to talk to or hang out with, even though the rest of the class had formed into groups. I remembered feeling different, other, alien. I remembered how much I longed for that close friendship that so many of my peers felt with each other, but that I never really felt. I remembered feeling like an outsider, wanting to come in but not knowing how. I remembered how lonely it was.
I saw you.
I saw myself.
Acting tough, unflinching, unflappable, untouchable. Wishing I could connect like other people. Wishing I could make life-long friends like my mom, like the people in stories, like the Ya-Yas or the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But I never figured it out. I always felt awkward or uncomfortable sharing myself with other people. I still do. I don’t have close friends. I have a zillion great acquaintances. Everyone likes me, and I like everyone, but I can’t connect on a deeper level with most people. I grow bored of drama. I stop caring about their personal problems. I have a really hard time dealing with the details of their lives. I don’t have the energy for many people other than my own family. Relationships exhaust me.
Apparently this makes me an introvert. An outgoing introvert. Who knew there was such a thing?
My first thought was that I’d like to pull you aside and teach you two very important words. Words that will save you a lot of heartache in the years to come, until you find your niche, your groove, your place in life. Words that will help you keep up that wall that hides your ever-so-fragile heart.
I wanted to teach you to say, “Fuck Them.” and mean it. Really mean it.
I wanted to make you understand that the people in middle school don’t matter. By the time you are in college, you won’t even remember most of their names. One day you’ll get a friend request from them and you’ll wonder who the hell they are.
I wanted to show you that these people have no real bearing on your life, so you shouldn’t let them make you feel like crap. If they don’t like you, Fuck Them. You don’t need them to like you, even though you think you do. You’ll be fine on your own until you find the people you really fit in with.
I tried so hard to fit in with all the wrong people when I was young, because I hadn’t found the right ones yet. I wanted to be cooler than I was, tougher than I was, older, badder, more mysterious. But all I ended up doing was becoming someone I wasn’t. I made really bad decisions. I should have said Fuck Them, but I didn’t.
I saw you.
I saw myself.
I decided that you really didn’t need to be told how to become harder. Your shell was pretty thick already.
I decided that what you really needed to hear was something that I wish someone had told me.
It gets better.
Whatever shit you are going through, kid, it will get better. Just hang in there. You only have a few more years until you can escape to college or New York or wherever your heart leads you. Put your head down, don’t let them get to you, keep your skin thick, and laugh at their pettiness. And when you come of age, get the hell out of here. Don’t think you have to stay. Don’t think the world is too big for you. Don’t just stay here, trudging through life, waiting for it to change.
Go and find your people.
They are out there. No matter who you are, somewhere out there are like-minded individuals who will welcome you into their clan. Find them. Whether they are artists or writers or scholars or musicians or architects or accountants, there is someone for everyone. Don’t look for the people you THINK you should like. Look for the people you FEEL are right.
It will get better.
One day you’ll realize that 12 year olds are assholes to everyone, especially to each other. Its a really tough age, but if you do your best to ignore the haters you’ll make it through.
Until then, keep standing up to the kids who try to drag you down. Don’t let them pull you down to their level.
It gets better.
The mom who use to be you