Friday, May 21, 2010

Track and Field

Today was Track and Field Day at my daughter’s school. She was excited (Yay! Outside in sunshine playing games!) but also terribly nervous.

“I know I won’t be good at anything,” she said before leaving. “I was embarrassed in gym yesterday because I couldn’t really play soccer.”

In part, it’s true. She doesn’t have the single-minded ambition to run harder or throw farther; she doesn’t have the inexhaustible stamina to Keep On Pushing; she doesn’t really care about winning, either, which makes it difficult to get the blue ribbon for the football-through-the-hula-hoop-game or the backwards-jumping-sack-race. Instead, she’s more likely to be wandering off at the sidelines investigating the worm now squiggling between her fingers or the blue robin’s egg fallen behind a bush, now resting in her warm palm.

“But you are good at things,” I told her. “You’re an excellent swimmer (she is) and my gosh, a great artist. You can draw animals that look like animals instead of cartoon blobs which is what mine look like.”

“I know,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I am a good drawer.”

I was glad for this self-assurance because it meant there was some stable internal image of herself as smart and talented and good-at-something which she could hold onto during these rough days of girl drama.

But my daughter wasn’t the only one who was nervous. I had volunteered to help out for a few hours at an event and had been assigned to Burlap Sack Race. This sort of volunteering is not something I usually do as it involves other mothers that I don’t know but all of whom know each other because they volunteer together. Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah! I almost called the whole thing off last night when Christopher asked me if maybe I’d want to go for the whole day since our daughter was so excited to have me there. And she was. “You’re coming?” she squealed, when I told her the news.

Those other mothers? All year long they’ve been helping out in the classroom parties, on field trips, have even shown up to have lunch with their kids at school. Not me. The noise of all those kids would be overwhelming. It already is when I pick her up from school in the afternoons. The shouting and jostling. Kids being kids. But to my Bipolar Brain, all that loud chaos makes me irritable and breathless. Like today: a few of my daughter’s friends rushed up to me, threw their arms around my waist, wanting hugs. I hugged back, but felt awkward and stupid and false (Get off me, I wanted to say, but couldn’t because part of me does want to be THAT kind of mom—cheery, breezy, lovable).

I don’t fit in with other mothers. I don’t know how to make small talk, or maybe that’s all I know how to do is the most basic small talk: weather, weather, and oh, did I mention weather? I had the same problem in high school and college. I was the one hovering on the edge of the circle, waiting for the right moment to jump in and say something smart and witty, but the moment never came or somebody else was on top of it, so I was left outside of them—their friendships, their intimacies. And for some reason that circle of women has always looked similar—blond and lithe and poised. Watching these women together always filled me (and still does) with a sense of longing.

Back to Pain and Suffering—I mean Track and Field. Burlap Sack Race. I let the other mothers direct traffic, herd kids, call the shots. I was just happy to stand with my group of kids and get them into a straight line. They seemed to like me! They really liked me! One girl told me she liked my nail polish. Another told me she liked my earrings. Then there were the huggy girls wanting my hugs in return. And I didn’t even have to talk to the other mothers. All good, because today I was not up to chit chat. Not after the past few days—the exhaustion, the edginess, the suicidal flights of fancy.

But as I was instructing one of the girls to move back into line, she turned to me, steeling a withering gaze upon me, and said, “Weirdo.”

Just like that, all good will evaporated. I wanted to shake her. How dare she? But of course, I am not that kind of person so I said, instead, “We don’t call people names here. I think you should apologize.”

She shrugged, stepped back into line, but said nothing.

All of my insecurities were bared. Weirdo. How had she been able to see through my mask? See past my giant black sunglasses, the perfect prop for keeping my distance? But what about the khaki shorts, the tee shirt, the make-up in place, the hair carefully straightened. I thought I’d pulled myself together, looked like any other mother and instead, she had called me out, named me for what I was. Weirdo. A version of the names I’d been called a long time ago by classmates: Crazy Kerry! Crazy Kerry! A version of what my abusive ex-boyfriend used to say to me: You’re fucking crazy. No one will ever love someone like you. You’re a cunt, a bitch, a whore. A version of what IT says to me: Unloveable, Unfixable. Fat, Ugly, Pig.
Weirdo. Weirdo. Weirdo.

And this girl is in my daughter’s class. If she has no shame, no fear in saying this to me, a grown-up thirty-one years her senior, than what might she be saying to my daughter? Is my daughter carrying around some secret, shameful name, too? And all of us? What names do we still carry inside that feel all-damning and all-powerful? Names that whisper to us, seductively, convincing us that they are our true names and the degraded, humiliated self is our true self?

Dr. B. would probably remind me to look at the graffiti on my arms: Beloved, Generous, Hopeful, Forgiven, Real, Blessed. True names for the true self.


  1. Stopping from SITS! I bet your daughter was proud and happy that her mother was there.

  2. I'm so sorry some young bitch called you that name. I don't think she saw through your mask. I just think she was being a punk because you told her to get into the line. To her, all of us "old" ladies are weirdos, I'm sure!

    Not everyone is good at socializing or making small talk. It can be very hard for some people to do. They now have social skill classes to help out kids. I don't know if they offer anything for adults, but I bet if you seek it out, you could find it. Or you can just accept the fact that it's okay not to be a social butterfly if that's what makes you happy!

    Great post!

  3. Thanks for stopping by. I know exactly how you feel about the whole not knowing how to have a conversation with other moms. Also, I was SO that girl in college and highschool. Just waiting for a time that never came!

  4. I never cease to be amazed by the disrespect kids show adults (and each other) and it all starts at home. Some kids seem to feel that they have this entitlement to be ugly, rude and demanding.
    It doesn't speak to you at all, it speaks of her parenting, or lack of.
    Still the sting is there. I'm sorry.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog today, otherwise I might never have found your's.

  5. Ouch! Those words hurt no matter where they come from and no matter what the intention... I'm sorry to hear your otherwise decent day was spoiled. But it sure sounds like your daughter was PROUD to have you there!!

  6. happy sits saturday!
    isn't it incredible that no matter how far we've moved away from our school years self, we can be transported back there in a split second. you did a good thing busting out of your comfort zone to make your daughter feel special.

  7. i understand how you felt in this instance. i'm the same in social setting similar to this. it's easy to compare ourselves to others, to wish we had more this that or the other.

    often i hear in my head echoes of past insults i've received, and they are as disturbing to me as yours are to you.

    i'm sorry that this day was marred by those echoes.

    but think on how happy your daughter was to have you there. focus on that, not the other.

  8. Kerry, I hate that the day took on the tone that it did, but it sounds like you were blessed with some good things too! Your daughter will remember it as a fun, carefree, happy day spent with her mom, and that makes it all worth while!

  9. Hearing a kid be such a little brat like that makes me want to say.....

    I know what you ARE but what am I?

    Whatever you say acts like glue, it bounces off of me and sticks to YOU!

    I don't know, maybe sticking your tongue out at her would have helped too.

    Hmph! Hugs Kerry, one kid out of all day ain't so bad. :-)

  10. Kerry,

    It's a great thing that you spent the day at school with your daughter. She will remember that all of her life--that you were there on her big day. She is a great kid, with a huge curiosity, and a lot of creativity. Sounds like swimming is her sport!

    As for the little girl you instructed to get back in line--she is a child in a negative situation, because more than likely, her parents have said that to her, or have called her some other name. She has learned that name-calling is the way to handle a situation she doesn't like.

    When my kids were young, I just found a group of parents I liked to hang out with, the ones I could have a real conversation with, who were most interested in kids, or in art or music or movies, in current topics, or even in having just plain fun. The moms who showed up just to strut and preen--well, I ignored them. And eventually, they were curious about me, and introduced themselves and began to have superficial conversations with me. I won't say I ever became friends with those "types." But I did make a few lasting friendships with the moms who were more interested in their kids than in appearances.

    One of the most valuable things I have learned to do is to cultivate friendships with people I enjoy being around--and don't even think about the people who might want to bring me down. Chances are, the other moms are envious of you and your family. In fact, I am sure they are!