My daughter started sixth grade at middle school this year in a new school district. We moved just three short miles away from our previous school district but in her mind I might as well have sent her to school in China.
She feels like an outsider and there is absolutely nothing I can do to fix that. I can go to school events, I can introduce myself to other moms, and, as admittedly awful as it sounds, buy her the best wardrobe I can afford to make her feel more comfortable. But I can’t go to school with her.
I can’t hold her hand and pull her towards the girls I think I would want her to be friends with. I probably wouldn’t even be right in my choices. I’m not her so I can’t pick the right friends for her. I can’t whisper in her ear and give her the confidence to go up to the girl who she feels looks and acts like her. I know in her heart she is looking for her reflection, for that other girl that is young for her grade, seems tinier compared to some of the other kids, and who still likes to wear skirts and sequins to school. She’s looking for that friend whose hair is braided like hers, who thinks boys are gross and who likes to sing and dance to music in her room. It feels like a cliché of an 80s movie where there is already the artsy girls, the chorus girls, the field hockey girls, the dance girls, the gymnastics girls, and the fast track girls with confidence for days. Oh and course there are the “popular” girls. I’m not exactly sure who anoints a person or a group of people as the “popular” clique, but I am well aware that this practice continues way into adulthood. If there was a match.com for childhood friends I would be all over it. Adulthood is a runaway train coming straight for my little girl and I am so very desperate to throw myself in front of it.
The worst part about this is how quickly I regress right back to that same place. She is going to the very same middle school that I did, walking through the very same doors and sitting in some of the very same rooms. It was enough to make me feel semi nauseous at back to school night. I think I broke into a cold sweat when we passed the locker that I could never ever open. I think about how I had to navigate the crazy set of musical chairs that is known as the lunch room. I hated that game so much at parties when I was a kid. What kind of game forces kids to grab seats and leave others out?
I don’t know that I fit in to any particular group when I was younger because I didn’t even know who I was yet. I was lucky enough to have those “anchor” friends, the ones I had known since the early days of elementary school. They would go on to find their “group”, always graciously letting me step in and out. No one was mean or cruel. The problem was in my head. I knew I didn’t fully belong. I felt lost.
But my daughter is different from me. I realize I kept prompting her to talk to this girl or that girl, or accept every invite. When she would say no or shy away I worried she was either a snob or socially inept. But it was quite the opposite. When I spoke with her about her experience in middle school I discovered she’s not trying to fit into a group, she’s actually looking to find a group of friends that fit who she is. I was so busy worrying about how I felt when I was her age. I didn’t realize that she has been quietly observing the other kids, thinking about who she is while not desperately forcing herself everywhere with everyone. She is taking it all in and slowly deciding what she wants, not what others want of her. That is not easy, it takes mounds of courage. It means sometimes she does come home with tears, even if it was because she chose to be alone as opposed to fighting to fit in. It means having a few very good friends as opposed to huge group of acquaintances. It means sometimes sitting by yourself at lunch. When I was her age I wanted so badly to both blend in and to fade away. I never figured out that if someone stood alone maybe it was because they chose to do so, and not because they were left there that way. My daughter was born an old soul, wise beyond her years. She has already essentially learned what it took me till my 20s to figure out. There is no “one size fits all group.” Just as each individual is unique so is the friends that we choose. I don’t fit any one type of group and I like it that way. My friends are a varied and diverse group and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As an adult I find myself actually seeking out others that are different from me. It helps me to learn about myself as I learn about others. And really, when it comes down to it, we are all so much more alike on the inside then on the outside, and that’s the bond that ties us all together.
Choosing clothes is sort of like choosing friends. You try out different stores (groups) and see which ones seem to fit your style (personality) the best. The problem arises when we limit ourselves to just a couple of places to shop. It’s great to be loyal but you just may be missing out on somewhere else that highlights a different side of your style and your personality. Take the time to explore different stores. I promise you there is no guest list at the door. Nobody will tell you that you don’t belong. Go into places with an open mind and open eyes. The same piece of clothing can be worn by so many different types of people, in so many different ways. Take for example the classic denim chambray shirt. From punk to preppy this shirt can tackle any personality.
And that is EXACTLY what I love about Fashion. It enables you to be any version of yourself that you want to be, and maybe even all the versions at the same time.
*Insider Tip – Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
This week I challenge you to go into a clothing store that is not typically “you.” Try something on that is completely different from what you would normally wear. You might just be surprised at who you see in the mirror!
Thanks for reading!
Speaking of 80s movies, John Hughes was an absolute genius. I can’t think of any current writer who so accurately captured the teenage landscape. Last week while flipping through the channels I came upon a showing of The Breakfast Club. It absolutely made my night.