Finding Ninee » Sharing our parenting and special needs stories with heart and humor.

We Belong, Even When We Think We Don’t

I’ve belonged, even when it felt like I wouldn’t.

My dad almost took me home instead of saying goodbye the first time I went to sleep-away camp. I knew I didn’t fit in. There was absolutely, positively no way I could do this.

I was too shy, too imperfect, too everything that everybody else was to stay.

How’d I get up to pee in the middle of the night? I always had to get up to pee in the middle of the night. There in the woods, the warm glow of a bathroom light was miles away, and a flashlight under the covers wasn’t anywhere near feeling safe.  

I’d never fit in with these braver, shinier, more confident girls who probably never had to get up to pee in the middle of the night.

I cried and pled. “I can’t stay,” I said.  

My dad left. My mom, too.

I didn’t talk to any of the shinier-than-I-was-girls for a few days and I didn’t drink water before bedtime. I followed directions, slept with a flashlight in hand, and didn’t suck my thumb, as far as I knew.

One day, between arts and crafts and horseback riding, I realized I was having fun. That I belonged. Or, maybe I didn’t but it didn’t matter because what if nobody did?

Nobody belonging is pretty much the same as each of us fitting in just fine, whittling wood, going on hikes, and writing letters detailing how we’d cooked s’mores around the campfire while a counselor played Puff the Magic Dragon on her guitar.

There were days I knew we’d never fit in until we did.

When he was three, we didn’t belong in the line of cars driving to Montessori co-op, and I worried he was too little to ride the bus to PAC (Preschool Autism Classroom). I drove him that first year, and we cried often.

Sometimes, we cried together, but often separately, and for different reasons. His tears were those of a three-year-old. Frustration, sleepiness, and the unjust of having a friend take a toy he’d had his eye on first.

Mine were of now and before and of what might never happen.

What happened though, while I waited for words and quieted whispers in the dark, was a belonging, a PAC family.

A group of special needs mamas and papas who understood without explanation.

We carried one another’s hopes and fears. We compared stories, IEP anxieties, and advice given to us from the wise and noble Mrs. M – the teacher who just knew. Knew what to do and when to do it. What not to do and when to not to do it.

I don’t talk with all of those PAC mamas each week or each year these days, but I think of them often and continue to carry their hopes in my palms and will, when we run into one another, embrace them fully and completely.

We belonged.

The bus stop, weird mom groups, and fake phone calls.

When he was five, he went to mainstream kindergarten. We found grace there, and a switch turned on in his brain turning “ninee” to “airplane,” and a bunch of other words flooded the sink of silence into a sink of stories.

The bus stop though? That was weird, from the first day. When we got there, I was excited to become a part of the mom-club. To know the neighbors in a way that we hadn’t before. After all, they’d been going to Montessori co-op or similar for years while we waited for the short bus I’d eventually caved into transporting my baby to and from school.

There was a group of moms gathered where the bus would stop, which seemed obvious. There was another group gathered further up the sidewalk.

“We don’t belong,” I thought. I was sure I’d made a mistake saying yes to mainstream inclusion. I was sure I’d made a mistake letting baby-five-year-old-him take the bus. Wouldn’t a more loving mom drive him? “But he loves the bus,” the street sign whispered. I knew it was right. He did love taking the bus.

I can’t say that I didn’t answer fake phone calls to more comfortably walk away that first year, or even the second. But today? My son belongs, mostly. Sure, a friend says “that’s a baby scooter,” or there’s a misunderstanding because some of his words are not yet fully formed, but mostly? We fit in.

I think I’ll try to belong wherever I am, now.  

This feeling. The one of not belonging. It’s one I know well. It’s worn and faded and even while it burns red in my cheeks, it’s comfortable. A familiar place.

Somehow, it gets easier. Or we get stronger noses and stronger resolve. When we don’t, we learn to fake it, and make it. Our hearts grow stronger.

Or maybe, we simply realize that nobody ever feels like she fully belongs, anywhere. In even the most intimate moments with friends, we freeze, and wonder what we’ve missed. In even the most relaxed bus stop mornings, we hear snippets of a conversation, and realize we’re not part of that particular story. But you know what? Not being a part of every story is fine. We can’t belong everywhere, after all.

I belong.

I hurriedly write this, because as always, I do not prepare and type in advance the way that my writer friends do. But I belong because the process? It doesn’t matter. What matters is typing and thinking and deleting and typing again and sitting and walking, and deleting some more while feeling horrible and wonderful about words.

I hurriedly write this, because as always, I want to sit with my seven-year-old in his bed and have him ask me ridiculous questions and thank God for the fact that sometime, somehow, between PAC and the short bus and my worries, he found his voice and it’s beautiful.

I belong because when he asks me where a bird’s butthole is, I can laugh and know that a mama in Syria has laughed at a similar question. That a mama who’s son signs it has signed “laugh” right back, or held his eyes with hers so that he sees her grin.


This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “The places we belong,” brought to you by the fabulous Hillary Savoie. Show her some love?

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  • Kenya G. Johnson - Your ending made me smile! Five was awfully young for a bus especially when you look back at pictures. Christopher’s anticipation to ride the bus was the ONLY reason he rode the bus. We took him on the first day of Kindergarten and other than that, I’ve only taken him if he missed the bus or thundering and lightning. Anyway those first couple of years I did have a mom or two to talk to. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to feel excluded or awkward about belonging. Wish I could have fake rung your phone.March 10, 2017 – 10:01 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - I wish you could have rung my fake phone too! But, I’m glad that you had a mom or two to talk to. I do have them now, which makes a huge difference. I had lunch today (first time) with the first mom who was nice at the bus stop. Her 13yo son watches Tucker once in a while for short periods after school, which Tucker LOVES of course. Five IS young for the bus. I can’t believe now that I started having Tucker ride one when he was four! Gulp. It’s really true, that saying about the days are long but the years are short. He’s going to be eight this summer. EIGHT!March 10, 2017 – 8:58 pmReplyCancel

  • Emily - I love that expression – “shinier girls.” It’s true how we always feel like we don’t belong with the “shinier” crowd and sometimes we don’t, but sometimes we do, because maybe they are not so shiny after all or maybe our stories do overlap more than we realize….March 10, 2017 – 1:35 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - I do think our stories overlap so much more than we realize. I had lunch today with somebody who I hadn’t had that extended time with before and it’s amazing how much all of our lives have little similarities that we’d never have thought. Still though the shinier crowd… I don’t think I’ve ever been shiny (but I’m okay with that).March 10, 2017 – 9:02 pmReplyCancel

  • Dana - I wrote like you do this week – after dinner last night, all at once. It’s good to mix it up like that!

    Your blog has made so many mamas feel like they belong, and that’s something to be proud of, Kristi. Also knowing the answer to where a bird’s butthole is. Once J asked me how many times a day we fart, and I googled it for him. He then tested it the next day. (Spoiler – the average person farts alot).

    And there you have the most random, rambling comment ever.March 10, 2017 – 1:47 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Well I LOVED your post so it obviously really worked for you! I end up getting bored of myself if I try to write in installments. LOL to Googling how many times a day people fart. Now that has me thinking! Kids are awesome, if only for reminding us about what’s really funny. Farts and bird buttholes? Yup.March 10, 2017 – 9:04 pmReplyCancel

  • Paul Brads - I didn’t belong; worse yet, I didn’t realize I didn’t belong.March 10, 2017 – 5:06 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Huh, maybe it’s better to realize one doesn’t belong than realizing it? I don’t know. Still, either way… sigh.March 10, 2017 – 9:04 pmReplyCancel

  • Kerry - I am not sure I will write this week. I had every intention of doing so on Friday already, had a blank document open and started writing, but I had no ideas on what to say. I am not a mom. I am not a this or a that. I don’t often know if there is any group I belong in. This prompt is hard for me because I don’t know where exactly it is I belong. I will think and see if I can come up with something to say on this subject before the collection closes.


    I can only imagine being a mom but not feeling you belong or that your child belongs. It is nice to have people to relate with and to spend time.

    Then it’s nice to see what each mom or child brings to a group. Everyone has something unique to contribute. Glad you have found ways to fit in and ways to find happiness wherever you are Kristi.March 12, 2017 – 5:25 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Hey Kerry,
      When I think of you, I think you belong in music, and feelings, and writing, and sharing yourself. I think of you traveling and all of the unknowns and the wonder that you found in Mexico. I think of the blogging community, and how we get to know one another through our writings. That feels like belonging to me. But I get what you mean about not being a mom or “this or that.” Thanks, Kerry!March 13, 2017 – 9:32 pmReplyCancel

      • Kerry - Oh, thank you, Kristi, for that. You said it better than I felt I could. I am thankful I’ve found a bit of a blogging community of people where I seem to belong. It has become important to me in my week. Also, I thought about writing my post featuring my week in Mexico. I really did feel a remarkable sense of belonging when I was there. It could have made for another pretty interesting piece of writing, but I am still now grappling with some of the feelings I’ve had about that time coming to an end, like I totally expected it to, but now wondering where to go from that. That’s why I didn’t write. Doesn’t mean I won’t write again. Thanks again for the comment.March 17, 2017 – 11:22 pmReplyCancel

  • Nicki - Honest, beautiful truth throughout, as always. And the one line that goes straight to my heart: “Nobody belonging is pretty much the same as each of us fitting in…” <3March 12, 2017 – 9:15 pmReplyCancel

  • Allison Smith - It still makes me sad/mad when I read the bus stop story. But i agree with you assessment that we all often don’t feel like we belong. It’s terrible, isn’t it?March 15, 2017 – 6:31 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - It is terrible! What’s wrong with us that we feel that way so often?? Ugh. xoMarch 17, 2017 – 9:09 pmReplyCancel

  • Lisa @ The Meaning of Me - Jeez, that’s beautiful. Your words and your love for T. always are. The bird butt thing made me laugh because first, funny. And also because yeah – I love those questions. I love how their huge little minds work. I love that they want to know.
    I think belonging is something we’re conditioned to believe we need – and I think we do need it. But true belonging comes from knowing who we are and that where we are and who we are right this second is exactly where we belong.
    For the record? I rarely do my writing ahead of time. Total pantser and total last-minuter. I suppose people can now say “well it shows, obviously” but you know what? Who cares? That’s my process and I’m sticking to it.
    xoMarch 16, 2017 – 4:03 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Aw thank you Lisa! I love bird butt questions too. So much. Their minds are amazing. And I think you’re right that belonging comes from knowing who we are… I look back to younger me and think DOH! I was so dumb. But, it’s all a part of it, too, you know?
      I’m glad to read that you write at the last minute too. I like that. We have to meet up in person already right? This summer?March 17, 2017 – 9:10 pmReplyCancel

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