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.
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 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?