I just read a very interesting article, called The Importance of Belonging, by Amanda Enayati. Man, she wrote it well. And the research she cited summed up what I’ve always guessed: If you feel like you don’t belong, everything you do will be harder.
When I started school, I lived in the boondocks…far away the cul-de-sac and streets that the town kids lived in, that walked together to school everyday. That walked home together everyday too, and hung out at each other’s houses after school.
So, when I got off the school bus after a 45-minute tour of picking up each and every last fellow country kid, I felt like an outsider in the small town and school, that was in reality, only 10 miles away from my house.
Being the youngest of 4 girls, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to play with other kids my age. And, me, wanting to grab their attention, did my best tricks on the monkey bars, told my funniest jokes, and smiled. A lot.
It worked, I had kids to play with. But I found myself watching as they made plans for after school, and sleep-overs. Being a Town dweller now, with 3 children, I can see how easy these little gatherings are to orchestrate. It takes little to no planning, to have kids walk over from their house, or to go home with us for an impromptu sleep-over after a ball game.
Living on a farm, made spontaneous activities of any kind…tricky. And so we planned sleepovers and after school play dates. But, to be honest, the farm life was not for many of my new town friends. And when I stayed at their houses, I too felt a little out-of-place. You know the story, The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse? It was kind of like that.
I started to feel like an outsider. And, my mind was so full of frantic thoughts like, maybe I just need to join Girl Scouts, or start Dance classes with them, or be even FUNNER to be around..or….or…OR WHAT??? … I couldn’t concentrate on what the teacher was saying. I checked out often, in my own little world where I was chatting animatedly with other little girls about selling cookies, and re-enacting ballet class with them.
So, even though I was a fairly smart little kid, everything at school seemed hard. Joining any of those activities like Girl Scouts was out of the question. My parents were busy on the farm, and there was no time for driving me back and forth into town. I was running out of ideas. My tummy started to hurt on the way to school.
And then, like out of a fairytale, my whole world changed. I wish I could remember exactly when it happened, and the specifics of how it all came about. One of the well-liked town kids took me under her wing. She seemed to laugh at everything I said. Her big brown eyes watched me in wonder as I hung upside down from the monkey bars and crossed my eyes at the same time.
Her freckled face would break into a huge dimpled smile. I noticed how she paid attention during class, her little brow furrowing as she completed her worksheets. It seemed to work out for her. And teachers didn’t give her the evil eye.
She came to my farm out in the boonies, and thought it was better than Disney World. I walked to her house most days to find a delicious lunch of sandwiches cut neatly in triangles, and homemade soup laid out and waiting for us. I didn’t know what Disney World was, but I thought that getting out of nasty school lunch, and escaping from school everyday was a little piece of heaven.
Amazingly, I started performing better in my studies. I jumped up in the morning, ready for school…ready for anything. I wasn’t going to a school that wasn’t really mine anymore. I knew I belonged there, because my dear friend convinced me I did.
It really is a story of the best kind. I don’t go one day without talking to Dawn. We always wanted to raise our kids together, and realized just the other day that even though we don’t live next to each other…because we keep such a tight friendship, in essence, we really do raise our kids together. We offer advice back and forth, encouragement, and laughter…which seems to be the very language of our friendship.
I’ve told her often, that she saved me. She rolls her eyes; she won’t take credit. But I know the truth. My school years were a magical time for me, full of so much wonder, because I felt like I belonged there.
And because I belonged, I felt brave enough to wear whatever I wanted, befriend a variety of friends, and get out in front of a gym full of spectators and dance my tush off. I wasn’t the scholar I could have been, but I did well enough to get into college (barely), and I had fun. I was in Theatre and Speech, and Newspaper. You could say I was quite the little joiner. Some might say I would have done all these things anyway. I’m not so sure.
I was given the gift of Belonging. And I won’t ever forget it. And I’ll pay it forward every chance I get. What would our world look like, if we all made sure we did everything in our power, to make others BELONG?