Get in where you fit in

Posted on August 19, 2013

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My son has super cute curls.

He gets these from my husband (when G. had hair that is) and everywhere I go, people stop me to tell me how adorable he is. He’s kind of a flirt as well, so the hair and the coy smile means that he always gets lots of attention. When we go to Trader Joe’s (where he can push a mini-sized cart that they have there just for kids),  and he sneaks things like organic chocolate milk and boxes of gourmet jelly beans into his little shopping cart, it’s just too much for some people. They start gushing.

The other day I was making my weekly shopping trip there with him and he was in full form.  He was lagging behind me a bit because he had just woken up from a nap and a small crowd of people started to gather around him.

“Omigod. He is so cute!” One woman said to me. “How old is he?”

“He should be in a Trader Joe’s commercial. Did you see how he’s putting things into that little cart?” an older gentleman said.

“Look at that hair!” someone else exclaimed. “It is just adorable. Does he get that from you?”

I smiled. Every parent secretly loves when other people appreciate their kid and I am no exception.

Then some mean, old woman decided to enter the scene.

“The real question here, ” she said in a very serious tone, “Is why does he feel the need to stay so far behind you?”

I must have looked confused, because 1. I wasn’t prepared for any rude comments during this current love fest and 2. He was less than three feet behind me. She saw that I was confused, so she continued. “Why does he feel the need to stay all the way back here, when you are up there?” Then she raised her eyebrows in what can only be described as reminiscent of a psychotherapist making a wise and insightful observation about one’s lack of personal character.

For one moment, I was completely taken aback. I think I just stood there with my jaw open and the mean, old woman walked away. Then I started to laugh. Because well, finally, I had a story for M. and T.

M. and T. are two lovely, down-to-earth, very kind moms that I have met this year. Each week, we take our kids, strap them into their strollers, find a nearby park with trails, and go for a walk together. I missed a couple of our walks when I was down with the virus from hell and from what I hear, I also missed out on some fun times. Turns out that M. and T. have been getting some nasty remarks from some of the people who are taking their morning peregrinations at the park. A biker yelled at T. because she was trying to console her toddler and didn’t move out of his way fast enough. A European couple, jogging on the wrong side of one of the trails, almost ran into M. and then rolled their eyes and huffed at her like it was her fault for being in the way. An elderly man told off T. for pushing her stroller too slowly.

Rude people making rude comments to moms are everywhere, it seems. So now I’ve got my tale. While I was beaming about the positive attention my son was receiving at the grocery store, some mean old lady tried to tell me that I was a bad mom.

But that’s actually not the point of my story.

The point of my story is that, had this happened last summer, I would have probably been crushed.

Not only was I much more insecure in my role as a parent then, I also didn’t have many good, solid friendships with other moms. To make matters worse, I had just joined a mom’s group that can be described as snarky at best and I was having a difficult time connecting with the women who were part of that group.

When you’re in a spot in life where you’re dealing with a lot of stress and you’re lonely, sometimes you settle. For relationships, for situations, for groups that aren’t really you. When you realize that you don’t fit in and yet you really try to, sometimes it’s just not apparent that what you’re doing is settling.

But this is what I do . If I don’t fit in, I convince myself that something must be wrong with who I am. Because, honestly, if I was likable, people would like me, right? And then I make a really stupid decision.

I decide that I must try harder.

I tried really hard with this bitchy mom’s group last summer. I hosted play dates. I made sure to say positive things about the other moms. Some women in this group had asked me about cloth diapering and I sent them information about all of the cloth diapers that I’ve tried (a document that, by the way, took me hours to write).  I sent coaching articles to some of them who asked me for free coaching advice. I mailed cards to the moms on their birthdays.  I even offered to host the big Christmas party for the group at our home as we had a lot of open space and not much furniture at the time. I did what I always do. I tried really, really hard to fit in. But they just weren’t that into me. When they made it clear that they didn’t like me, well, I took it personally.

Maybe I was too chatty. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough listener. Maybe I should have made more jokes. Maybe I should have been more serious.  

Then I got a really nasty email from the group organizer and I decided that it was time to call it quits. Yes, relationships take work. But if you’re killing yourself to get people to like you then something is definitely wrong. I left the group and several months later, I got up the courage to join another one.

Here’s where I met M. and T.

And a bunch of other really great, nice moms who send me ‘get well’ texts when I’m sick and thank me when I send them cards and invite me over for playdates and out to lunch.

What’s that saying again? When one door closes….

Sometimes, we get so caught up in who doesn’t like us that we forget to put our time and energy and love into those who do and will.

If there’s one life lesson I’d like to teach my son, it’s not to take others personally. Sure, people gush over him when he’s pushing a little cart at Trader Joe’s and say he’s the cutest thing. But when we’re at Target and he’s throwing a tantrum of mega proportions, people act like he’s the spawn of Satan. The thing is he’s both sweet and terrible. I want him to find people who will like him for all of who he is.

One of my favorite mentors shared this piece of wisdom with me and I’ve never forgotten it: People will like or dislike you for a bunch of reasons and almost all of them will have nothing whatsoever to do with you.

I’m not saying don’t try to be likeable. I’m not saying don’t improve your social skills. I’m not saying don’t be a better listener or a better conversationalist or whatever it is you feel you need to do to be a better person. But if someone doesn’t like you, move on. There are plenty of people who will. Yes, that too will have nothing to do with you, but it sure will feel a whole lot better.

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