the cool table

Junior high sucked. I had a grown out perm. Braces. Hit puberty years after everyone else (in other words, the bra all the boys were popping on my back was unnecessary). I was in orchestra which did nothing for my popularity (nor did my GT classes). I thought eyeshadow was supposed to match my outfit. I stacked my bangs and sprayed them with my mom’s Vavuum. And my outfits were especially terrible. Lots of Esprit. Some units. A benneton sweater that I snagged from my sister. An overgrown Cosby-style sweater of my dad’s that I wore proudly. And not nearly enough pairs of the cool jeans and way too many pairs of overalls that I usually wore with one side hanging down.

I’m sure lots of people had it worse. I didn’t wear glasses. My pudgy phase didn’t begin until about 26. Boys talked to me although not nearly enough asked me to “go with them”. I talked late into the night on my neon light up phone. I went to movies with friends and dances and experimented with better ways to do my hair, read more than my share of Judy Blume and Seventeen magazine, and thought that the cheerleaders had the life that I wanted. Their bangs never moved, they kissed with tongue, and I swear had every shade of Sam and Libby’s ever made. Figuring out what lunch table to sit at was way harder for me than my Algebra homework. The quadratic equation made sense, you just plugged in the right numbers….but there was no formula to tell me what group I fit in. And so I bounced from table to table. And I spent a lot of energy trying to be cool. And the rest of the time I spent trying to pretend that I didn’t care about being cool.

And we grow out of that right?

By the end of high school I was more likely to leave my house in sweatpants than I was overpriced jeans. I still didn’t know much about eyeshadow, but I was at least wearing less of it. I was still low on steady boyfriends but seemed to always have a date to whatever dance was going on. And I had good friends. That made me laugh and I didn’t feel the need to impress. But if I’m honest. I still probably thought that those elite kids had it better than me. The ones who drove fancy cars and threw the parties that I occasionally got invited to. That always had perfect hair and were a perfect size 2 with C cups.

And in college it seemed like people didn’t want to fit in, so much as stand out. Everyone wanted to be different. Just like everyone else. So I got a tattoo. And pierced my cartilage. And listened to weird bands. But I still bounced between groups. Which is essentially the same thing as junior high lunch tables. I was in a sorority. I played club soccer. I went to parties and church retreats. I hung out at coffee shops almost as much as I hung out at bars. I danced in clubs and went to bible studies and got highlights in my hair. And wore a whole lot of flip flops and pajama pants. The problem was I was mostly the same girl in every scenario and she didn’t quite fit into any of them. But I was starting to see that no one had it easy. And especially not the kids sitting at the table I envied in junior high. Their parents got divorced or lived above their means or had expectations on them they were never going to meet.

We were all the same.

And I think no phase of life is worse than right out of college so I’ll just skim over that. But married with no kids in a new big city wasn’t so bad. I thought I’d make friends just as easily as I did everywhere else….but it was even harder than junior high. But I found a few groups at work and church and even on the soccer field. And again these groups rarely blended well. I drank beer in the parking lot after a game. I played ultimate Frisbee on the Kimbell lawn. I went to church and I played board games at friends houses while I tried to learn to like wine that didn't come in a box, blew all our savings on plane tickets and went to weird movies and resturaunts in Uptown. And we had all kinds of free time and expendable income so I don’t remember trying to fit in as much as I do remember all of us trying to figure out how to be grownups. Because I think we all still felt like we were pretending.

And now my kid is in school. Kindergarten. And I’ve taken him lunch at school a few times. And they have the big stoplight in the corner just like my elementary school did. And thankfully, he is just five and his teacher still mostly tells him where to sit and occasionally has to help him put the straw in his Capri sun. And he is funny and silly and never short on kids asking him to sit by him or sharing their Nilla Wafers. But. Sooner than I’d like, he will realize that he is little and smart and fantastically different. And spent ridiculous amounts of his energy trying to be the same as everyone else.

And sometimes, even now, it still feels like junior high. Somedays I still am at a loss for where to eat lunch. The high school staff has almost as many groups as the lunch room. Somedays I have to remind myself that even though there aren’t any more cheerleaders or cool tables….that there are definantly groups of people that I think have it better or easier than me. And that they really don’t. And that they may have nicer cars or clothes or a 4 car garage but that we all still have our baggage. Enough to fill whatever size garage you have. And grownups don’t try so hard to be cool as they try to have it all together. And figured out.

And pretty much. So far. The only thing I’m totally certain I have figured out correctly is the quadratic equation I learned in junior high. (and yes, I am dorky and still remember it).
But I’ve also started to realize that no one else does either.
Regardless of how much they want me to think they do or what table they are sitting at.

(photo credit here, and yes...i recognize me and my perm and braces would definantly be better entertainment. sadly all those photos were destroyed in a fire. what fire you might ask. well. one that i will one day have in my far place. we might even roast smores.)


samskat said...

Just today I was at the park and saw this tall, thin, attractive blonde woman with her little girl who was maybe a year or two older than mine...and hoped that she'd strike up a conversation and be friends with me...and then wondered if other women looked at me and thought, "I wish she'd talk to me, she looks like someone I'd like to be friends with." And then I felt ridiculously juvenile and went on about my day. Glad to know I'm not the only one. :) (PS Little and smart are pretty cool things to be...)

Ann Kroeker said...

You told my story, except I never did get the quadratic equation. But the poofy bangs and the clothes that didn't work very well and being quirky and not fitting in and then trying to figure out college and post-college singles life. Ick.

I've tried, with my kids, to remind them that if we can create a safe place here at home, then no matter what happens while navigating the world, they can always come home and be accepted, loved and matter what brand of jeans they wear or how high they spritz their bangs.

David Rupert said...

You women really have it rough. My junior high outfit is the same as my high school which is the same as my college outfit and my adult garb.

katy said...

The thing we lose sight of -- then, as well as now -- is that while we are busy thinking everyone else has it better than us, they are all thinking the same. For what it's worth: my impression of you in high school was of someone fun, funny, smart, and always with friends. But the main word I would have chosen to describe you was "confident." You seemed to be a person who could go on about her business without caring much what went on around her. I also have the memory of feeling like people flocked to you, because that kind of confidence (especially when coupled with a kind nature like yours) is magnetic.

This is a great post, and will speak to everyone who reads it. I worry myself sick at times over how my son will be treated by others. I just have to pray for him and hope he'll be strong enough to weather whatever comes along.

Kristin said...

I love this post. It speaks volumns to me and where I have been in my life, where I am at, and where I am going in life.

Everyone, and yes, I mean everyone has some sort of baggage in their life. I still remember when I figured that out too. It was a shocking revelation to me...and it was from one of the pretty people in high school too. That is when I realized that the grass is not always greener and we are who we are.

You hit on one of my favorite topics as an adult and one I genuinely struggle with: Friends in the real world. Help is all I have to say!