Sad eyes stared up at me, begging for my guidance to help her fit in. I’d scan the playground and observe other children laughing and playing together; searching for an individual or group that would welcome her.
I was working as a lunch monitor at my daughter’s elementary school, but outside of parenting my own child, I didn’t have a lot of experience with children. Her statement caught me off guard, but at the same time, reminded me my own insecure days on the playground. Quiet and shy, I would linger in the background, wishing that I could fit in, but not knowing how. It never occurred to me to ask an adult to help me.
On the days when I did find a friend or a group to play with, I was awkward. I said and did silly things. In fact, I can recall a time when I eagerly became another child’s pet dog. She readily called out orders such as “sit” and “stay”, and I willingly obliged, panting and barking happily in response. Of course, it was all in good fun, and to this day she is one of my favorite people; (it’s been years since she’s requested that I roll over and play dead).
There were times when I would attempt to create order in playtime. For example, Stacey liked to climb, but Michelle was afraid of heights. With the intention of being fair and helpful, I suggested that Stacey play on the monkey bars and Michelle play in the sandbox; I would play go-between. Stacey and Michelle didn’t agree with my logic. They told me I was bossy, and went off to play without me. I was devastated!
So, I learned to be what others wanted me to be, and to keep my mouth shut. These are the things that worked, and I carried them into adulthood no questions asked. I bore the weight of these ideas for years, giving in, giving up, and accepting what I believed to be the inevitable. Voices inside my head screamed, “You have a choice!” but darned if I knew what that choice was.
I spent a lot of years angry… hurt… alone. Alone in a crowd of people that I now believe were probably feeling just like me. Mostly, anyway.
That child, the many children who came to me in this predicament, looked to me for guidance. I was floored. How could I help them, when I didn’t even know how to help myself? In that moment I realized that the time to linger in the shadows of my insecurities had passed. I had to grow up.
Young or old, we all share a common need to belong. But it is not easy. We can only work with the tools that we are given. To learn and to grow, we need new tools.
The child who has nobody to play with needs to find courage and confidence. They need somebody to take them by the hand and let them know that they are all right; that they are valued; and that people do care. They need somebody to help them sort through their conflicts and find solutions. They need somebody to reassure them that their differences do not define them as good or bad, but just simply different. And they need to learn and be reminded that every one of us is, in fact… different. Some children might easily find these tools, but others may not.
That child showed me that my own childhood experience was not an anomaly. And if others shared similar experiences, then I wasn’t… alone. And if I wasn’t alone, that meant there were others just like me.
You’re Not Alone. We’re In This Together.
Life is like a massive scavenger hunt. On your own, through trial and error, you will surely uncover some useful tools. But what if we all helped one another? Different people, with different tools, at different phases of their lives might have a thing or two to offer. Or, at the very least, we can work together to seek the tools we need. Either way, know that we are all searching. We’re all in this together regardless of our circumstances.
There will be times when we all feel like there is nobody to play with. I hope that in these dark times we can all find a glimmer of reassuring hope, and know in our hearts, that we are not alone.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller