Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Invitation

Earlier this week I took K to her end of the season party for her soccer team.  It was a pool party at the coach's house, and I enjoyed watching her squeal with delight as she jumped, swam, and acted generally goofy with the other nine to ten year old girls.  It felt good to see that she was accepted by her peers, and could run right up and join in the fun.  Her first year on travel soccer has turned out to be a positive experience.  I wasn't so sure that was going to be the case on the day of tryouts.

The tryout process started in early fall where the girls gather on two separate days to kick the ball around at different centers and be ranked by coaches.  We had missed the first tryout session but attended the second at a friend's suggestion.  I wasn't at all sure I liked the process and really wasn't confident that K would make a team.  When we arrived it was obvious that most of the other girls knew each other from the previous season--they were dressed in their uniforms from the past year and chatted and giggled together in a tight knit group.  While the coaches were getting organized they told the girls to find a partner and kick the ball back and forth.  K enthusiastically grabbed a ball and skipped over to the one girl she sort of knew from school.  When she asked the girl to be her partner, the girl shrugged, told her she already had a partner, and left K standing alone.  By that time all of the girls were paired, kicking the ball to each other.  K stood there ball in hand, head turning side to side, watching everyone else kick and not really knowing what else to do. 

At that point I walked back to the car and burst into tears.  This wasn't just about K being turned down by a group of nine year olds--this was compounded with memories of my own nightmares about fitting into social groups.  Had I been put in that same situation I would not have even approached anyone for fear of the rejection that K experienced. 

Before I continue, I should add that K's discomfort was only momentary, and soon she was giggling and running with the other girls.  I also believe the girls' behavior was completely normal for preteens and I probably would have been shocked (and delighted) had the tight knit group embraced K as soon as she arrived.

However, it reminds me that we are increasingly living in an "it's all about me" world and often fail to see who is being left out.  We like our little groups, our circles of comfort, and sometimes adults behave much like the preteens.

The issue for me is fitting into the large social gathering, whether it's a seminar, a party, or the lunch table.  I can't walk up to a group of people and join their conversation.  I want to be invited in.  Being invited tells me that my existence is acknowledged.  Sounds strange, doesn't it?  However, over the past 20 years of starting new jobs I've tried the other way of just sitting down with a group of people at lunch, or walking up to a group at a party, only to be completely ignored.  So, whenever I am in a social setting, particularly when I'm surrounded by my circle of comfort, I look around to see if there is someone sitting by themselves, or standing against the wall because they don't know anyone, and I'll invite them in.  I know for me that is all I need for the anxiety to go away.

I don't get nearly as anxious at social gatherings as in the past, although the assertive route is still not an option for me.  If I do wind up in a situation that feels particularly awkward, I now turn it into a social experiment.  How long will I sit eating lunch by myself before someone invites me in?

When walking up to the soccer party a wave of anxiety came over me.  Bob was not there to be my anchor, so I would be faced with a group of parents, all comfortable with each other from the previous season, and I would have to socialize.  It was OK, since I knew these parents enough to have one on one conversations.  But when they gathered in larger groups, I chose to sit by the pool and watch the kids play.  Maybe someday I will once again be bold and try to approach a group; however, for now I think I'll wait for the invitation.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, you made me cry. When you went to the car to indulge in tears, I was right there with you sista! My experience throughout school has been similar to what you described (and I'm always the adult on the floor with the kids--they pretty much take you for what/who you are!). Thing is, I never pictured you as "my" type of social person. You have always seemed to be able to hold your own & I know that you are well liked. So, why do we allow the "shun" of someone (who face it, we probably wouldn't want to be friends with anyway) to affect us like that? It's that tiny little voice that says, "You're not worthy." We KNOW we are, so why do we listen? Anyhoo, kudos for you for watching out for the loners & giving ppl a boost :)