Zen and the Art of Inclusion: How to Show Gratitude to the Parent Who Excluded Your Kid


To the mom who (repeatedly) didn’t invite my kid to her kid’s parties, I want to start off by saying two, little words to you. Thank you. No, seriously! I’m not being facetious. Thank YOU. I have spent my whole life trying to understand what you have just taught my child in one, unfair swoop.

When you chose, for whatever reason (frugality, early onset dementia, or a massive brain fart) to exclude my child (and only my child – magically everyone else was there!) from your child’s special activities – and therefore taught your child that it was okay to continue such exclusion during the school day – you were offering a very important treatise on life. Namely that there are assholes in this world. And they are everywhere, even where they are least expected to be.

Trust me – following the amount of tears that those actions have caused, it was an invaluable lesson that won’t be easily forgotten. By either of us. But here’s why that’s important and why I’m thanking you now. Because life is full of people like you. And your child. People who are callous, unempathetic and just plain rude.

People like you will someday fill the spots in her life as teachers, bosses, frenemies and maybe even in-laws. But that’s just how it goes. And we can’t make it better by wishing or trying or pleading with the higher reasoning of the unwaveringly cruel. Some people just don’t care about others. And they never will, no matter how many smiles are flashed their way or kind acts are offered in their direction.

So, now, thanks to you, my kid knows the truth about the big, bad world. Life isn’t fair. People are mean. Even people that we think of as friends. I expected a big, scowling bully to teach her that. Or a nun with a ruler in hand. Or maybe even a street thug – you know, the kind that they always show on T.V. But, I absolutely didn’t expect it would come from your direction.

Needless to say, though it happened earlier than I thought it would, it’s over and done now. The innocence of childhood utopia is finished for my daughter and now it’s off to the starting gates of adolescence. So, again, I say thank you for stripping her of this cumbersome youthful happiness and showing her what it really means to be human.

Thank you, also, for teaching her, through example, exactly what I have been trying to teach all along. How NOT to act and how NOT to treat others. As a parent, I have always taught the “Golden Rule” to my child. Tried with every effort to plaster it into all layers of her conscious and unconscious mind. Sometimes, though, as with all verbal lessons, I have felt that it has fallen on deaf ears. But, not now. I think she gets it. Finally and completely. Knowing firsthand what the pain of rejection and exclusion feels like, I am certain she will never do that to someone else. At least, I hope not.

Believe me when I tell you it hasn’t always been a picnic for us to extend birthday invitations to the entire class. The expense has often been A LOT and I’ve had to work hard to restrain my cheapo instincts from using the line “sorry, your invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.” Like it or not, we’ve always sucked it up and included everyone in our parties. Everyone! From the whiny kid that always tattles on others to the infectious kid who likes to smear cake icing with their booger-y fingers. It hasn’t always been pleasant, but it has always been the right thing to do.

You see, in our household, the feelings of others matter. They factor into our decision-making process almost always because we realize that none of us is a universe unto ourselves. How we treat other people is important since our actions are like a ripple in a pond. Our life is a silly chain of dominos, endlessly clinking one against the next. We can pretend to live in a bubble, untouched by others, unable to bring about change, but inevitably we are all linked. And our actions are the very creations of tomorrow’s new horizons. For better or worse.

All of that aside – regardless of what you do or have done, regardless of the way my daughter found out about your kid’s awesome parties that she was never invited to attend (for whatever reason, it was never clear), regardless of the ripple effect that has since ensued on the playground (since kids are so easily swayed to act like their favorite alpha-kid), and regardless of the rage I felt towards you as her tears grazed my shoulder when she came home a sad mess – we would still invite your child to her party. Because that’s just who we are. And what you are, whatever you choose to teach your family, will NOT be allowed to shape what we do. The “Golden Rule” still lives strong under our roof and even your thoughtlessness won’t change that.

Soon enough, it will be time for another birthday party. Ours, not yours. I will be addressing envelopes and stuffing cards, tucking them in neatly and with great care. Even though a large, maternal part of me wants to tell you that your kid’s invitation just got lost in the mail, I won’t. Because it won’t. Unless, of course, it does. But, if so, it won’t be my fault. Rather, it would be the fault of the US Postal Service. And, if that day should come, I will only offer you one last word to go with my previous two. Karma!

We Are Who We Are


The social world, for me, has always been an awkward thing to navigate. Especially now that I’m a mom. I always hoped, in my youth, that these things would get easier as I aged, but…nope…they haven’t.

I am essentially the same string-bean girl with pigtails and dusty, white-canvas Keds that I was in grade school. Only now, I’ve added some girth, dropped the ‘do and opted for dusty Nikes instead. In essence, I have grown into a larger form of my same self. But haven’t we all, really? Isn’t that what aging, growing, maturing is all about? Becoming yourself in a bigger version?! Well, sort of…

The sad fact is that though we do age and we do grow, we don’t always change. I’m starting to see the cracks in my own development and have noticed, through the course of PTA meetings and play-dates, how I am the same person I was in school. And I’m starting to sense that this is true for most people, as well. For better or worse.

I’m sure everyone knows the typical archetypes that play out repetitively, either in the schoolyard or outside of it. There is always a popular person – that one special soul everyone wants to know or emulate. And, equally important, there is the life of the party – someone who is so comfortable in their skin that they make everything seem lighthearted and fun.

And then there others, like the helper (who you can rely on for anything), the organizer (who is able to get things done) or the clown (who helps lift your mood). Each of these people were born with the innate ability to be one with themselves and offer a skill to the world that has an absolute value. They are needed. They are loved. They are celebrated. From cradle to grave.

Then there are other, less-desirable types who make our time on Earth less pleasurable. There is the braggart – he always looks to one-up your experiences or make your talents/abilities/fortunes seem nominal in comparison to his own. The snob, similar to the braggart, is never able to find contentment within their surroundings.

Of course, there is also the social-climber – someone who is friends with you just long enough to use you for their gain…and then leave. Their cousin, the back-stabber, equally has no sense of honor when it comes to allegiances and will sell you out in a heartbeat for a pack of gum.

But, worst of all, a fixture of all playground drama, is the bully. The bully is able to embody all of these negative aspects on the inside, while somehow hiding them so well under the exterior of one of the other, more positive characters, she will often go unrecognized by most. Yes, in the adult world there are still bullies. In my case, she was the mom with long blonde hair and a tray full of cookies.

This awkwardness I felt around her had lasted for a couple of years. We would encounter one another at school carnivals, children’s birthday parties, book fairs and holiday events. We would say hello to each other. Fake smiles. Wave in carpool. But, what I didn’t know was that under the surface of smiles and years of forced conversations, she was seething with animosity towards me. It was totally unprovoked. And it was not in my head.

The cause, I would later come to find out, was because four years before I had posted an article on Facebook about the devastation big families cause the environment. I didn’t say anything damning. I just posted the article with a response that “this is why I will only have one kid.” Obviously, I didn’t only have one kid, so that logic flew out the window. But it was just a silly article I chose to share years ago. One that held very little value over my life, but one that she saw as a personal attack to her family of seven and, therefore, felt the need to cause my destruction.

I always felt the sense of something being “off.” I knew, for whatever reason, that she didn’t like me. Not really. But I was okay with it. It bugged me. I didn’t understand it. But, I dealt with it. That was, until the veneer came off and her reasoning for disliking me bled over into her reasoning others to do the same.

Under hushed tones, I know she whispered about how my “sad little career” was a joke in comparison with her own, thriving business. I discovered how she had adopted some of my friends as her new “besties” and asked them pointed questions about how they could feel comfortable having an atheist (meaning me) influencing their children during play dates. To my best knowledge, I had held very little impact influencing anyone to do anything…but that was beside the point.

I started to feel sorry for her, how insecure she must be, how lonely – until I realized that I was the one! Insecure. Lonely. A loner. And I had always been. Because of people like her. It was her very ilk which had marked me from the start, put me in my box, and left me there like a prisoner. For my entire life.

Schoolyard drama had never ended. It had just shifted. Grown. Increased in its value in my life. Perhaps in all other lives. It was all the same as it had ever been. And, no matter how much older I got, not a darn thing would change that fact. Worse still was the fact that I was passing it along to my own children to repeat and rediscover. A family of loners. Alone, again. Naturally.

So, now that I watch my daughter, in all of her social experiments (some floundering, some faltering), I worry about the thing that plagued me more than bad hair and orthodontic halitosis: the unrequited friendship. It is the sure-fired fast track path to becoming a loner. And loners are easy fodder for bullies.

When I was a kid, I remember always wanting to be friends with people who were not quite as interested in me as I was with them. There was never an equal footing and, as a result, the ones I considered to be my best friends were people who only regarded of me as “okay.” Sadly, sometimes, I see this path coming along the horizon with my daughter. So, my new goal, as any parent’s would be, is to nip this in the bud.

There have been times when she comes home in tears after being excluded from a game or told about a birthday party to which she was not invited. In those moments, I coach her as fervently as I coach that hurt little girl in dusty Keds, the one I used to be.

Simply, to both wounded children, I explain that these things happen. People get left out. But it doesn’t diminish the worth of the outsider. The outsider just has to harness this feeling and treat others better than they were treated. They need to learn to dance to their own songs and sing to their own rhythm. They need to bask in the beauty of silence and live with the knowledge that observation makes them kings. And, more importantly than any other lesson, they need know that, though life isn’t fair, it can be just.

Cookies will make everyone fat. Mascara, after enough tears, will run. And mean people will lose friends. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But in the end, it is far better to be forgotten in the crowd than remembered as an asshole.

I cling to that truth. The smaller version of myself clings to it. And, hopefully, if I have any influence at all, my daughter will cling to these words as well, whether she follows my dusty loner’s path or that of her more clown-like father!

Wilson


wilsonWhen I was a kid, I used to talk to myself. As an only child with few playmates and friends, this act grew as much out of necessity as it did out of imagination. And when I relate this detail, that I talked to myself, I don’t just mean here and there, bits and pieces, occasionally and only during certain types of play. I mean I would carry on long, full-blown conversations with myself – or, creatures I would call my “imaginary friends” – all day, every day. In truth, I knew there was nothing there. I didn’t even pretend to myself that there was anyone fictitious on the other side of my words. I just kept up the pretense so that it wouldn’t seem *as* crazy to others that I simply liked the sound of my own voice. The bonus was that some family members even thought it was cute. For a while, anyway.

Ultimately, as I grew older, it became less amusing to have a fictitious world of imaginary souls floating around me. This was a truth I knew quite clearly. So, despite the fact that this talking to myself continued, I kept it very much hidden from the world. And on some days, it was a mighty task indeed keeping my running dialogue silent and hidden in the gray matter of my mind.

Flashing forward several decades, I feel as though nothing much has changed in my persona. I still talk to myself. I still hold true to my more formative ways of being. Only now, instead of thin air, the exchange of words resonates and booms within the earshot of my infant son. Of course I include him in the discussion. He is, in fact, my imaginary friend come to life. Only capable of crying or smiling, his responses are nil and remain, therefore, akin to my childhood “friends” – in other words, malleable and open to the interpretation of my thoughts.

I often am asked by my contemporaries, other stay-at-home moms, if I feel what they feel – a deep loneliness that can come from being in the company of a baby all day. Since babies don’t speak, their houses often remain quiet – barring, of course, the random speckles of shrieks and screams that splotch the day. They confide that they are bored to tears, utterly anxious for naptimes to end so that they can pack up the kid and stroll around the mall just to feel like they are part of humanity. I, on the other hand, never feel this way. I just don’t. Don’t get me wrong – I do need people. I need them to fix my transmission, unclog my drains, ring up my groceries and mass-produce my jeans; but, I have never, ever needed them to fulfill that one human necessity – conversation.

Since dialogues and discussions can be reproduced to simulate the real things, I have never felt deprived of this sort of interaction. Call my crazy, but I guess you could say I’ve lived by the mantra “fake it until you make it.” The only thing is, I’ve never tried very hard to “make it.” One-sided conversations have become my new norm. So much so that I almost feel like I’m having an awkward out-of-body experience when I am forced to chat with a real person.

Having thought a lot about this way of being, I decided that it has become a survival technique of sorts. It got me through grade school when tormentors called me names and classmates excluded my very presence. It got me through long summer days that would have otherwise been spent watching a barrage of overblown soap operas with my mom. It even got me through a trying time in adolescence when I couldn’t quite cope with my changing body, the loss of a loved one and a horrific car accident. In essence, talking to myself got me through times when I felt displacement and detachment from the rest of the world.

If this were a deserted island situation, you could chalk it up to the fact that there are two kinds of people: those who would hurl themselves off of a cliff because they were driven insane by the desolation and the ones like me. My kind are the ones who live, regardless, even if they do so differently. To call it the same as being a survivor sounds like a pride-laden word that doesn’t quite describe it fully. No. People like me are merely vessels reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway.  He got through tough times because he spent half of the movie gabbing away at Wilson. Wilson was, for all practical purposes, his saving grace; but, to the rest of the world he was just an anthropomorphic volleyball. A prop turned human. Because of this, his lack of flesh and blood, there were a lot of people who didn’t shed a tear when he was carried away by the waves. But, I did. I cried a lot. In fact, it was one of the most poignant moments in a movie. Ever. It really evoked great emotion in me – and, now I think it’s obvious why. My baby is my Wilson!

In my current state as a stay-at-home mother of a baby, I can draw more parallels between my life and Castaway than ever before. There are many times when I do feel as though I am on a distant island, far removed from my fellow humans. And most days I do feel as though my baby and Wilson are one in the same. He goes with me wherever I go. Of course, I have to carry him in order to get him to those places. I talk to him all day long. Occasionally I even wish that he would talk back to me. But, unlike Wilson, someday he will. My only fear is that, after years of breaking the silence only for survival’s sake, when I reenter the “real” world of conversations, when I am rescued from my metaphoric island of mothering an infant, that I will still remember how to converse with my child instead of just talking at the air around him.

In a way, I am glad that my childhood was so fraught with social awkwardness otherwise I may not have been so prepared to be alone with my baby each day. It’s kind of nice to hold “adult” conversations and use regular words with my infant son. I feel that it will allow his brain to develop and his words to build nicely in the running dialogue of his brain. Perhaps he will be an orator. Perhaps a lawyer. Perhaps just another of the countless souls in the world who love to hear themselves speak. But, whatever the case will be, I just hope he will know that he was my saving grace on days when I otherwise would have sunk into a pit of loneliness. That he was my salvation. That he was my smiling ball of hope, dangling gently from the raft of my life. And when he someday slips into far and fleeting waters away from my grasp, that I will cry, I will miss his constant presence, but I will be ever grateful that I had such a wonderful package along for the ride during this amazing voyage.

*******

Seriously, folks, if someone…anyone…is reading this, please leave me a comment. No matter how small. No matter how meaningless…it would just be nice to know if my words are finally being heard (or read) by an outsider. After all of these years of being in my own head, it would be nice to hear the words of others…

Thanks!
-Maya