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I have to leave the gym because I’m sobbing.
What is it about exercise that releases your feelings?
I wasn’t invited to the party. He wasn’t invited to the party. They were all there. The picture on social media showed them all together, smiling as their kids bounced away their last day of preschool.
The women I had smiled at and exchanged pleasantries with each other every day for nine months. The women who had watched me struggle with a stroller and held the door for me as I pushed my baby and walked my four-year-old into preschool.
Each day we said goodbye to our little ones together and then stood side by side as they joyfully ran into our arms after school. We met at the park, participated in class parties, and laughed together about the funny things our littles had done and said.
Yesterday was the last day of school. We celebrated with a class party, posed for pictures, and wished each other a wonderful summer.
And then they had a party. They were all there and we were not invited.
Why do I feel like a 13-year-old again? Why am I crying? This is worse than I ever felt at 13 because, at that age, I was actually invited to the party. And now there is him. My sweet little innocent four-year-old who thinks the kid whose mom is hosting the party is his close buddy.
It isn’t his fault we moved here after the other families and missed the first year of preschool. It isn’t his fault that I felt perfectly comfortable staying on the perimeter of this mom group because I already had a tight group of friends and I craved deeper conversations than what a few minutes at drop-off and pickup or chasing after our kids allowed.
This mama bear version of being left out by the mean girls leaves much more to unpack than the usual teenage drama, and it hurts.
What is going on here? Is this a past wound? I was pretty lucky in my middle school years with a solid group of friends, and I don’t remember feeling left out. Is this punishment for that? Did I leave others out? I hope I didn’t.
Yes, I am devastated for my child that he didn’t get to bounce in the bounce house and celebrate with his friends, but as my mom points out when I call her tearfully on the way home from the gym, he is none the wiser. One of the many reasons I can be thankful four-year-olds have no social media access.
Maybe it’s not about my son. Maybe it’s not even about me. Maybe it is a human response to a basic unkindness, intentional or not.
Where is the inclusiveness we preach to our children?
I cry my eyes out, pull myself together, take comfort in the fact that my son knows nothing of this injustice, and I take the lesson. I vow to continue to be my kindest self, to leave no kid or mama behind, to be aware of the perimeters always, and to continue to teach my kids the same. I vow to let it make me kinder, not colder, more vigilant, not bitter.
I cut through the small talk more quickly now. I open up more. Much like in middle school, the faster you let your true self shine the more quickly you will attract others who are also looking to connect, to be seen for their true selves and not some image they are trying to project.
Our children are so naturally authentic, especially in preschool. I applaud this authenticity. I celebrate their quirks, the sparks that make them who they are. I celebrate my own too.
Just because we are all mothers does not mean we are the same. Inclusion is not just about invitations but also about acceptance. We all want to be seen and accepted for who are. Mothers, especially, need to be seen for who we are when we are not mothering.
Our connections are a chance to commiserate, yes, and to share the joys but also to share ourselves outside of motherhood, who we are deep in our souls. By showing each other who we are and celebrating our differences, we give our children permission to do the same in their own friendships. Inclusion at its best.
Fast-forward to three years later, and I now stand in the same school with my younger son attending the same class. I am surrounded by a wonderful group of women and we go a little deeper with our pleasantries.
I bask in the comfort of this, but I am always, always, keeping my eye on the perimeter, keeping the circle wide open.