“Are you sure you want to go?” I asked my daughter again. “You don’t have to go.”
She nodded confidently but the catch in her voice told me otherwise, “Will you go with me?”
It was three days before my oldest child headed to junior high school and if that’s not big enough in our little world, it was a new school in a new town and she didn’t know a soul. When we read about the Back to School Band Pool Party at her orientation, we thought it would be a great place to meet new friends before the big day.
So she gathered towel and tote and I pulled up the van to the Natatorium and the little-girl-look on her worried face was enough to send me back to the security of home. Instead I watched her take a deep breath and open the door and take the first step into the unknown. Her hope outweighed her fear.
She sat her things down and got in line for the diving board. I sat in the bleachers and wrung my hands. I watched a big group of laughing girls walk past her without a second glance. She dove in and I prayed. I looked around for other lone moms of possible new girls and tried to work it from that angle.
She swam over to a smaller group and stood there nervously at the edge. I silently begged just one girl to acknowledge my beautiful daughter. She finally made eye contact, gave a half wave and I watched her mouth a shy, “hi.” The girls didn’t even look up and then they swam away.
She turned, shoulders slumped. And I remembered how it felt to be on the edge.
My eyes filled. I quickly swiped away stupid tears and saw her searching for me in the stands. Her audience of one. With a smile, I silently sent her the look only a mother can give. The kind that said, “I’m proud of you for trying, this will get better, being the new girl is so hard, but you are enough.” And I tried to believe my own words.
I didn’t want her to see how hard this was for me to watch her live this moment. How could she know I still run away from the new girl in me?
She stood before me shivering and her eyes reflected disappointment instead of hope. I watched her fight tears and I asked, “Do you want to go home?”
She wasn’t ready to give up and when she stepped back in the water for the second time, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder, knowing I would have run.
For another painful 30 minutes she did everything in her power to meet people. No one responded. It was all I could do not to stand up and scream, “SOMEONE, ANYONE, PLEASE SEE ME. I mean, HER. Look at her.” And then all the years of junior high and high school and college and first job and church women’s groups and blogging conferences, all my own pent-up new girl angst was there with me in the stands.
We left without her meeting one person. We dumped our sorrow into chocolate milkshakes and we talked long into the night.
Even in her disappointment, she kept thanking me for being there, for not leaving her alone. I told her of all my “new girl” experiences, we laughed until we cried. My wise little girl who now stands taller then me, held my hand and said, “Now I know how new kids feel. I’m not sorry I went. I will make friends. It’s going to be okay.”
“You’re never alone,” I repeated, trying to imprint it on her soul. But I went to bed crying and praying that her words would come true.
The overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing and all the ugly feelings of the proverbial new girl in me resurfaced. I didn’t just see in her a younger version of me standing at the edge of the group, I saw me today: the grown woman who still turns down invitations, spends more time alone than with people and constantly wonders if she will ever fit in.
I see my kids desire to blend with the group, be accepted for who they are. I see the same desire in me, even after all the graduations and time passed, it’s still there. I always come back to the same answer: Jesus loves me and I am enough just like I am.
I kissed my daughter on the first day of school and sent her off with prayers and the reminder that she is never ever alone. She met another new girl that first day.
Two weeks later, as I sat in the carline waiting for my daughter, I watched her walk out the door laughing with a girl, a friend. I smiled as a couple of texts popped up on my phone from a few (in)courage sisters, “We miss you at the beach! We love you! Wish you were here.”
I believed them. I believe Him.
And the new girl in me grew a little smaller, her voice not so loud.
For the “new girl” deep within you:
Tell her to never give up. Encourage her to keep trying. Help her pull down the walls she builds to protect her heart. Remind her she’s not alone. Quiet her doubt. Be brave. Lose the self-loathing. Love her. And don’t forget to remind her every day to accept His perfect love that casts out fear.
by Kristen Welch, We are THAT family