Here comes the whole 5th grade out to the field, ready to run. It’s their annual walk-a-thon and everyone’s amped up with excitement. I see Gabe walking along with his friends, pretending he doesn’t see me and stealthily avoiding my camera. I am so excited to watch my oldest two let loose and have fun during their last elementary party.
Finally, here comes my girl. She has the biggest smile on her face and she’s ready to run. I shoot pictures with lightning speed as I want to capture as many moments today as I can. She makes a few laps around the track with her aide. I notice that, for the first time since we’ve been here, no one else is with her. I noticed this seismic shift over the last year; the girls her age have simply moved on. They’re interested in make-up and hair and boys and One Direction and, even though she is interested in some of those things too, she’s more interested in Disney movies and her stuffed animals. As much as my brain understands and accepts it, my heart hurts. Ask her to walk with you, I think. Grab her hand just for a few minutes, I wish.
The time goes on and the girls start dancing in the middle of the track. I watch, willing my heart not to break in front of the crowd, as she stands right on the outside of the circle of dancing bodies, trying to get in. She’s trying to dance like they are, trying to be part of the group, but she’s too small and too far behind. They begin to do the conga line and she wants to join in. But she can’t catch up and she can’t get in.
I feel like I would like to be swallowed up whole by a hole in the ground and take her with me. This is not fair. This is too painful. This is what our life is like now. Always on the edge, wanting to fit in, but realizing it’s not possible.
Tears threaten to overwhelm me and the next thing I know, she’s next to me, grabbing my hand, asking me to run. “Run with me, Mama!” Off we go. We run, we walk, we dance, we giggle. She tries to do “The Worm” like her friend Justin. We end up on the ground laughing like hyenas. I pick her up and we dance along to One Direction and Justin Bieber because we really love them too. She sees other kids doing the wheelbarrow and she wants to try. She does it. It’s amazing. She finds Gabe and he reluctantly stops for a picture and runs with her for a bit. Soon it’s time to go back to class after a cookie and a class picture. I give her a kiss, because she still lets me, and watch her go.
To be honest, I’m devastated. Truly. My little girl, who is loved and treated kindly, does not fit in anymore. She doesn’t really have friends anymore. She’s on the outside and I have a feeling it will only get worse. But then I stop. I think back to the day and realize that she was not upset. She never stopped smiling that day. Even when she was on the edge, even when she was two steps behind, even when she was by herself. She was happy. It was my perception and feelings on her behalf that were making me sad, not hers. She is fine.
Olivia lives in the moment all the time. She doesn’t hold grudges, she doesn’t worry, she doesn’t get mad or jealous or sad. Because all she has is this moment in time, she’s always happy. It’s difficult for me to remember this when I am seeing things through my jaded eyes. I am projecting my feelings onto the situation, not hers. She is simply enjoying being outside with her class, dancing with her Mom, trying to do the worm. She’s not wondering why the girls don’t include her. She’s not sad that she doesn’t fit in.
She’s just Olivia, happy and loved, even on the outside.