When I was young, I was never much for joining group activities. I never fit in, and my ideas were always considered wrong, too radical, stupid or otherwise edgy. I remembered last night, out of the blue, while attending my son’s kindergarten orientation, that I actually was a cheerleader at one time; for a single year in fifth grade of elementary school, for our school’s football team, the Broncos. We had red t-shirts with a big, white, silk W embroidered on them. My Mom washed mine wrong and the red bled out and made the W pink, so I started out not being like the other girls. I was so excited though, to have little plastic pom-poms and to be able to yell at the top of my lungs, which has always been one of my favorite things.
I didn’t make it the whole season. After one of our games, the one girl’s mother took us all to McDonald’s to buy us breakfast. I had never been to McDonald’s and had no idea what any of the food was on the menu; my family didn’t eat fast food and the rare times we went out to eat, it was always at sit-down diners. Everyone else already knew what to get and they were impatiently waiting on me, so I just ordered what the girl in front of me had, an “Egg McMuffin” and hash browns and orange juice. We took the food back to the girl’s house and sat around a table eating it. I thought it was terrible, that the combination of flavors tasted really awful and I got a bad stomach ache before I was done. I went up to use the bathroom and got very sick, and made a big mess. It was terribly embarrassing. This girl was from a well-off family and obviously I was already fucking it up. My Mom came to get me, and I spent the rest of the day in bed – I still don’t know if I had the flu or if the food made me sick or what, but it was kind of how things went for me when I tried to be a joiner. This was also about the time I got kicked out of the Brownies for complaining that all we did was pay dues and have meetings, and we never got to do the cool things other chapters did like tour the Archway cookie factory or get a tour of the kitchen at Pizza Hut. They didn’t take my criticism very kindly.
I tried out for cheerleading in middle school as well. I had the flu so bad the day of tryouts, I had a 101 degree fever and couldn’t do a couple of the required moves as I was too dizzy. I just wasn’t cut out for it – I had really only done it previously because my Mom and sister had both been cheerleader – and the universe was trying to tell me to stop trying, so I did.
I was forced to be in the Math Club my freshman year of high school; everyone who was in the honors freshman algebra class was required to be in it. I hated that fucking class. I hated the teacher, I hated math and I hated being in the Club. Come sophomore year, I took the most basic geometry class available so I wouldn’t have to continue any of that shit.
The summer before my senior year, they sent a letter home to my Mom saying that I had been selected to be part of some “special” honors club at school. It was for people who had really good scores on standardized tests (plus ça change, etc.) and was supposed to be some sort of mentorship program, where the group would meet every day at homeroom and then be given an opportunity to pair up with a mentor from the community in the field they wanted to study the next year at college, and that you’d be allowed to leave school to go for mentoring sessions. I begged my mom to get me out of it. They had a dinner for everyone at the school, the kids and parents who would be in the program, and my Mom took the director of the program aside and explained that neither of us wanted me to be in the program for a variety of reasons, and couldn’t I just stay in the homeroom I was in before? No, was the adamant answer. I wasn’t even sure I was GOING to college at that point, but if I was, it was to study theater, and a small, small town with a single community theater run by a nasty asshole was not the best pairing. My boyfriend wanted to be a plastic surgeon, and got to leave school during school hours to go and observe different surgical procedures – for someone like him, it was a great program. I didn’t have a car. The one day I borrowed my Mom’s car to meet with the bitchy theater director, I drove down to my appointment with him not knowing what to expect. He ushered me in to his office, leaned back in his chair and said, “Well, what do you want to know?” How the fuck should I know what I want to know? I don’t know anything, tell me whatever you want. This is like asking someone what they want to eat at a restaurant when they’ve never seen the menu and don’t know what’s offered. I tried to be polite, and said I’d be open to learning anything and everything he wanted to tell me, but he snapped that he didn’t have time for this shit, he was told I’d have a list of questions, and if I ever figured out what I wanted to know, I could come back. Then, he showed me the door. That was the end of that.
I got better at joining things once I got out of school. I became a trainer in some of the restaurants I served in. When I transitioned into office work, I realized that you can sometimes get things done if you join a committee, that it wasn’t my single, weird voice looking for change or suggesting new directions, it was the whole group. I got better at convincing people to take my side, and honed valuable organizational skills that committees need. I had so many ideas for new business opportunities when I worked at a PR firm in LA that my boss, the head of the firm, embarrassed everyone in the office meeting saying that it was pretty sad that his secretary was the only one coming up with solid leads.
Sometimes, being a joiner is the only way to force people to accept you, to listen to you, to get shit done. I not only joined the PTA last night at K-orientation, I signed up for the open position to organize the four teacher-conference dinners to be held throughout the coming school year. I want my son to see that joining can lead to acceptance. That contributing to the larger body, whether your school or your community or your state or your charity, can give you a voice. I’m not a natural joiner, and the road was bumpy, but I am here now. Look out.