TRAVEL THERAPY #4:
Searching For My Tribe
“Above all, be the heroine of your life. Not the victim.”
Since returning from our behemoth summer road trip to the California Redwoods and Sequoia National Forest, my soul has been in a bit of a tizzy. There’s a reason I’d been putting off returning to the towns I grew up in. It was not a happy time for me. When we met my girlfriend and her family just days later, the past and the present collided, forcing me to face my truth.
From the moment I arrived in Geyserville at four years old, I was out of place. The youngest child in a large Catholic family of teenagers and adults, I lived on an isolated dude ranch resort six miles out of a one-street town. It was just the seven of us and a few hired ranch hands for ten months of the year. Because I was a decade younger than the next youngest member of our clan, I was excused from all of the hard work, unable to take part in many activities, and was the butt of bored older sibling shenanigans. (It was years before I stopped heeding my older sister’s plea to remove every last sesame seed from hamburger buns lest they take root in my stomach and grow out my ears.)
A few years later, when we moved to the next town down the interstate, I cemented my social standing on the first day of fourth grade. At least eight pairs of eyes were eagerly fixed on me, awaiting my answer to the question that was just posed to me…”So who are you going with?” Utterly clueless, I replied with a question of my own: “Going where?” As a direct result of an overabundance of naiveté and sensitivity, the next four years were a struggle for physical and emotional survival. While my classmates cheered the punches and chains being swung by boys and girls in the park next to my house, I was shaken to my core. This war between the “Rednecks” and the “Chicanos” completely befuddled me and (for good reason) I lived in fear that it wasn’t long before I might possibly be an entertaining target. No one seemed to think like me, feel like me, or be anything like me. (Of course, there were others like me, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I understood this…and, the reasons why I didn’t see them.)
By the time I transferred to a college prep high school that was a much snugger fit for me, I was paralyzed by fear of girls and rejection. And, honestly, I felt like high school was about Survival of the Fakest and my transparency handicapped me. Not only was I too sensitive and too scared, I was also too open and too honest. So, I did what many teen girls do (to this day)…I found myself a nice guy, fell in “puppy love,” and exchanged sex for a safe social bubble. Over the next seven years, the boyfriends’ faces and names changed a few times until one became a fiancé. When it came time to come up with an invite list for my bridal shower, I was ashamed to admit that I was a woman without a tribe. I was reminded again three years later at baby shower time.
In addition to breast feeding brochures and diaper coupons, my goodie bag from the maternity ward of my hospital included a precious gift: the phone number of an organization that coordinated local playgroups. My infant son’s playgroup wasn’t for him, it was for me. Not only was it an effective remedy for a serious case of at-home mom isolation, but it was a breeding ground of potential friends. Maybe it was maturity, possibly it was motherhood, but the hunger for camaraderie was finally mutual and (mostly) drama-free. Although I was occasionally scratched by a catty one, the worst of my fears slowly began to dissipate.
Eight years later when my youngest’s playgroup succumbed to kindergarten enrollment, six of us moms formed our very own big girl playgroup. Instead of the local park, we met at each other’s homes or at un-family friendly restaurants for book group meetings, scrapbooking, bunco, birthday celebrations, and occasional family gatherings. It didn’t matter to me what we did, just that we did. My inner teenager was stoked and, for the first time ever, I had a tribe.
Fast forward three years and here I am, just back from a week in Sequoia with one of these women…and, I have to face a pretty shitty truth.
I still feel out of place.
While my playmates are engrossed in animated conversations about weekend sports tournaments, family meal planning, and a plethora of helpful mom gadgets, I try to be enthusiastic (I really do), but my mind wanders to a long list of un-motherly topics. I wonder if they think about their passions, fears, dreams, unfulfilled desires, wandering, their real selves. Not from the wife or mother perspective, but as an independent woman. And, if I have to play one more fucking game of bunco…
So I have to ask myself…even though I’m in a good place, is it really my place? I’m stubborn. I simply cannot believe that I am so different from these women! Maybe there’s something I can do to stimulate the conversations I crave and deepen our interactions and our bond. Maybe the end result will be a tribe of amazing and passionate women-wife-moms who seek out wisdom and adventure while celebrating all that each of us are. It’s worth a try anyways.
In the meantime, I will definitely begin searching for my tribe.