206-335-9051 m.rubens@comcast.net
…that traumatized mom is me.

We were leisurely enjoying our weekend when my daughter mentioned to me that Monday was twin day. She did not say this with any sense of panic or alarm, so I didn’t say anything and our weekend went merrily along.

On Sunday morning she mentioned again that it was twin day on Monday. “Oh cool, what are you doing for it?” I have to be careful with these things because I don’t want my own stories to get in the way of her experience. There are a million ways for me to blow it and one of them is that I carry a deep wound within. Like many women, my wound can unexpectedly be sparked although I keep naively thinking it is healed completely.

A brief microcosm of what happened is this—I was enjoying 6th grade as a part of the very popular group. We were mean to other kids. There was always someone we hated. One day towards the end of the school year, my friends acted cold towards me. I tried to figure out what was going on, but on the surface, they said everything was fine and I was just too sensitive. Later that week my sister told me that she had heard at her softball practice that Joanne, my second best friend was having a birthday party. I asked the next day at school and was told that no there was no party. But on Monday there was a note on my desk that pretty much ripped my heart in two—yes there was a party, yes it was fun, yes you were not invited it said in big bold letters. Since I had no idea why I was suddenly the hated one, I turned this weirdness inward sure that it was somehow my fault that my friend group completely ignored me (and of course I didn’t make the simple connection that I had been mean to others and now it was my turn).

I started hanging around with another group of girls, but as luck would have it—those girls suddenly became part of the popular crowd and also left me out in humiliating ways. I remember a sad and lonely environmental education camp with no friends, party lists without my name on them (left so I could see), weekends spent all alone and then finally summer camp which the queen bee (my former best friend Renee) and I had signed up for together.

Once we got to camp, our mutual friend from another middle school patched things up right away. Always feisty and fearless she marched over to Renee and said, “What is going on? Why are you mad at Peggy?” Renee said, “I’m over it” and that was that.

Only that wasn’t that. I was never in that popular group again though I did have a large group of middle school friends. I cried a lot in 7th and 8th grades. My always confident self was gone. I felt like a loser. Being left out haunted me in dreams and nightmares for years. It led me to my career as a school counselor, to therapy and to become a public speaker on relational aggression.

In many of my speeches, I start with the story of Renee and Joanne. I refined the story over the years until it doesn’t have any real resonance with my actual experience. It is the true story (with funny parts and little antidotes woven in). It is tweaked depending on who I am telling it to—parents, students, teachers. But I don’t FEEL anything when I tell it. I have told it enough that it just feels like a piece of my life that has informed my career but no longer holds any emotional power over me.

However, now twin day is coming up and it seems my daughter doesn’t have a twin. She says, “I don’t have anybody to be a twin with.” I am starting to get some familiar ache which I recognize and put in its place. First off, my daughter doesn’t sound particularly upset and secondly, this is the first I have heard of twin day. I must have not read the weekly news. So I try to sound as nonchalant as I can. “Well, is it something you want to participate in?” “Yes” she says and I recognize the look of panic in her face.

Now it is Sunday evening and we are off to my stepdaughters for dinner. She mentions twin day again and this time there are tears. What is going on? I decided to ask a couple of my friends and her beloved teacher what is going on. After all, my counselor has always told me when you feel yourself getting upset find out more information. And I really have no idea if this is some big deal or a little thing. How do I offer the right amount of support to my daughter?

I get an e-mail back from my friend telling me that she is sorry but her daughter is already paired up. Another friend: her child is already paired. And still, another friend telling me that her daughter is already paired up and that there may be one or two kids left without a twin that I could reach out to. She names the two students that might not have a partner. And the whole thing makes me feel sad. It is these e-mails that everyone is partnered up, though innocent enough, that sucker punches me.

I am at a joyous dinner with my family and I can barely breathe. Literally. I am twelve again. I feel sick to my stomach. My daughter has good friends and seems well liked, but how did everyone pair up without me knowing? I am off on a trip the next day and I don’t have the time or the drive to find a twin for my daughter and I don’t really want to. It isn’t my job right? But how did every other mother know about twin day and I didn’t? One mom suggests that if no one is left, triplets would be a possibility. I don’t want any part of this. I want to hide behind a rock. I somehow feel ashamed and stupid. If I make a big deal of it, I am a weird helicopter parent. If I ignore it, I will be suffocated with anxiety. And all along at said dinner, I am acting totally normal because I don’t want my daughter to know that I am upset over her situation.

On the way back home, I reach out to a good friend of my daughter’s mom by text. I don’t know her well, but I ask if her daughter wants to be a twin with my kid. The mom writes back saying, “oh dear, she already is paired up.” I sense that this mom gets it and I decide to call her. My husband is not able to offer much support for this type of thing. It is no fault of his own, this is not his pain and he has no context for it. And frankly, I am looking for support and love because remember, I am twelve again.

This mom asks her daughter what is going on with twin day and the daughter immediately says she would love to have my daughter as a triplet. They are wearing butterfly shirts, black leggings and a denim jacket (none of which my daughter has, but oh well). At least she is wanted by someone and I can leave on my trip in peace. Despite my intention to be inquisitive and curious–nothing more, I burst into tears. “I am so sorry, I am so embarrassed,” I say. She consoles me and shares some of her own worries about her older daughter. I am pacing around the ferry as we talk. I dry my tears and go back to our car, my family having no idea of my last conversation.

My daughter is in bed. I am packed for my trip, I leave early the next day. I am still feeling the need for some type of support. My daughter’s teacher, also a friend of mine, is not available and has not written me back. Then I do IT, the thing that no sane mother should ever do, especially a mother who is a public speaker on friendship woes, a mom who teaches kids how to handle tough friendship problems. The thing I swear up and down that I will never do. I share my woes on Facebook. What kind of school has twin day? I write. I am pissed. I want the world to feel and know my pain. I feel deserving of support.

People write me back. Can’t she be a triplet? I hate twin day? That’s awful? One mom from the school writes to me saying that the 6th graders chose twin day as part of a spirit week theme. But they didn’t want it to be exclusionary so they changed it to something like “same” day where you could go as a twin or a triplet or a quadruplet or…whatever (as an aside, I still think this isn’t the best because it still clearly establishes who is in which group, but knowing there was an intention to not leave anyone out was helpful information my daughter had left out). Another friend wrote that she viewed twin day as a chance to make a new friend, so she had intentionally encouraged her daughter to pair with someone different.

The next day, I was pretty horrified by my behavior. Had I really vague-booked my feelings? Oy. Mira’s teacher wrote me a letter and felt very betrayed by my facebook post. I felt so unprofessional and embarrassed. I took down the post right away and apologized. I hadn’t felt like it was the school or the teacher’s fault, but it came out sounding that way. Kids in many schools choose twin day for spirit week. My daughter’s teacher told me that she had encouraged the kids to wear their school shirts to school so they would win for the biggest group of “sames”. I had no idea that dressing in the class shirts was even a thing. I hadn’t been patient enough to wait for her response.

I left for my trip feeling battered and tired. I got sick. I could tell that my sickness stemmed from this pain I still carry with me that rears its ugly head from time to time. As the week in DC went on, I found my equilibrium again. I backed out from the twin saga and left it to my husband. It didn’t feel like it was a big deal and I realized that my daughter had the skills to get through it. It wouldn’t break her and it wouldn’t break me.

Dear reader, I realize that this whole incident is ridiculous. But alas, I am going to own it. For me, the trauma of being left out is real. Clearly, it is still alive within me. I can’t deny that what I felt that night went so deep it burned. And I can also say that I am a confident and professional woman and an inspired teacher. I know it sounds impossible to be both, but I guess that is my unique gift to the world.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the rather ironic ending of the story. Our area was blasted with a big snow storm and twin, triplet, quintuplet day was canceled.