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"So, are you enjoying your summer?" My coworker's lips quirk. "Pretty great to be out of school, huh?"
We laugh together, because we understand what's behind that seemingly innocuous question. We both have kids who are a little wah-wah -- my daughter, Violet, 10, has had a hard time making friends for years; her older son has similar issues.
"It's interesting," I said to her, making a juggling motion. "But I'm so happy!"
Another, different mom would have thought I was happy about having more time with my child, slower mornings, no homework. This coworker knows what I really mean.
"I get you," she said. "It was so relaxing for me, always, in the summer, not having to watch all the other kids doing okay, while mine wasn't."
"Yes!" I whisper-scream, so excited to hear someone else voicing what I feel. "I say to myself 'Compare and despair!' That's my watchword. But during school, it's like I can't help it."
"I know. You hear about birthday parties you're not invited to, you see all the other kids hanging out in little groups, while yours is alone. I always felt so much less stressed about it in the summer."
"Oh my God, you get it so exactly." Tears spring into my eyes. If you keep your teary eyes open wide-wide-wide, they don't actually fall onto your face. But my co-worker saw anyway.
"Violet is going into fifth grade now, which is the last grade at her little school. And the parents I know, they're starting to get nostalgic: I can't believe it's almost over, I want this year to go slow! HA! I want to say back, I cannot WAIT to get out of this vale of pain. I am counting the minutes."
I pause before I ask the question I'm not sure I want answered. "Does it get better? In middle school, in high school? Does it get better?"
She pauses before answering, so I know she's choosing her words carefully. "I think it does, for some people. For us, it didn't. What did really help was that I just sort of gave up trying, and just accepted what was."
"I want to do that!" My voice is getting too loud for the office. "I'm trying to do that. Why can't I do that? I think I'm there, I'm accepting her the way she is, I'm accepting the situation. But that must not be, because it still hurts so much."
"I think that part gets better anyway," says my nice, understanding coworker.
"Well, that's why the summer is great. Because when it's just us at home, everything is wonderful. We have fun, I don't worry. Things are great."
"That means a lot!" said my coworker. "I wish it had been that way for us. Violet is a chatty kid, is she?"
"Yeah, I guess she is. We talk a lot. We're close. She's not emotionally removed from us, or from people – the flipside of that is that she feels it keenly when she's not included, when she's invisible. You know what I mean, right? She's not picked on. She's just invisible."
"I know," says my coworker, with meaning dripping from the word. She does. I know she does. I know there are parents all over the world who understand, each of us locked in our own little bubble of pain, unable to reach out and help anyone else. The only thing we can do is be there for each other. It hurts, but I'm not alone.
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