Friday, 10 September 2010

Odd One Out

That's me, you see. If ever there were three words that summed up most of my life, those are the ones. Odd one out.

I have mentioned before that my sister taught me to read when I was 2 and I could read by the time I started school. This marked me out as the "clever one". I was the only one in the family to go to grammar school, having passed my eleven plus, so I went to a different school to my sisters. I was the first person that I know of in our extended family ever to go to University.

That's me in the centre.
When I went to university, I chose a course at a separate, and much smaller, college some 10 miles away from the main campus. We were considered the oddballs by the rest of the University - country bumpkins, in fact, because were the Agrics. And because I didn't come from a farming background, and made a final year choice that had only ever been chosen twice before, set me out as different again. I was definitely the odd one out. Imagine 3 overlapping circles in a Venn diagram; I was the tiny bit in the middle where all 3 overlapped and everyone moved around me but not with me.

And so it went on. I was the odd one out as I went into accountancy and then IT after graduation. It has meant I had little in common with the people I studied with and haven't really kept up much contact, apart from a couple that I speak to occasionally. I've been odd one out in jobs by virtue of having to do a long distance commute - like to London from the Hampshire coast  - and therefore being "not from round here". That does have its benefits as you rarely bump into work colleagues outside work.

I even became an odd one out when I became a mother. I wouldn't change my kids for the world but there aren't many mums with children their age in their 40s. Monkey was born when I was 40 and Missy Woo when I was 41. Some of the mums of Monkey's classmates are more than 20 years younger than me. Most of the mums I know online too are in their 30s and a few in their 20s. And to top it all, 11 years ago this week, I moved to Lancashire from Buckinghamshire, so I am in exile and therefore a peculiarity to both the locals here and people from my hometown. My accent gives me away to both, unmissably southern with a few flattened vowels.

Being the odd one out is a recurring theme but I am undecided about how I feel about it. I made my choices, and I'm happy with them. I can hardly change a lot of them so I may as well get on with it, but I choose not to regret anyway. But suddenly, a comment - innocent and not intended to be hurtful  - will remind me that I am the odd one out and I feel like the the outsider looking in.

I've thought about this many times. Some of the things that mark me out as different just are - I can't change them because they are a part of me, of who I am, and makes me distinctive, perhaps memorable. Some of them are however related to conscious choices and I wonder if there is something within me that likes to set my own path in life, that likes to be a bit different sometimes and not to follow the norm - even though it is not wildly unconventional. I've hardly run off with a circus, have I?

But then, there is the part of me that wants to belong, that feels left out sometimes, and that doesn't know how to feel like I belong; if indeed, there is anything to be done. I'm guessing you would never know this if you met me as I hide it well. People say I appear confident and outgoing. I will join in but deep down, something within me is saying "Do you really belong here? Do these people really need you muscling in on their fun? Are they all mentally rolling their eyes at me?"

Getting involved with things has helped that sense of being left out. Becoming an NCT member has been so good, for me personally anyway. Most of the active members in our branch have moved to a new area and are lacking the support mechanism offered by close friends and family. They have provided the support network for me over the last 6 years, I've volunteered for them most of that time, and until Missy Woo started school, I felt like I belonged somewhere, and has rooted me to the community where I now live. However, we have little need of that support now that Missy Woo is at school. School itself is beginning to fill the void that will be left, but at the same time, I am conscious of taking on too much and getting involved with both at the same time.

So that's me, the odd one out. It is a part of my identity that has seeped through my life right from childhood, that has weaved itself into the story of my life. A lot of the time I love it, but sometimes I hate it and just want to be part of the gang.
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