Between growing up in a blue collar family and attending a private Catholic school, I have spent my whole like caught between worlds. Most people I have talked to say they feel “caught between worlds” because they feel out of place in their family. For me, being caught between worlds is really about being involved in different groups and social circles that do not seamlessly fit together.
Most of the time it feels like being on the end of one magnet as another magnet is pushing it away. What feels like polar opposites but in reality is something far too similar. As someone who likes to observe, I tend to notice things like how alike two very opposite seeming groups really are.
My first experience of feeling of being “caught between” was with my extended family. Being the youngest of my generation, sometimes by ten years, meant that I was often too young to really hang out with my cousins or even my brother. When I was nine, my cousins started having children. From that moment I have been a bit caught between two generations. I was too young to be involved with the experiences of my older cousins and yet I was too old to be more than a babysitter to my second-cousins.
Looking back, the next instance where I felt caught between worlds was my nine years in Catholic school. Before my father’s health declined my parents could just afford to have both my brother and I in private school. After it was a financial struggle to let me finish out my last couple of years in middle school.
For the first few years at private school I did fine. I had a good set of friends, most of whom were children of military families, and I didn’t feel left out. My life seemed full and I never really questioned who I was, whether I fit in, or if my family had the right kind of house. Slowly as my friend’s parents received new orders and were assigned to other bases around the world, I lost friends without really replenishing my social group.
When I was the sole member of our circle of friends left, I began floating between other circles searching for additional friends to be close with and a place where I felt I belonged.
As that happened I began to notice how the children of blue collar parents hung out together while the children of white collar parents did the same. The few exceptions were the children of wealthier blue collar families squeaking by into the next social group.
What is probably weird about this was how young I was when I began to notice the social class difference. As a direct result I became hyper aware of what we didn’t have, how small our house was, or how my family acted. being hyper aware made my preteen years a bit more awkward and often left me feeling like the odd person out.
At that time of self awareness, my family tried getting me more involved in groups and activities outside of school. I would love to say my parents noticed how awkward things were for me but it was honestly a happy accident. Far too many things were changing, not just within me but within my life. My father spent months at a time over a few years being hospitalized.
When my brother began driving it took a weight off of my mom’s shoulders. She could split herself between my father and having a new job. That left my brother to help with driving me, and him, to school and after school activities. My brother didn’t want to be stuck driving his baby sister to all of her things thus missing out on his own. We began finding groups we could both be involved in like Saturday morning bowling. He could be in the older leagues while I could be there at the same time in the younger leagues. So I traded my cleats (soccer and soft ball) for bowling shoes.
This new adventure added an additional element to my feeling of being caught between worlds. No one else from my school was in my bowling league. I now I had a clearly defined school life and a life outside of school.
At school there were definite social castes based on the income of our parents and the lifestyles we lead. I was lucky that in the confines of my bowling league I felt accepted.
However at other activities not connected to my school, I learned that public school kids felt that ALL private school children were stuck up, and did not readily accept me. This was interesting as my family’s income and lifestyle more closely mirrored that of other public school children. Yet, I had to prove that I was one of them. This feeling continued a bit when I transitioned from eighth grade private school into ninth grade at a public high school.
The constant feeling of being caught between worlds gave me an different perspective. It is also where I learned some of the survival skills I still use today. If you were to meet me at a party I will either seem to be very open or aloof, maybe even snobbish. When I feel very comfortable in a situation I talk about my family, my career choices and my life. In situations where I feel less comfortable, I tend to sit back and observe a lot. I let others do most of the talking and I share very little.
Sitting back and observing may be something I love doing when I am at the mall or in a crowd. When I am at a party it is most definitely a survival skill. I learned to not overshare because my life would get picked apart and the things I love would be ridiculed.
So I hid. The better of an actor I became, the easier it was to be the person everyone around me wanted/expected me to be. I can easily “fit in” with those who have money as I know how to dress the part and what to say, or more importantly what NOT to say. But I also know how to fit in with those of lower social standing because I lived that life too, and honestly am more comfortable at times in that social circle.
Sometimes I think that this whole experience of constantly being caught between worlds has made my life less or even lonely. The truth is that it has also placed me in the perfect position to be a foster parent.
Rent-a-Dad and I bought a house we loved, not one we were told we should have based on our income. So our house is not grand but it suits us and our lifestyle. It is also warm and inviting. Our house does not make birth families feel out of place or unwelcome. Rather it makes them feel like they are being invited into a home, a place they always wanted, a refuge.
Just as our house is a warm and inviting home, I feel as if being caught between worlds has made me a more rounded person. I can help navigate a tricky doctor, and a tricky system, while smiling and letting the birth parents open up. So I could look at my experiences of being caught between worlds as something bad or I could look at it as something that shaped me into me. How the person I am today, a person who is happy with herself (mostly) is someone living her life and is providing a home, a refuge, to those who need one.
Often we can not see the BIG picture and feel downcast by our circumstances. It is hard to sometimes find our way through what feels like a miserable period of time. I know I often felt that way as a preteen whose world was changing both internally (hormonally/physically) and externally (school, home life, and more). It was very hard to find the positive at times.
My mom was my grounding stone. She helped me focus on something happy like an upcoming holiday, an after school activity, or even a new book coming out by an author I followed. Sometimes the simplest things can bring us the most pleasure in a darker time.
When I have walked through the fire, come out with my scars, and can turn around to see the completed picture, I start to find how a situation shaped me for the better. Sure I went through hell and came out the other side, but I went through hell and came out the other side a survivor. I lived. Now I hope my struggles can help others come out the other side and find the pieces to their big picture.