THE SISTERS' SONG coming in January 2018 from Allen and Unwin. Sign up to my newsletter.

Oh, to be round and able to fit into that hole that society has for us. Round is neat and smooth and I’m surrounded by round pegs everywhere I look—at my kids’ schools, my old work colleagues, when I go to the shops. People who can slip into the peg holes society has made and spin around in them as if they’ve been custom-made. They slide out of one and into the next and make it look easy.

I’m jealous.

I’ve never been a round peg. From an early age, people let me know that I wasn’t round. My mother, teachers, classmates, all frowned at me loudly or smiled patronisingly, or just ignored me and hoped I’d learn.

I realised I was different and I felt ashamed. I wanted to be like everyone else, including my popular sister. I tried really hard to smooth my edges and become a soft, circular round so that I might be accepted.

I studied the ‘in’ girls from the periphery, watched how they acted, and tried to copy them. I compromised myself—learned the words to pop songs I couldn’t stand, talked loudly at parties when I would rather have stayed at home, learned how to smoke and drink. The consequences of trying to be someone I wasn’t have at times been tragic (another blog for another day).

Then I had my own kids and I watched them grow with a sense of astonishment and pride. At times I saw myself and delighted, and at other times I hoped they were nothing like me.

Then one-by-one they came home and cried. When they’d been excluded by their friends or when their teacher had told them to be more confident, less sensitive. 

I heard the words, ‘Nobody likes me’, and I watched it dawn on my kids that they weren’t popular. 

Nooo, I screamed inside my head, this isn’t what I’d planned. I was a loner, but my kids were meant to be popular, dammit. 

Then it dawned on me that history was repeating itself: I, the ultimate square peg, had given birth to square pegs. 

Nothing had changed. Being good at sport or singing in a rock band gives you street-cred. Not only do other kids not enjoy doing what my kids like, but worse than that, they don’t respect kids who do.

I felt like we were at a T-junction: turn left to beat ‘em or right to join ‘em. We could say, Bugger you all, I’m going my own way. I’m different and I’m proud. Or we could say, That’s it, I’m in. I’m not living life as an outsider.

To varying degrees, I watched my kids try to fit in. It hurt. They uttered foreign statements I knew weren’t coming from their souls; they spoke in accents that weren’t their own; they forced laughter when around their peers; and they begged me not to say certain things because it would embarrass them.

They tried to fit into round peg holes. I watched them stuffing themselves in, I saw the bits pop back out, angrily at times, and I watched as they tried to squash it all back in again. Sometimes, I even helped, feeling torn, but kidding myself that it was what they wanted.

And, if I’m really truthful, it’s what part of me wanted, too—for them to fit in and be accepted.

But most of me just wanted them to be themselves. So, I told them about the bigger, wider world and that school isn’t everything. That one day all of this would be forgotten because they’ll be out in that big, wide world where they’ll meet other people, lots of them, and from all sorts of places and walks of life.

I reminded them about Darwin and Einstein, Beethoven and Mozart, and Hendrix and Greer, who were all square pegs. I told them as much for them as for me, to remind myself that it was okay not to round off my square peg kids.

And now I wait. I wait for the day it will hit them, as it did me, that they are unique, and that it’s good to be a square peg. 

Because I don’t want my kids to become round. I don’t want them to compromise themselves and lose their individuality like I did mine. In losing it, I lost my confidence and my courage and my willingness to take risks. I thought I’d be happier, snuggled down in a round peg hole. I thought I could fit into a society that I didn’t like.

It’s lonely being a square peg, but it’s even lonelier shaving parts of yourself off just to fit into a round hole.

So I’ve discovered that square pegs beget square pegs. I forgive the embarrassed square child within me. I recognise that she was unique and trying to conform to something that wasn’t her. I’ve grieved for the child who didn’t become the unique individual she might have, and I’ve cried for the rebellious child who screamed when she was being made to fit.

And I’ve vowed to allow my children the freedom to be square pegs. And, yes, I’ll even encourage their square-peggedness.

Who knows what will happen, but I think I’ve made the right choice.

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(Published in the anthology, 'Jukebox', OOTA, 2013.)

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