I was in Orlando, Florida with the marching band, and because no one had wanted to room with me, not even the flag girls, I ended up in the extra bed of a room shared by a group of the Popular Girls. One was a cheerleader. Another was a star soccer player. And I was the girl no one wanted in their room only because there happened to be an extra bed.
Every year the band raised money to travel to a new location for a performance and that year we were all about Mickey and Epcot and All Things Disney. We had plenty of time to tour the park outside of our performance commitment, and I blissfully attached myself to the room number my roommates shared because that was my only proof that I belonged anywhere.
Until the high school seniors I had leeched onto very kindly sat me down and haltingly explained that we might share a room, but that didn't mean I was their friend.
Even while they said the words and I crumbled inside, I knew they were right. And because I had felt lost, I attached myself to their group without asking if they minded. I'm not mad at them for doing what they did. I'm grateful, actually, because as I found myself wandering BlogHer13 happily alone at times, I thought about the parallels to the insecure 16-year-old who just needed to belong.
A lot has changed. A lot has stayed the same. I might still have bad days, but I'm also arrived in Chicago with only the MultiCulti on my schedule and left proud of myself for going with the flow. I've read posts by friends about their jam-packed schedules and am thrilled they had so much to do and choose from. But I'm thrilled for them.
I was thrilled to have time to take my daughter to the American Girl Store and decided at the last minute that I just had to get to the Voices of the Year where I had the opportunity to tell Dresden Schumaker, one of last year's speakers, that her words still stuck with me and I thanked her for sharing them. Imagine my surprise when she congratulated me on my column and I managed not to blurt out "you know who I am?"
Dresden did. And she made me smile.
I wandered the hotel lobby and ran into Elisa All, founder of 30 second mom, and one of my favorite bosses of all time. I found Deborah Cruz and Jenny Chiu and hugged them both because karma was kind and our paths were meant to cross in a place where hugs and verbal validation were possible. I met a woman working on a documentary about lead poisoning in America and am committed to helping promote her work because it is simply amazing. I inspired a woman to start the blog that made her smile just talking about it and she made sure to find me again and thank me. And then I thanked her for reminding me why I live for the chance hallway/bathroom/elevator meetups.
For me, these stolen moments are the heart of the conference experience. I can plan anything. I'll miss half of it. I always do. But the paths I'm meant to cross and the connections waiting to be made if I'm open to the opportunities as they present themselves? That's why I go.
The only difference between 16-year-old me and 35-year-old-me is that today, I'm perfectly content to wander independently, and that my friends, is fucking empowering.