Square Pegs–How to Fit in When the World is Round – Cardinal Rule Press
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Square Pegs–How to Fit in When the World is Round

Square pegs in a round hole—an expression you may have heard before. Usually referring to someone or something that, for one reason or another, doesn’t ‘fit’. It’s a square peg and a round hole, after all. Conceptually, this can’t fit. This metaphor can be so relatable that I would bet almost anyone can draw from their life and see what about them is square and what’s the round hole in their way. 

Maybe you hate small talk (square peg), but sometimes life demands it (round hole). Maybe you hate stiff, itchy dress clothes (square peg) but your job requires them (round hole). Maybe you need complete quiet when studying (square peg) but your roommate loves playing music (round hole). Or maybe there are way too many people at the party (square peg) but you’re not supposed to leave early because, well, that would be ‘rude’ (round hole).   

These examples are just the tip of the square iceberg. We all have a little ‘squareness’ about us and those square corners have us bumping around the holes like a pinball machine. 

But the problem isn’t our squareness, because there’s nothing wrong with being square. Our squareness defines us, strengthens us, teaches us, makes us laugh, empowers us, allows us to achieve all our dreams. It’s what makes us who we are. 

The problem is that the world is round and isn’t made to accommodate other shapes. 

Any type of marginalization applies—gender, ability, race, religion, income, sexuality, social taboos, etc. It’s anything that makes it loud and clear that you’re not like everyone else in the room. The sharpness of our square(s) will play a big part in what happens next. 

For some of us, we can maneuver around life and our squareness with a decent level of ease because we’re not that square. We adapt, adjust, find out what works for us, etc. It’s more of an inconvenience than an actual issue.  

But what if everything about you is square and life is filled with one round hole after another? What if you find yourself constantly squeezing your way through life because your square corners are too sharp, and your square lines are too long? 

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What do you do when this world wasn’t made for you at all? 

That’s what it’s like for my family. I have 3 children and 2 of them are neurodivergent (ND), which essentially means that their brains are different from what’s considered baseline, or neurotypical (NT). 

And sadly, this world was not made for them. 

The more I learn about my children and their squareness, the more they show me how round—or ableist—this world really is.

 They also show me just how square I am. 

It wasn’t until I had my first ND child that I started seeing my own neurodivergence. He is my mirror. When I see him, I see me. I know how he feels. I can anticipate his next move. I can even tell when he’s about to melt down by just seeing the back of his head. (His shoulders tense up in the SLIGHTEST of ways and everything locks into place. Seriously, if you blink, you’ll miss it.) But I know him because I am him. The only difference is I’m undiagnosed. These mirrored discoveries have slowly evolved into me self-identifying as ND. Honestly, it’s provided a lot of relief, because I finally have an explanation of why some things are so challenging for me. 

My other child is more of a window than mirror for me. I almost never see myself in him and it’s been fun getting to know his beautiful brain. His squareness and round holes are different from mine, but the end result is still ableism. 

Life is constantly telling my family, “No, not like that,” when we are, in fact, like that. We’re left questioning ourselves all the time even though we’re doing nothing wrong. We’re just trying to live our lives, but the round holes have convinced us that our shape is the problem. So, if we want to fit in, we’re going to have to change. 

And we want to fit in. We want to belong. That’s a basic human need. 

So, we mask, or hide, our ND traits to fit. We pretend to get the joke because everyone just started laughing. We swallow our tears because we’re embarrassed to cry in front of others. We hide our tics because we don’t want anyone to see.We hold in every emotion, every doubt, every confusion, every fidget, every frustration all day, until we can come home--where it’s safe--and let it all out. Home is the one place most of us can really be ourselves. But it’s literally the only place for many ND people. 

We need to do something about the round holes.

This doesn’t mean we change what’s already working for someone. It means we change what isn’t. This is what accommodations are; meeting people exactly where they’re at, and accommodating their support needs. Understanding and celebrating that we all have different needs is a beautiful first step to a more inclusive world. 

Doing something about the round holes deconstructs the status quo and gets rid of the ‘this is how we’ve always done it,’ mentality. 

It’s letting your kid dress up as himself for Halloween so that he’s comfortable that night, and you celebrate his agency and creativity. 

It’s making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your child every time they don’t like what you made for dinner because smell and texture is a big deal, and you need your child to eat. 

It’s asking someone if they’d even want to be sung to on their birthday because after all, it’s their birthday. (Seriously–cringiest 15 seconds every year for me.)

And it is definitely leaving that party early because you love yourself and wellbeing way more than ableist social norms. 

As a children’s writer and ‘bookstagrammer,’ I often focus on anti-ableist stories that offer disability representation in a beautiful, dignifying way and highlights the necessity of an anti-ableist world. Historically and currently, the representation isn’t as vast as I’d hoped–or as dignifying, because toxic positivity isn’t doing anyone any favors–but it’s slowly getting better, and I look forward to the day where bookshelves are overflowing with these stories.

Until then, I’ll continue to do something about the round holes. Join me!

The world may be round, but we don’t have to be. 

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Jenn Kim is a former educator, turned writer and children’s ‘bookstagrammer,’ on Instagram (@squarepegsroundworld). She lives in Southern California with her sweet family and loves being able to wear sandals 365 days a year (366 this year!). Communicating in gifs and memes is her love language and she considers ice cream to be a food group. If you can’t find her on Instagram, gushing about the latest children’s book, she’s probably at the bookstore. She loves writing stories that reflect her beautiful biracial and neurodiverse family, and dreams of the day she’ll see one of those stories on the shelves.

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