When I was in high school I was very aware of not being The Populars, and at different times this could either be a good or bad thing. Bad; when it came to the lunch room, weekend parties, social events, and that time of the month. Good; when it came to needing fodder for my teenage angst-y poetry (see: Stripper name of Riley Jade, last entry).
Not being one of what I considered The Popular Crowd was also good for when I wanted to go out. As soon as I could drive, I started going to the bookstore near Roosevelt Field Mall nearly every night. I’d bring my marble notebooks and all of my bottled up frustration at the world (oh lunchroom tables, you are so cruel. Oh 17-year-old boy in math, why can’t you be romantic and refined?). I would drink coffee until the store closed and be downright happy with my loner self. Being that my mom was worried about my lack of social life, (and time spent on the computer, apparently with balding men who lived in their mothers basements) she never questioned my desire to go out.
I was told by well-meaning adults my entire non-adult life that high school was just a very small slice of time, and that once it was over, ‘I’d be glad’, ‘See that life isn’t really like that’, ‘move onwards and upwards’, but what they don’t tell you is that if you are socially awkward in high school, chances are, you’ll carry that little chip on your shoulder for a lot longer than the four years you were ‘contained in the prison’.
Case in point: We’ve discussed already that I have two children (until two weeks from now, when I will have three children and no sanity). They are Sam and Marilyn, they are both (of course) beautiful, bright and hysterically funny. They both go to school (Sam is in first grade, and Marilyn is in preschool) and are able to make friends in the fluid, easy kind of way that happens when the option of saying “Hi my name is ______, want to be my friend?” is available to you.
I am their mother, and this option is not available to me (I’ve tried it, at the park, out of desperation, it normally ends with a queer kind of stare and the slow backing up of the person I tried it on). But, being that I love and care for them, and wish them enduring success in their friendships, I press onwards, in my mission to make friends.
I often feel pangs of anxiety when a birthday invitation comes home for one of them. I will have conversations with my husband that begin and end like this:
Me: “Soo…. do we have plans for [insert date of party?]
Husband: “I don’t know. Why?” (this is my attempt to trap him into committing)
Me: “[Insert child] was invited to a party. Do you want to take them?” (this is where I will start coughing in an attempt to make myself look pitiful and maybe coming down with a violent cold)
Husband: “No! It will be all moms there. I hate when I am the only dad”
And to his credit, normally, it is all moms there. Unfortunately for us, my better half is one of those people who can talk to anyone, about anything. He possesses the kind of skills in conversation that I find both incredibly attractive and strangely upsetting (why can’t I do that? how does he do that? why won’t he teach me? is he hiding an instruction manual?) so I find myself packing up beautiful birthday gifts and cards and trudging to the slow and painful death that is a child’s birthday party.
Example 1: Do I stay or do I go?
Sam was in kindergarten last year and a new phenomenon began occurring. Parents were dropping their children at birthday parties and running away. I walked into several such scenarios with mouth agape, the horror that I had missed my chance to make friends with his peers parents settling into my bones with unease. (Where would I ever see these people now? How would I make playdates? The very idea of plucking their phone numbers from the school roster gave me a headache).
Do I stay? I would ask myself, do I stay and make friends with the hostess, or other parents who would hopefully stay out of guilt or fear of child abduction. Or do I go? I would look longingly at the exit of whatever place held me captive. The idea of two solid hours in the solitude of the nearest Starbucks was too tempting. The option of running away from having to make adult friends too tantalizing. I would bolt, every single time.
Example 2: You have another child
As soon as the elation hit, it would be taken away. Mere months of parties had passed between when The Drop-off phenomenon began occurring and when Marilyn’s first birthday party invitation arrived in her cubby.
“Shit” is the word I exclaimed upon seeing the invite, followed immediately by, “Marilyn, do not repeat that, that’s a potty word.” So another weekend morning found me fluffing tissue paper and signing birthday cards for a child whose name I was certain I had heard only a handful of times, but now that a coveted party had been sprung upon us, was Marilyn’s ‘very best friend, very very very best friend’.
Three years old is too young to do the drop and run, I quickly gathered from the room crammed with cake, presents, and parents on their i-phones. “Shit” I said in all my expansive vocabulary and Marilyn, smart as a whip, cocked her head towards me and said “Mommy, that is absolutely a potty word”.
Children can not be less bothered by an adults unease. You can learn this (with or without children of your own) the next time you are at a grocery store and witness a child go absolutely boneless because a parent refuses their favorite cereal. Or when you witness a full on tantrum because there are no pennies to be thrown into a fountain. In this case, it was that parents stood around at awkward shut-off angles staring glassy-eyed at their Facebook accounts or sports reports while their children blissfully ran off to play. We were like puppies leashed outside while our people went shopping.
But I was well versed at being socially awkward and so had prepared in advance. I had a fully charged phone and had installed the UNO! app just the previous day. Bring on two hours of silence. Except that’s when it happened. My phone rang. In a moment of cool-mom euphoria the previous day I had also downloaded “Gangnam Style” as my ringtone. My six-year-old demanded it (he also has a habit of requesting LMFAO’s “I’m sexy and I know it” whenever I pick him up from school. I drive a minivan, this is so not okay).
If you don’t know Psy’s ”Gangnam Style” song, I urge you to listen to it, and then imagine my sheer horror as parents all around the room turned (slow motion of course) to stare at the parent who would dare to allow her childs virgin ears to be assaulted by such a ringtone.
But what happened was amazing, two mothers edged ever closer to where I was sitting.
“My daughter is in love with Nicki Minaj” she tells me. “Do you know how hard it is to find the ‘clean’ versions to her songs?” The other mother chimed in “Just try listening to Justin Beiber’s ‘Baby Baby’ for the four-thousandth time” and she made the universal barfing motion (finger in the mouth).
I sat back and smiled. Sometimes being socially inept means identifying with your kids more than other adults, and doing what you know will make your children laugh out loud despite the mortification you will feel every time your phone rings in public. And today? It meant Chip On Shoulder: 0 Awkward Mom: 1.