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Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

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Is it weird that I envy other shoppers’ relationships with the cashiers at my grocery store? It’s probably a little weird, right? Sometimes I am waiting there with my items on the belt as the person ahead of me pays for her groceries, and I catch little clips of her conversation with the cashier… and some people seem to know so! much! about each other! Like they’re old friends, talking about their aging mothers or their new babies or a college-age child coming home for the weekend.

How does a person get to be that familiar with a person she sees for five minutes once a week? (Or more. My in laws are in town and that plus Extra Birthday Baking I’ve been doing for Carla means that I’ve been to the grocery store A Lot lately.) There are members of the grocery store staff that I recognize – like Dan the fish guy, who gave Carla about 50 samples of fish one Saturday before very kindly telling her that this was the last one, okay?, because he needs to save some for other people (I should have stopped her after sample 1, but it was a food that she liked that didn’t come in a package and end in ­–able, so I kept my mouth shut). Or the super nice lady behind the prepared foods counter, with whom I once in a fit of bravery exchanged names, but whose name I then promptly forgot and have never remembered because she doesn’t wear a name tag and obviously I am not brave enough to ask her again. Or the cashier who is really terrific at fitting every single thing into the exact number of bags I have no matter how much junk I’ve loaded into my cart. Or the guys who load my bags into my car, and who are always super nice to Carla (seriously, they have been so kind to her I have sent positive comments to the store manager). But I barely know their names, let alone any details of their personal lives.

(My grocery store is pretty great. I have only ever had three negative experiences with the staff there. One is with a different, non-Dan fish guy who has NO IDEA how to butcher a fish properly and leaves scales all over the fish he cuts for me. Yuck. And ALSO, probably because he is not a good fish butcher, he made a snide comment about how lucky I was that he was removing the skin from my salmon because most stores charge for that. No one had ever once told me that wasn’t a thing a could ask for at the fish counter! And yes, I DO appreciate that they do it, and do it for free! Blah! Thanks for making me feel guilty about something I have asked for literally hundreds of times!!! This is the most privileged paragraph in history! My Coping Mechanism has been to refuse to buy fish when he is on duty. The other was with a cashier who kept insisting that I could – and should – get Carla a free cookie one afternoon because Carla was crying. Crying because she was not allowed to have the free cookie, the eating of which had been contingent on her good behavior during the shopping trip. “Awww! She wants a cookie!” * heaving sobs * “I know she does, but we’re not getting a cookie today.”  * pitiful sniffles * “You can get one right over there!” * wailing *  “Yes, I know, but we’re not getting a cookie today.” * enormous tears * “But they’re free!” “She can’t have a cookie.” * louder wailing *)

Whatever. Maybe more in-depth relationships with my local grocery store staff will come, after I’ve been shopping there for a few decades. Or maybe my relationship level is perfect as is. I don’t know – it can go too far the other way, I suppose.  There’s a checker at my Target who is WAY too overfriendly. She could be the inspiration for that old Kristen Wiig Target Lady sketch on SNL. She’s always commenting on my purchases and asking me where I got them and what I’m going to do with them. And while I am not averse to the occasional curious question or comment – I mean, if you just bought the exact brand of nail polish I am buying, I would love to hear how it looks out of the bottle – this particular checker comments on Every. Single. Item. The last time I saw her, we had a long conversation about couscous and what to serve it with and she also praised my choice of wrapping paper and then asked me if I like the eye drops I was getting. It’s very tedious and I don’t think the people in line behind me appreciate it too much.

Worse than the running commentary is that she makes these vague upsetting references to her life that I don’t know what to do with. Like she’ll say, “How are you today?” and I’ll say, “Fine! How are you?” And she’ll say, “Well, as good as can be expected, I guess.” And then at the end of our transaction, I’ll say, “Have a great day!” and she’ll respond despondently, “I doubt that I will, but thanks anyway.” And she’s been even more gloomy than that, with broad sweeping comments about how life certainly isn’t fair for everyone is it. And I just don’t have any idea how to respond! Am I supposed to ask, while the line grows behind me, while Carla gets more and more antsy, what’s going on with her? Part of me wants to take her out for coffee and let her vent for an hour. And the other part of me wants to say, “We are not close enough for you to say things like that to me!”  My strategy so far has been to listen to whatever she is saying and nod empathetically and then say, “See you next time!” as I leave. On a human level, I want to be kind to her and help her in any way I can. But on a reality level, I don’t have the bandwidth to be a stranger’s support system. (Are there any little, low-bandwidth kindnesses I can extend to her… without being condescending or overly familiar?)

This whole long build up is all to say that I already have anxiety surrounding my interactions with the staff at my grocery store.

So the other day, I put the divider on the conveyor belt to separate my groceries from the person before me. The cashier was still scanning the items for the person ahead of me. But she smiled at me and said, “Hello!” And I smiled and said hello back. A minute or so later, as I was finishing unloading my cart, she handed the prior shopper her receipt and looked at me and said again, “Hello! How are you? Where’s the little one today?” in this super cheerful way. Everyone at the grocery store loves Carla. And so I smiled at her and said, “I’m good! Carla’s at camp today. How are you?” And reached into my cart for the last bag and in doing so saw the person behind me to whom the cashier was actually speaking.

Then of course I had to endure the shame and humiliation of THAT as she rang up my entire cart of groceries and asked me again — me, this time — how I was, and instead of responding — AGAIN — to her pity question, I kind of shrugged and smiled and said NOTHING.

And then I burst into flames.

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Yesterday we had a Parent Appreciation Luncheon at Carla’s school and I am still reeling from the experience.  Reeling may not be the right word. Perhaps “steeped in self pity” is more accurate, I’m not sure, I am destined to fail at all things including appropriate word choice.

At the top of the luncheon, all the kids in the entire grade got up and did a little song and dance routine. It was very cute. And then they got to usher us to our seats in the cafeteria and then we all ate lunch(eon) together. There was a lot of down time at the beginning while the teachers corralled all the kiddos and got them pointed in the right direction. Which meant that there was plenty of time for me to be SUPER socially awkward and inept and anxious about it.

Let’s just get one frustrating thing out of the way right up front, which is that my husband wasn’t able to make it to the luncheon. And yes, he’s on call, and yes, I’m sure there were single parents in the mix, and even in the case of two-parent households, I’m sure that other parents weren’t able to make it, and/or they have been at their jobs longer than my husband has been at his and feel more comfortable taking off in the middle of the day and/or have spouses who were more persistent about reminding them to find some way to take the time off, but it SEEMED like every child there had two parents except Carla, including two other physicians, which at baseline made me a) feel guilty and b) feel lonely. If my husband had been there, I could have at least talked exclusively to him, instead of sitting there mentally rending my garments as I tried desperately to gather the courage to go talk to someone.

While we were waiting for the kids to set up, I saw another mom that I have been friendly with in the past. If I’m being honest, I wish she were my best friend: she’s so lovely and put together and smart and friendly and kind. She started talking to me, which was nice. But then one of her friends came up to us, and the two of them started talking, and I started to panic. Was I supposed to join in the conversation, about things they have in common and about which I know nothing? Was I supposed to excuse myself and go… stand in a corner? I ended up doing neither, and just stood there silently with what I hoped was a calm, friendly, I’m-a-good-listener smile plastered on my face and nodded along with them. They were nice about it, making eye contact with me occasionally as though I were part of the conversation. It’s not like I was entirely mute; I tried to make interested-sounding noises even though I was much too panicked to focus on what they were saying. And then another friend of theirs came up and joined in and I just kept standing there, my anxiety flinging itself against the inside of my brain like a fish trying to escape its tank, and I tried to ask questions where I could – but they were obviously “I am making conversation” questions and not “I’m part of the conversation” questions, you know? – and tried to laugh and continue to make “I’m totally taking part in this discussion” noises. And the cafeteria was super hot and I started sweating and I became uncomfortably aware of the inside of my mouth and how my breath could not be great even though I definitely brushed and flossed before I came. And I didn’t know the other moms at all, or who their kids were, and – as is always the case anyway – I couldn’t figure out the rhythm of the conversation well enough to interject with a new subject or a related anecdote or a pertinent question. Not that I could properly follow along with the conversation anyway; as I mentioned before, I was too focused on all the THINGS going on in my head to focus on what they were saying.

Finally, a teacher called us to attention and we got to watch the kids’ little performance, which was a nice break. The ladies I’d been “talking with” drifted off to find their spouses and I stood by myself, clutching my sweater (why had I brought a sweater when clearly I’d entered one of the flaming hottest circles of hell???) and my purse and my desire to leave immediately and/or melt into the floor.

And then it was “luncheon” time, and once again I had to navigate the extreme horror of talking to a parent I don’t know that well. This time, across the table. Unfortunately, this parent was either as shy/uncomfortable as I am, or she had already written me off as no use to her. So my lame attempts at conversation were met with single word answers and apparent disinterest. You’d think this would be a good thing! Lets me off the hook, right? But instead, I kept trying to make lame small talk because I wanted her to like me. Obviously she wasn’t talking to me because she’d written me off as Not Worthy of Her Time, right? Okay, okay, so possibly she was having her own inner freak out about having to talk to me and fending off similar worries. Either way, I don’t hold it against her.

Fortunately, Carla was with me at this point, so I could direct most of my attention to her. But as we lunched, I was very aware of all the other parents in the room, laughing and chatting and having a great time. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who doesn’t like groups/crowds/forcible mingling. But it never FEELS like there are others. Instead, it feels like everyone else finds social interaction super easy, and, not only that, but fun, which I find incomprehensible. I long for “easy.” Fun is a pipe dream.

Finally, when I was able to escape, I ran into a couple of familiar couples on the way down the hall. They are all super nice and friendly, but they were in couples, and seemed to be talking to each other, and plus one of the women was the woman whose friend-group I’d horned in on earlier and she was almost certainly done with conversational babysitting, so I tried to smile and make nice friendly noises, but then I motored on past to leave the school and get in my car and go far far away. And as I was doing that, I was mentally chiding myself for avoiding them instead of trying to interact with them. You can’t make friends with people if you dart past them every time you see them! Friendships are not built on awkward smiles and waves and “have a great day”s tossed over your shoulder! (Why not, though?)

And I DO wish I were friends with more of the parents at Carla’s school. So many of them seem great! But the way you get to know people is by talking to them during these school events, and I get so flustered and self-conscious that I just can’t do it. It’s moderately okay one on one, but when there are two or more people, I stop being able to think. I have no idea how to join the flow of conversation. I have no idea what to say. I often walk past little clusters of moms in the hallway after drop off and wonder what in the hell are they talking about?!?! I have no clue, absolutely none.

And then I go home and feel horrible, as I did yesterday. And the bad feelings remain. I feel lonely and isolated, which are terrible feelings to begin with. But then I also feel culpable, because it’s my own fault I don’t have friends. It can’t be THAT hard! Other people do it all the time! There must be something wrong with me that I am always and forever on the outside.

Hence the pity party.

We have a big Parent Breakfast coming up, as part of the kids’ transition into kindergarten. (KINDERGARTEN. Let’s reserve that panic attack for another post.) So I anticipate more of the same sweaty awkwardness and wallflowering and self-loathing to follow in a few short days! Yay!

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Sometimes I think one of my love languages is Buying Gifts. That’s probably not the right term but I don’t feel like walking down the hall to get the book and read it. Also, I think “love language” refers to how you prefer to be treated, not how you treat others – and I don’t particularly like receiving gifts, so maybe love language is not the right term at all.

Let’s start over:

I LIKE TO BUY GIFTS FOR PEOPLE.

However, I also possess a distinctly challenging personality trait that makes it difficult to actually BUY GIFTS FOR PEOPLE. What I’m saying is that I have severe gift-giving anxiety (undiagnosed). So what happens is I get all excited about buying someone a present… and then I get all weird and hand-wringy about it.

Here’s my normal thought process:

1. This is the perfect occasion to buy a gift for Person In My Life!

2a. Yay! I have a great idea for what to get PIML, too!

2b. Crud. I have NO IDEA what to buy.

3a. Is it too expensive? Maybe I shouldn’t get it.

3b. Nothing seems right. Maybe I shouldn’t get anything.

4. No! Don’t be like that! Allow yourself to give in to your positive intention!

5a. You’re totally right! The gift is in my shopping cart!

5b. You’re totally right! Spend way too much time finding the perfect gift and then finally adding it to my shopping cart!

6. Wait a second. What if PIML doesn’t like the gift?

7. What if PIML feels uncomfortable that I got a gift at all? Maybe it’s for a weird occasion or the PIML doesn’t think we’re that close or the gift itself is weird?

8. What if PIML thinks the gift is too expensive?

9. What if PIML thinks the gift is too cheap?

10. What if PIML feels beholden to me after receiving a gift? Or now feels obligated to buy ME a gift?

11. What if this changes my relationship with PIML?

12. Okay, there’s no real need to buy the gift right this second. Just take a step back and think about it.

13. ** time passes **

14. Crap. Now it is way too late to send a gift.

I would like to say, in a non-blaming way, that my husband plays a role in this process as well. He is usually of the opinion, “You don’t NEED to get a gift for that person!” Which is true! Always! No one needs a gift! But then I start doubting whether I should get a gift for that person, if it’s weird or overstepping or whatever (see Steps 6-11) above. When the gift is from both of us, that also adds a wrinkle to the gift-giving process, because then I feel like I should consult with my husband about what the gift should be, how much it should cost, etc. And that takes time, and some back and forth, and so Step 13 stretches out and out and out until we crash right into Step 14.

As long as I’m confessing things, I might as well let you know that sometimes I actually DO purchase the gift. And THEN I go through Steps 6-11. And the gift just sits there, forever and ever. The same can be said for cards. I buy them, then never send them. WHYYYYYYY.

This is a trait that I really dislike about myself. It is a variation on one of my other Most Reviled Personal Traits, which is procrastination. It has prevented me, in the past, from sending wedding gifts and baby gifts and sympathy cards that I really SHOULD HAVE. Missed opportunities that probably made a negative impression on or caused hurt feelings for the would-be recipient. Which causes me anxiety as well, plus embarrassment and guilt. I have dabbled with the idea of being A Person Who Doesn’t Send Gifts, which is a fine, perfectly reasonable person to be. But that hasn’t really STUCK.

So! Brisk clap! I am trying to combat my gift-giving anxiety. And this summer, I have had some success, I think!

  • Wedding gift for my cousin and her new wife
  • High school graduation present for my cousin
  • College graduation present for my other cousin
  • Birthday present for my daughter’s best friend
Birthday gift 1

I think it was this one. May have been something similar but not exact, though. (image from amazon.com)

  • Birthday present for another of my daughter’s friends
Birthday gift 2

Again, I can’t remember if it was exactly this one or not. (image from amazon.com)

  • Cute his and hers barware for a friend’s engagement
Engagement Gift

I do wish they were the same size/type of glass because it kind of seems like it’s insinuating that the woman should drink LESS than the man, although I admit I don’t know whether they hold the same amount of liquid that’s what it SEEMS to be saying, judgmental much glasses? but WHATEVER. They were cute. My friend and her fiancé drink beer. The end. (image from katespade.com)

  • Baby present plus older brother present for a friend’s new baby girl

(clothing image from nordstrom.com; book and Melissa & Doug puzzle set images from amazon.com)

  • Baby present plus older sister present for another friend’s new baby boy

FOX IN SUNGLASSES SWEATER. (clothing images from nordstrom.com; book and princess castle tent images from amazon.com)

  • Interesting bookmark for a friend
Bookmark

The one I got is NOT this one, but very similar. (image from mitercraft.com)

  • Housewarming gift for a friend
Housewarming Gift

Not exactly this, but CANDLES from WickHabit. (image from etsy.com)

  • Thank-you gifts for my daughter’s daycare teachers (cute personalized tumbler plus a $5 Starbucks gift card)
Teacher Gift

These are from the LuckyLilyDesigns Etsy shop and they EXACTLY as cute in person. I love them. (image from etsy.com)

  • And I am planning to (once I talk to my husband about it and help him move beyond his [possible] [likely] inclination to NOT do it) get cookies or chocolates or doughnuts or something for the entire daycare staff on my daughter’s last day, but I haven’t gotten beyond the Step 2b fretting-about-the-gift-possibilities stage on that yet.

So. I think I am making some progress, considering that I am TERRIBLE AT GIVING GIFTS.

Oh, yes. Looking specifically at the teacher thank-yous and the baby gifts up there, I realize ANOTHER aspect of my gift-giving issues: Sometimes, I start to go overboard. I get Christmas Stocking Syndrome, and start panicking about “what if it’s not enough?” and “maybe I should just throw this last little thing in here” and “oh look at this cute little extra that would be so fun!” That is how the Starbucks gift cards got added to the teacher presents (what if they hate the tumblers? what if this is a case of “you should have just given a gift card”?) and how the little board books got added to the baby presents (oh but they are under $6! And this is Carla’s FAVORITE story when she was a baby!). (And also how I added a bottle of nail polish and a tub of EOS lip balm – which is the same duo I got from a dear friend after I had Carla – to my Amazon order so I could add a little mother-self-care giftlet to each baby gift.) Giving in to Christmas Stocking Syndrome feels good at the time, but then afterward makes me worry – yet again – that I’ve been too flamboyant or overly aggressive with my gifting.

But! I am going to ignore my CSS Panic about the baby and teacher gifts and MOVE FORWARD!

In the interest of full disclosure, the engagement gift, baby gifts, and bookmark have all been purchased but not actually wrapped or sent to the recipients yet. The housewarming gift (which will be candles, from Wick Habit) has not yet been purchased. And two of the three teacher gifts are wrapped but won’t be handed out until my daughter’s last day at daycare.

PHEW. Now that I see that list, I feel both happy and relieved and also a little bit ACK! because that is a lot of money. BUT. I think each of those gifts was appropriate and I don’t think any of them was too expensive if taken singularly. And anyway, one should not think too much of TOTAL COST lest it dampen the generous impulse!

I am going to go wrap the engagement gift and then put the bookmark in the mail RIGHT NOW!

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It is really too late to fret about this now, because it’s HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND, but that means I’m in Prime Fretting Headspace.

We are having Carla’s birthday party this weekend, and TWENTY PEOPLE will be here. Okay, eighteen. But that’s VERY CLOSE TO TWENTY. I have never had so many people at my house before.

Things that I am fretting over:

1. The Food: Because my husband has kindly and gently pointed out that one of the reasons I find entertaining so stressful, we are outsourcing the food. We are getting a big sandwich tray, along with some pasta salad, and some chips. I am TRYING to resist the urge to make homemade guacamole and salsa. We’ll see if I succeed.

I also really REALLY wanted to make macarons, but my husband gently and kindly persuaded me not to. And he’s right: they are time intensive and also finicky and I can imagine the feet not setting correctly and feeling frustrated and panicked. So. No macarons. Instead, we are ordering an ice cream cake.

Will we have enough food? Will people like it?

And what about alcohol? How much beer and wine do you need to buy for twelve adults? We don’t have anything resembling a cooler, so I bought two big plastic tubs from Target for $5.99 apiece that I’m planning to fill with ice and drinks.

Besides beer and wine, what’s appropriate to offer as drinks? I got some bottled water (although Target didn’t have EITHER Dasani or Aquafina – my preferred brands – and I had to buy Ice Mountain instead) and a box of fun-sounding La Croix. We have tons of diet soda already, but we don’t drink non-diet soda. Do we need to buy any?

2. The Décor: This is supposed to be a birthday party, so I want it to be somewhat festive. But I also don’t want to go too overboard. My ORIGINAL idea was to match the decorations to Carla’s dress, which is orange and blue and white.

 

Birthday dress

It’s from Gymboree and it looks like I’m going to have to IRON the hem.

So I got some navy blue plates and cups and napkins and tablecloth and balloons and a “Happy Birthday” banner from Target. And some of those little poof things you hang from the ceiling. And a little banner for the cake. Man, Target really knows how to get you to spend a LOT of money on single-use stuff.

Blue party supplies

Image from Target.com

But I cannot find coordinating ORANGE decorations anywhere! Even my local Party Place only had about five orange balloons. I guess that will have to be enough.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did find the following from Amazon. But they are asking $12.95 for eight settings. Target charges $2.00 for 10 9-inch plates, $3.00 for 10 cups, $2.00 for 20 napkins.

Orange plates

Image from Amazon.com

Dammit, now I see that Target has orange party supplies ONLINE, so I could have ordered them! But now I am out of time! ACK.

And I was going to do blue macarons and orange macarons. But THAT’S not happening. So now I’m feeling like the décor will be half-assed.

3. The State of My House, Indoors and Outdoors: My house is my house, right? But whenever actual PEOPLE are going to spend time here, I start worrying about whether it is too shabby or too dirty or too cramped. Do we have enough chairs? No, no we don’t. Is there enough room in the living room? Nope, not at all.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and we can divide our time between inside and being in the backyard. I mean, I am REALLY counting on being able to throw all six of the kids into the yard so they can play.

But the deck is… well, if we are being charitable, it is “distressed” at best. And the latticework that ostensibly keeps creatures from setting up apartments under the deck is very beat up. The long side that faces the yard has fallen in completely, and it looks terrible. But THAT’S not going to be different by this weekend.

And I have been spending ALL SUMMER searching for cushions for our rag-tag collection of seating on the deck with NO LUCK. So finally this past weekend, in a panic, I ordered some things that might (fingers crossed) work, and those are going to arrive tomorrow HOPEFULLY.

What if it RAINS? What in heaven’s name will I do with six toddlers? I suppose I could spend a couple of hours making the basement more child-friendly, and just toss them all down there.

4. Entertainment for the Kids: I think here is one area where I am allowing COMPARISONS to freak me out. We recently went to a birthday party where the kids were all playing outside while the adults were eating and drinking. And somehow THAT party has become The Benchmark, and I know – I KNOW – Carla’s party won’t measure up.

It was her best friend’s party. And they have different circumstances than we do. A much larger house and yard, for one thing. And a nanny-share situation that means they have a TON of toys. But the party included: a massive trampoline, a bounce house, a mini-swimming pool, and a sprinkler.

We just don’t have those things, and nor would I want ANY of them, really. But since we DON’T have any of those things, I am fretting about what the kids will DO outside.

My mother-in-law has apparently bought us some sort of sprinkling apparatus. We have a small water table. Carla has a little tiny play structure with a small slide and a little hidey-hole underneath. She has a table with benches and an umbrella. She has a mini-trampoline that one person can use. There are various balls and bats and a little lawnmower. I think the kids will have things to play with. No one is going to be standing in the middle of the yard, staring in boredom at the grass.

I didn’t feel like doing gift bags (is this the wrong way to go?), but I did get every child a bubble wand. So they can play with bubbles.

Is this enough?

I am fighting the urge to hire a magician or that guy who comes equipped with turtles and armadillos and an alligator.

5. The Mix of People: We have invited:

  • Family A: One of our closest friend families. One of our family friend families. A family of close friends.
  • Family B: Another family that we’ve known for years but don’t see as often.
  • Family C: Another family that we’ve known for years, and frankly I would LOVE to get to know them better, but until now we have only seen them when our parents and their parents get together.
  • Family D: My husband’s parents.
  • Family E: The parents of Family C.

So… Family A and Family B have met once or twice. Family C obviously knows Family D and Family E. We know everyone. But will they all find things to talk about? Will Family C feel awkward/left out? Will the Families of Parents feel like they are just there as add-ons? Will all our kids get along?

I am trying very hard to remember that MANY people are not as socially anxious as I am. And that Family A and Family B – at least – are super friendly and outgoing and can talk to anyone. And Family C is super nice and friendly, although I can’t speak to whether they are introverts or not.

The other thing I am trying to remember is that if I were the guest at a similar party, I would soothe my own anxiety by knowing I could just talk to my husband or play with my kid if it felt too awkward with the other adults. People DO this kind of thing all the time. They all said “yes!” when I invited them; they are grown ups; they know what they are getting into; EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.

Once I have made it through this list, I loop back to whether the house is clean enough. We are having a cleaning person come Friday to clean, and that will take care of surface things like vacuuming and toilets and such. But then I think about things like, Oh no! Our baseboards are still green! And, The grout in our tile is horrendous! And, Why haven’t we hung up those six paintings on the wall yet? But am I going to paint the baseboards or clean the grout or magically hang a gallery wall of paintings in the next two days? No, no I am not.

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We are having guests over for dinner in a couple of weeks, and they have some food limitations. It is making meal planning a challenge – but a FUN challenge, because I want to find the correct combination of things that will make it enjoyable for them. The limitations are as follows:

  • One family member has celiac disease and cannot eat gluten.
  • One family member cannot eat milk products.
  • One family member is vegetarian.

I keep thinking of The Perfect Food! and then realizing it is totally not perfect. (Mushroom lasagna! I’ll just use gluten free noodles! Oh wait. Cheese.) The best option I have come up with is a make-your-own-sandwich bar, where we provide lots of meats and cheeses and veggies and breads – and include some gluten-free rolls on a separate plate. But… then again, what might a vegetarian eat on a sandwich? Marinated portabellas? I don’t like sandwiches, so I am not really the best person to plan a sandwich bar, I guess.

Maybe what I am talking myself into is, in fact, a big SALAD bar. Then I can completely skip the bread issue by not having ANY and I can include some chickpeas and kidney beans as proteins for the vegetarian?

But I am learning that gluten is a sneaky bugger, and so I will need to be really careful that none of the dressings have gluten. And now I am thinking, sadly, that maybe children will not be as diggety-down with the salad bar as the adults might be. I can picture my daughter eating a handful of cherry tomatoes and then filling her plate with air. She eats air most days, so it wouldn’t be a big departure but I try not to purposely make food I KNOW she won’t eat.

Okay. So we could… grill hot-dogs and hamburgers and some meat-free burgers or portabella steaks. (I read that hotdogs can have gluten, so I will need to be on the lookout for that.) And have gluten-free buns. And gluten-free-mac-and-cheese for the kids. That seems doable, I suppose. The problem is, always, the weather. Which may or may not cooperate. I would rather have an inside-the-house kind of option, I guess. That also ensures that my husband isn’t stuck at the grill all night.

We could do a taco bar… but we did that the last time we had this family over, and I had black beans as the non-meat protein and even though my vegetarian guest was super gracious and didn’t say ANYTHING, I don’t think it was the most satisfying meal. Plus, I have served tacos the last two times we have hosted people (two separate families, don’t worry) and I am kind of sick of them. I want to flex my hostessing muscles, you know?

I was playing around with the idea of a make-your-own-pizza kind of thing, with gluten-free crust as an option… and providing a bunch of meats and cheeses and vegetables and sauces… But I wonder if the absolutely delicious-sounding-to-ME idea of a rosemary and onion and thin-sliced potato pizza would actually appeal to the dairy-free guest. Plus, the logistics of getting everybody’s pizza into the oven at once or on a rotation that wouldn’t mean half of the people are starving makes me feel a little panicky. Possibly I could make small pizzas for the kids and then two large pizzas for the grown-ups? And both could be vegetarian and dairy free? THAT might be fun!

Then we get to dessert. I am planning to make macarons with jam filling, because they tick all the boxes. And I was thinking about buying a few pints of ice cream (we have a local ice creamery that makes vegan ice cream, which is gluten and dairy free) and having some sprinkles (although around here they are called “jimmies”) and chocolate flakes available. The kids would like that, I think.

I really really like this family. Our kids get along. We have a great time together. And it would be so nice if I could gain some comfort with cooking for them, so we’re not always trying to wrangle our kids at restaurants or having to bring in takeout. And, of course, on the flip side, it would be really nice if they could see me as a TRUSTWORTHY host, who would have things they can ALL eat, things that taste decent and are filling.

I suppose the smart thing would be to just call my friend and ASK HER, but I a) want to figure this out myself and b) don’t want to put her in the situation of being all, “Oh, whatever you do will be fine!” and then not enjoying herself.

So: Do YOU have any experience in making meals for anyone with the above food restrictions? Do you have any experience BEING the person with food restrictions? Do you think my pizza idea is totally crazy? HELP.

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So there’s this other little incident – no, it’s too small to call an incident… it’s more like a minor interaction – that’s been niggling at me lately. It’s not something I’ve been actively worrying over. More like, every once in a while it will pop into my head and I’ll roll it around a few times before something else takes its place.

It falls into the realm of etiquette, I suppose, or social graces. And it’s not a Big Deal, by any means. It’s just one of those things where I wish I knew the right way to behave, in case I encounter it again.

Anyway: Let’s say you have a group of friends who get together once a month or so at one friend’s house. We do this for my book club (although it’s been a woefully long time since we’ve met), and the host cooks a meal and the guests bring wine. Every guest brings a bottle of wine. Every time. This works GREAT, in my opinion.

But let’s say that YOUR group is less wine-focused. Not to say they don’t like alcohol! Oh no! But there’s a different understanding with this group. Or maybe it’s a lack of understanding. Or I don’t know.

So the host cooks a meal, and the guests bring… whatever they want.

Of course the guests always ASK, “What can I bring?” And the host always says, “Nothing! Just yourself!” But the guests feel (and I am 100% guilty of feeling this way!) like they can’t show up empty handed, so they bring something. Like cookies. Or chips. Or Bloody Mary mix. Or whatever. Sometimes wine isn’t an option!

Let me give you a real-life example. My husband and I were the hosts, and we hosted brunch. So we made a French toast casserole and some other carbs – seriously, there was nothing in the way of meat or fruit or vegetable ANYWHERE, not even eggs – and we had Champagne and orange juice and we were all set. And the guests all asked what they could bring and I said nothing, just yourselves… and then they showed up with stuff.

One guest brought… Champagne and orange juice. Another brought some sort of delicious pastry. Another brought some other sort of delicious pastry. And so on down the line. Seriously, carbs out the EARS.

It is my understanding that the number one rule of hosting etiquette is to make your guests feel comfortable, so even though I’d made enough food for all of us to eat twice, I popped open the extra Champagne and extra orange juice and set out plates and flatware for the additional pastries. The more the merrier, right?

Plus, I am an extremely picky eater. Doesn’t hurt my feelings if you want to bring something you KNOW you will like, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings if that’s all you end up eating.

The non-incident/minor interaction was that, at the end of the day, when the guests had left and my husband and I were surveying the carb carnage of our kitchen, I spotted one of the boxes of fancy pastries that one guest had brought: totally unopened. And it was a store-bought thing, so at least she hadn’t made it with her own two hands. But still, she saw it at the store and thought it looked good; she spent her money on it. And no one even OPENED IT. Ack.

As I roll this over and over in my head on occasion, I usually roll around to feeling like it’s okay, that truly no feelings were probably hurt. I was busy trying to keep glasses full and plates full and babies fed, and I just overlooked that little pastry box and I am sure my guest understood.

But this raises two questions:

1. If someone brings food or a beverage to a non-potluck dinner you prepare, even though you expressly said “Nothing! Just bring yourself!”, are you obligated to put it out?

Listen, I am pretty sure that on the other end of things, the being-a-guest end, etiquette guidelines (which I have…somewhere. I just don’t feel like clomping upstairs and rooting around in my bookshelves to find the appropriate book. Am lazy.) say that you should bring food/wine as a hostess gift and NOT expect it to be added to the menu plan. Your host has planned a specific meal, so you shouldn’t expect that your offering be anything but a gift for the host to enjoy after the fact. That is how I approach bringing things: this wine is for you to enjoy as you see fit. If that means opening it right now, so be it! If you want to save it until later and guzzle it up before you face the pile of dishes your guests created, that’s fine too!

But… I guess I lean toward putting the food out. Because I don’t know that other people have heard of that guideline. Certainly I have been in situations where someone provided wine and was miffed when she didn’t get to drink it during the dinner party. Or even concerned that the host didn’t like the gift.

If the host’s ULTIMATE goal is to make the guest feel comfortable, then I would put the food/wine out even at odds with my own planning rather than cause any potential disappointment or concern or hurt feelings.

It can be frustrating, though, if you have a special bottle of wine you want your guests to taste. Or if you spent all day making cupcakes, and now they have to share the spotlight with a guest’s handmade chocolate truffles or whatever.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you can deter people from bringing things. I have even tried the thing where you give them a specific item to bring: “Please bring a side dish. Please bring chips. Please bring beer or wine.” And they inevitably bring MORE THAN THAT.

WHY ARE PEOPLE SO GENEROUS AND NICE?!

Which brings me to my next question…

2. When can I comfortably LISTEN to the host and just NOT BRING ANYTHING?

My husband and I met with our group of friends again recently, and we went back and forth over what to bring. Should he make cookies? No, because what if our hostess made a special dessert? Should we bring wine? Seemed out of place for the meal we were having. What about bringing nothing? No, that seemed wrong – the hostess brought something when she was a guest at our house.

But of course, the hostess had prepared the entire meal, from bread to main course to dessert, and had plenty of drink options to boot. (We ended up bringing store-bought cookies, with the intention to offer them as a hostess gift rather than to expect they get set out with the food. But they were set out with the food anyway.) She certainly didn’t need our contribution. And we see her so often (once a month) that I know we’ll “repay” her for all the time and money she spent.

It just seems pointless and exhausting to keep bringing things that the host doesn’t want.

Of course, it seems LESS pointless if you are the only guest who shows up empty handed. But maybe if you do it enough, at enough houses, you will either get your message across or you will be booted from the group.

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