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Archive for the ‘Social Ineptitude’ Category

What is it about my brain that not only magnifies the awkwardness in a perfectly innocuous situation, but also dwells on it, for days afterward?

Well, that is what blogs are for, is it not?

I was at my favorite haunt, the grocery store, waiting at the deli for the lone deli slicer staff person to finish wrapping up another shopper’s Muenster. Carla was in school; it was early on a weekday, and the store was calm and nearly empty. The deli person asked what I needed, and I said “one third pound of honey ham, shaved please.”

And she poked around in the deli case, and said, “I have to go to the back to get a ham for you.”

Well, that was unusual. It took me a beat to recover, but then I tried to call after her because 1) I was sure she had misheard me and thought maybe I said some other ham; she hadn’t repeated “honey ham” and, more importantly and less revealing of the depth of my insecurities, 2) I could see an entire honey ham, right there in the case.

Well, of course I wondered whether maybe that was a display only honey ham. But, on the off chance it wasn’t, I didn’t want her to make a separate trip to the back.

But she had stopped just on the other side of the deli, and she was talking to someone anyway in a friendly fashion, so I called out, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” trying to get her attention.

A second deli person popped up out of nowhere and said, “Can I help you?” And I said, “The other woman was helping me, she said she had to go to the back to get a new honey ham, and I just wanted her to know that there’s a honey ham right here.”

But she interrupted me and said, “We have honey ham right here.” As though I were the one who had sent her colleague on such a frivolous errand.

“I know,” I said, smiling in a way I hoped conveyed that I was both conscious and conscientious, “I just wanted to let her know, so she didn’t have to run to the back for a honey ham when there is already one right here.”

And the woman said, “Yes, we have honey ham right here.” And blinked at me expectantly, awaiting, no doubt, my next nonsensical utterings. So now I’m struggling with wanting her to understand what I am saying and stop looking at me like I am asking her repeatedly whether I have a lobster attached to my face, but also maybe thinking she just didn’t hear me, but also not wanting to repeat myself a THIRD time, but also really wanting her to know the situation. Think of her colleague, seeking an unnecessary ham!

(The colleague was still chatting with her friend, which seemed to me a little callous; for all she knew, I was still standing there, anxiously awaiting ham.)

So I gave the second woman my order, and she grabbed some pre-cut (NOT shaved) ham from the case and then, perplexingly, said, “It’s only $1.99. Do you want more?”

Now, this ham is usually $6.99 a pound or something – I admit to not paying that much attention because a) I buy it infrequently and b) it’s really the only ham Carla eats, so I’m going to buy it anyway; it’s only a third of a pound – which is to say that I didn’t think she was referring to the per-pound cost of the ham. There’s a big board of daily specials on the counter, and the honey ham was not listed among them; I looked; it’s nice to know that you are being thrifty even if you aren’t doing so on purpose. I assumed that she was saying that my third of a pound was ringing up as $1.99, which, great. Sounds good. Why mention it at this point in the interaction?

So I said something brilliant, like, “I’m sorry?”

And she shook the ham at me and said, “It’s only $1.99. Do you want MORE HAM?”

Still not grasping anything really – I mean, how could I not still be reeling from the mistakenly absent ham? and the woman poised to – after her conversation, clearly – go fetch another? – I shook my head and said no thank you.

(Aside: If I need a third of a pound of ham, having it be less expensive doesn’t make me magically need more ham. I mean, I guess if I really wanted a POUND of ham, but knew that $6.99 wasn’t in my budget, then knowing it was $1.99 per pound might change the amount I would get. I don’t know. It’s like when you go to Dairy Queen, and you order a small slushie, and they say, “Drinks are half price between 2:00 and 4:00, do you want to get a large?” Well, no. I want a small. And I’m saving money because the small is also half price. If I get a larger size, the price also increases. A $3 small at half price is still cheaper than $5 large at half price. And yes, I get that I could be getting more for the original price I intended on paying but it still all strikes me as ODD. WHATEVER. I am sure it is a legitimate marketing strategy that works or it wouldn’t be so prevalent.)

We are back to me, rejecting the extra ham.

The deli person shrugged at me in a kind of “suit yourself” manner, and I took my ham and pointed to the other staff member – still chatting, I mean, the entire interaction took maybe 45 (interminable) seconds, but still – and said, “Will you let her know a) you took care of me and b) that she doesn’t need to go to the back for a whole new honey ham?”

And the second deli person turned to her colleague (who had just at that moment finally bid adieu to her long lost twin sister or the queen or whomever she was talking to all that time) and said, “Hey, there’s already honey ham in the case.” And the first woman laughed and shook her head and went to help some other poor ham-needing sap.

The end.

But no, not the end, because I am still thinking about it.

I cannot properly express to you how NEEDLESSLY and RIDICULOUSLY flustered I got during the course of this interaction!

And WHY, in the name of all the pigs who so graciously gave their lives for our deli needs, am I STILL THINKING about it, literally weeks later?

WHY? Who CARES? It’s just HAM.

It felt SO AWKWARD. To be misunderstood. To be misheard. To see a misapprehension occurring, and to be incapable of preventing it. To instead be misheard again and misinterpreted as someone lacking adequate brain function. To leave, finally, with ham that was not shaved as you wanted. At least it was only 66 cents. For the ham. The therapy this incident may require will likely cost much more.

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This is one of those posts where I make you decide who is right and who is wrong. As per usual, it’s a cage match between me and my husband and it’s not really a fair fight at all, considering that a) he has no idea I’m writing about this and b) I am so clearly in the right.

(As always, please recall that whenever I write a post that forces you, Internet, to take sides between me and my husband, I feel morally obligated to reference Temerity Jane, who used to write similar-enough-that-I-feel-morally-torn-type posts [only better and with more hilarity]. [This is purely a moral obligation, not a Temerity-Jane-imposed obligation.] [And in any event, the Temerity Jane blog is no more, a fact that is deeply sad because it contained so much good, funny writing and so many eye-opening posts about normalcy and I miss it.])

Let us power through the sadness we feel at our collective loss by directing some side-eye toward the Wronger. Yes, I’m sticking with that pseudo-word choice.

Okay, so let’s say you get a nice gift from someone. Let’s say it’s a… fancy chip and dip set. It’s from someone you care about but maybe don’t see all that often. You thank them, then you do whatever it is you do with a chip and dip set (put it in a cabinet for months at a time, in my house).

Then! The very people who have given you the chip and dip set let you know the happy news! They are visiting! So you invite them over to your house. What do you do, vis a vis the chip and dip set? (Is it really a set? I’m doubting that usage, now.) (I am also doubting my use of vis a vis but we must ONWARD!)

In my household, one of us would plan dinner around something that the visitors might enjoy, and the dinner may or may not include chips and dip – in fact, probably it would NOT involve chips and dip, because we really reserve chips and dip for larger gatherings: Super Bowl parties, birthday parties, I’m realizing as I type this that we really don’t have large gatherings very often at all. Anyway, no chips, no dip. The dinner would be pleasant and enjoyable and we’d all have a good time. The end.

The other of us would also plan a dinner around something that the visitors might enjoy, but would definitely figure out a way to incorporate the chips and dip element. AND would definitely use the chips and dip set that the visitors had so kindly bestowed upon us. We would all have chips and dip, any of the four of us might remark on how great the chips and dip set is, we’d all have a good time. The end.

The non-chips-and-dip member of our family (and by that, I mean in this scenario only; we are an all-chips, all-dip, all-the-time kind of couple, keeping in mind my previously stated reluctance to serve either chips or dip unless the event includes the word “party” in it somewhere) might show some exasperation for the chips-and-dip serving member.

“It seems kind of condescending,” that person might say. “Like we are purposely getting out the present just for them.”

The chips-and-dip serving member might respond: “Exactly! That’s exactly why we’re doing it! We are showing appreciation to the gift giver by using the gift in their presence!”

This is where the non-chipper member of our family might bring up the pro-dipper member’s propensity for wearing clothing gifts in the presence of the gift giver.

“What’s wrong with that?” the gift-wearer might ask. “It shows that a) I remember that this person gave me a gift and b) I like it enough to wear it!”

“But it appears as though you ONLY wear the gift in front of the gift giver,” says the non-gift-wearer, sensibly. “They might think you don’t actually like it, so you never wear it unless you are around them.”

“Perhaps that is sometimes true!” responds the gift-wearer. “But doesn’t it also show gratitude? It’s not as though every single minute I am in the gift-giver’s presence I wear only things given to me by that person. If I throw in a bracelet or a t-shirt or a pair of socks every now and again, isn’t it only giving that person pleasure, to see their gift in action?”

“It’s weird,” says the non-gift-wearer.

 

Who is RIGHT, Internet? And what do YOU do?

Whether or not you LIKE the gift, whether or not you USE it frequently or once a year…

If your mother-in-law sends you a necklace, do you wear it on occasion when you go out to dinner with her? If your coworker gives you a funky wallet during your Secret Santa exchange, do you sometimes grab it when you go to coffee with her? If your brother sends you a set of towels, do you make sure they are clean and hanging from your towel hook the next time he comes over for dinner?

AND, let’s look at it from the other side! If you gave someone a present, and they used it in your presence, how would that make you feel? Condescended to? Or pleased?

And AND, does this really only matter in specific situations like mine, wherein our family all lives thousands of miles away and we are pretty unsocial in general?

While I await your sage advice, I will go eat some chips. I just need to find something in which to dip them…

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I am sitting here embroiled in all the humiliation and frustration of an Unsatisfying Interaction… Only the Unsatisfying Interaction took places EONS ago, so all my eloquent speeches and clear, reasonable explanations are useless.

Why does the brain insist on doing this? There are DOZENS of times when I have a thousand other things to do/concentrate on/worry about/binge-watch on Netflix, but CANNOT FOCUS because I am busy replaying the events of the Unsatisfying Interaction on repeat.

I would list a few of them, just as examples, but I don’t want to because they will earworm their way back into my brain and next thing you know I’ll be calmly explaining myself or making the perfect (heretofore unsaid) retort or reacting in a totally uncharacteristic c’est la vie way that will erase the Interaction from my memory for good and I’ll have just replaced The Useless Mind Churn of the Moment for another.

WHY does the brain do this? I could try, I suppose, to make an argument FOR this functionality: perhaps the brain thinks that if I turn The Past over and around enough times, I can prevent the same thing from happening in The Future. Which makes some sense! But… in this case, I highly HIGHLY doubt that this Unsatisfying Interaction will repeat – or even come close to happening again. And it’s not like all this internal practice has helped me to now; I still have Unsatisfying Interactions; I still fumble and say the wrong thing and am obtuse when I mean to be clear and am gauche when I mean to be funny and am tearful when I mean to be strong; I still come away flustered and wanting a re-do. And I am STILL spending countless hours thinking and fretting and stressing over things that have already happened and therefore CANNOT CHANGE.

So I’m coming down firmly on the side of USELESS.

It’s like a hysterical jaw, just gnawing and gnawing and gnawing away at the past. But instead of easily crumbling like a cookie, or even gradually giving way like a rawhide bone or a piece of wood, The Past is a many faceted diamond, and at best (at BEST!) the jaw is chipping off microscopic shards of the memory, which, instead of disappearing, simply lodge themselves more deeply in the humiliation centers of my mind.

Anyway, if you spot me having a very earnest conversation with the air later, this is why.

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Let’s just put it out there: I am not adjusting well to Carla being in preschool.

This is not, as everyone assumes, because I miss her horribly and it’s hard to spend time without her. Don’t get me wrong, I DO miss her horribly and it IS hard to spend time without her, but those things aren’t any worse than they used to be – in fact, they are much BETTER. After all, she was in daycare from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm pretty much every day from four months old on. She spends LESS time at preschool which means we get much more time together.

What I am adjusting to, in descending order of Level of Stressiness, are 1) Dealing with Teachers, 2) Dealing with the School Schedule (otherwise known as Trying to Find Time to Get Anything Done During the Day), and 3) Helping Carla Adjust to Preschool.

Let’s take them in reverse order, shall we?

3) Helping Carla Adjust to Preschool

Carla is an adaptable, easy-going kiddo. But that doesn’t mean that change is EASY for her. Like, she happily goes to this new school with its new schedule and its whole new set of rules and dozens of brand-new people… but it’s not like her being HAPPY and ENJOYING HERSELF erase the stress that accompanies adjusting to all those things, you know? And, even though we are eight weeks in or so, I think she IS still adjusting. There were more obvious (to me) stress signs in the first few weeks, and those have largely lessened or disappeared. But I still think she’s in a transition period, rather than having fully settled into the new environment and routine.

Aside from the energy is takes to fret about whether your child is stressed, just the normal practice of preschool is new and exhausting. It takes a surprising amount of energy to preview the school day each night before bed and each morning before school, to keep track of whether she’s having gym or music on which day, to remind her to bring her library book back to school and to help her keep her excitement and energy under control when she’s at school, which is – wonderfully – exciting and stimulating and fun.

So trying to help her deal with new expectations and rules and schedules is occupying a big chunk of time, and I spend many hours feeling the normal fears that I am a horrible parent for putting her in this new situation and wondering if this is the RIGHT place for her, and did we make a mistake by moving her out of the previous school, and would she have done better if we’d held off until kindergarten blah blah yada yada second guessing blech.

We have Carla enrolled in a great school. My husband and I really believe that this will be a good learning environment for Carla. (Although we are open to changing that mindset if it turns out that it is NOT a good fit.) Nonetheless, it has been A Whole New Experience and we are all still a bit unsettled.

I think that PART of what feeds this lengthy adjustment period is that we still haven’t developed a RHYTHM. And part of the reason for that is the school schedule. Which brings me right to…

2) Dealing with the School Schedule (otherwise known as Trying to Find Time to Get Anything Done During the Day)

In particular, I am having a hard time adjusting to our new schedule. It feels like School Related Stuff takes up ENORMOUS amounts of time.

I imagine every seasoned mom who is reading this right now is wearing that head-tilted expression of bemused sympathy. Because one of my (our?) biggest struggles is the school schedule. We’ve already had three days off from school just this month… and next week the school is closed for a day and a half. She’s OFF for 20% of the school month! Okay, so it doesn’t sound like THAT much time not in class, but it FEELS like it.And it’s very hard to feel settled in a routine when you might have only three or four days of school in a week, you know?

On top of the no-school days, we are all adjusting to the overall new schedule – which is very different from her five-days-a-week, seven-to-eight-hours-a-day daycare schedule. Now, Carla goes to school “full-time” (about six hours a day) four days a week, and for two hours one day a week.

There are also optional but important (I think?) things that eat up time, like meetings with Carla’s teachers (obviously important) or phone calls from her teachers with various updates (head bonk, sad morning, proud words, etc.) and parent association events and coffees with other parents. I really and truly want to make some new friends and to build a nice network of people who have kids Carla’s age in Carla’s school… but it takes TIME.

Side note: I know that it no longer applies, and that I’m very FORTUNATE that it no longer applies, and I’m GRATEFUL, but man: how would I be managing this if I still worked full time?

When I left my job this past spring, my husband and I were very clear that I was going to make WRITING my full-time occupation. Which went swimmingly for many months, enough so that I developed a schedule and wrote a big chunk of a novel and then discovered it wasn’t working and then began (and now have a bigger chunk of!) another completely separate novel. This has been my literal lifelong dream, and we are in a rare pocket of time wherein it is feasible for me to undertake this don’t-get-me-wrong-I-know-it’s-the-height-of-self-indulgence-and-luxury project, and so I am damned if I am going to squander this opportunity.

But now that Carla is in preschool, I am now trying to squeeze what once fit neatly into about 37 hours into 26 hours. I constantly feel rushed and frantic, is what I’m saying.

Part of the stress, I think, is related to my transition from Working Mom to Stay at Home Mom. Which is really like switching careers, you know? It’s a whole different set of tasks and priorities and concerns. It requires a whole different mindset and skill set. I now have the wonderful luxury of handling those things that I couldn’t easily handle while working: having the plumber over to look at a leaky faucet, or running my husband’s new watch back to the store to exchange it, or taking Carla to the doctor for a flu shot, or running to the store mid-week to pick up more bananas. I am at home, and so doing laundry is more convenient; cleaning the oven; scrubbing the grout. But all of those things also take time. And yes, while it’s great to be able to do them, it still feels like I’m stealing from the time I should be devoting to writing. This career shift has not been simple, is what I’m saying. And the accompanying new expectations and challenges result in stress.

But all of it pales, I think, in comparison to my number one major school stress, which is Dealing with Teachers.

Let me be VERY CLEAR that Carla’s teachers are amazing and I adore them. They are kind and relaxed and friendly and accommodating. They are EXCELLENT at communicating. They clearly love Carla and see her for all of her wonderful unique assets. If they weren’t my child’s teachers, I would totally want to be friends with them.

But man, they would never want to be friends with ME because I have somehow become this high maintenance, flaky, ridiculous mom! Okay, truth time: maybe I was all those things before, and just didn’t really notice. Now, I feel like Carla and I are ALWAYS late. And I completely forgot her “homework” assignment recently, even though her teachers are super up front about what she needs to do and when, AND they give plenty of advance notice. The other day I was late to pick up Carla from school – I just somehow FORGOT what time I was supposed to get her, despite having to pick her up At The Same Time Every Day (except that one day each week when it’s different). I mean, what the hell?

Also, and I feel kind of dumb saying this, but: Carla’s teachers are so clearly experts at dealing with kids. They have all this special positive, simple, clear language and terminology that they use to talk to their students. And it really highlights, for me, that I say, “Don’t do that” a LOT and that I’m doing way more correcting than redirecting. It’s a good lesson, but a hard one for my ego, you know?

There are also all the new uncertainties that come with new situations. For instance, for a while there, I was really unsure about what to do when a teacher and I were both interacting with Carla simultaneously. Do I defer to the teacher? I mean, we’re on her turf. I don’t want to say or do or suggest something that wouldn’t be appropriate in terms of classroom rules/style/tradition. I resolved this by asking what the protocol was (am genius), so there’s one teeny little point in my favor. But the answer was that the teacher defers to ME, and that makes me uncomfortable: all my “don’t do that” crap parenting techniques that get nary a twitch out of my child are on display for the teachers to judge or pity.

Plus, there seem to be School Expectations that I’m just not aware of, or clear on. Like, I came a few minutes early (literally FIFTEEN minutes early) to get Carla for an appointment, and the receptionist yelled at me! For not signing her out! Which I didn’t know was a thing I had to do! (Don’t get me wrong, I’m GLAD it’s a thing, and that the receptionist is so eagle-eyed.) But it’s just an example of these invisible rules that are spiderwebbed all over everything. And there’s no obvious way for me to ask for clarity. I really want a MANUAL, you know? One that spells out, this is exactly what we the teachers expect you to do and say every step of the way on every occasion. I am good at following rules! (Unless it’s about being on time to school or remembering my child’s day for show and share GAH.) I just need to know what they ARE!

It’s the old desperation to please authority figures, I guess. I just want to be the easy parent, but instead I’m frazzled and forgetful. I send them emails that I read, later, that say NOTHING REMOTELY CLOSE to what I was trying to say. And then when they misunderstand my INTENDED COMMUNICATION (read: not what I actually communicated), I have to ask for changes and they must think I am CRAZY. Or an idiot. Or a crazy idiot.

And I get so nervous and wound up when we have parent/teacher meetings – I feel like I’ve been called to the principal’s office. So when I should be advocating for Carla, I am instead worried that I’m doing the wrong thing or inconveniencing them or making a bad impression. I EVEN STARTED TO CRY ONCE, FOR PETE’S SAKE. So now I am the crazy idiot flaky hysterical mom.

UGH. It is the worst. Even though I realize it is unlikely as bad as I think – and even though Carla’s teachers remain kind and friendly and helpful as ever – I feel like I’m being evaluated and coming up short every time.

The worst thing of all, I think, is that I really REALLY don’t want my stress and discomfort to be impacting Carla or her experience at school. She is super perceptive, so I know I can’t fully hide anything from her. But I really hope I’m disguising my Issues enough that it’s not amplifying her own stresses. And I really hope that she is on the last leg of the Transitional Period, and that the new school will start to feel known and comfortable – soon.

UGH. Preschool. Who knew it would be so HARD (for me)?

What I want to have is reassurance: that I’m not the only one who stresses about these ridiculous things. That all these stresses are likely magnified by the horrific political environment. That it’s probably not as bad as I think it is. That it will get better. For me but DEFINITELY for Carla.

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Last night I woke up at 4:00 and then couldn’t fall asleep, my mind was jumping around from fret to fret so vigorously.

Then, of course, once I managed to finally still the thoughts enough that I could sink back into sleep, I had a terrible nightmare that involved someone from my past (that sounds more mysterious than it is; it was a boyfriend from high school) called me under the pretense of asking me to walk his dog (how did he get my number? why was he in my city? why am I thinking about this person I haven’t seen in TWENTY YEARS?) and then told me he’d seen me at a museum recently and couldn’t stop thinking about me (doubtful, on both counts), and then I hung up, all creeped out… but when I went to the grocery store, he was there and tried to shoot me. SO. Not the most restful night.

The thing I am fretting about most energetically is that parents are expected to attend a welcome meeting of some sort during Carla’s first week at the new school. It is a 30-minute meeting. And it is for parents ONLY. Which means that we have to find childcare for that 30-minute window. It sounds like the school is offering childcare during two days of the week. However, my husband is only available on the one day at the one particular time. He had to arrange months ago to clear his schedule for this day. (The only reason he did so was because it was Carla’s first day of school, and we both wanted to take her. We only just yesterday discovered that there was this additional welcome meeting, so he and his assistant scrambled to reschedule the patient that was scheduled for the slot during the meeting time. Which makes him – and me – feel guilty. Why should schooling trump a patient’s health needs? ARRRRGH.)

There is exactly one (1) person I know whose child is attending this school, so I suggested we coordinate times so we could watch each other’s kids. But she is unable to do that. One of my friends kindly offered to do it… but she lives 30 minutes away in either direction and has never met Carla, let alone sat for her. I don’t know ANYONE who babysits during the day. Our two regular sitters and our backup sitter ALL have day jobs. My last resort may be asking our next door neighbor if she’d be willing to come over and sit in our house while Carla watches television for an hour. But THAT makes me feel like I’m imposing or overreaching our very casual neighborly relationship. So I guess really I may have to impose on the friend who offered, which stresses me out for OTHER reasons. (Too much time in the car, logistics issues with Carla’s school day and then getting her to my friend’s house and also finding time to give her lunch in that window and then getting back to the meeting on time. ACK.)

In addition to feeling stressed out by not knowing what to do with Carla, I am feeling really bad about myself. Carla is THREE. Why do I not have a network of friends I can turn to? I don’t even know how to set up a play date because I have never done it before. Why have I not been friendlier with our neighbors, so that I would feel more comfortable turning to them? This is a MAJOR DISADVANTAGE to being my style of introvert (i.e. the style who is a loner). Despite loving our city and having very good reasons to be here, I am having wailing/sob-filled thoughts about why did I ever agree to live so far away from family?!?!

This all makes me feel very cranky and grouchy – which I am directing at the school, which is dumb. It is dumb to expect that two weeks’ notice isn’t perfectly adequate for most people to make or change plans. It is dumb to expect that the school provide childcare beyond the very reasonable accommodations they have made. It is dumb to keep saying, outragedly, to anyone who will listen, “What if I were still working full-time? What would I have done THEN?” because I am NOT and because certainly other parents ARE and yet are no doubt figuring out how to deal with this without being babies about it. It is dumb to expect that my particular situation (self-inflicted, nonetheless!) should be addressed by a school that cannot possibly address the specific, individual needs of each student and parent. And yet, I STILL feel cranky and grouchy and complain and resentful, and in fact if you were here with me now I would complain about it until you felt deeply regretful that you’d come over in the first place.

Let’s recap: I am feeling frustrated at the school for not providing childcare OR allowing kids to join the meeting OR giving us more than two weeks’ notice so that we could have arranged my husband’s schedule differently… and I am feeling anxious and self-pitying about not having developed a network of people to turn to in these types of situations… and I am feeling annoyed at myself for being so completely THROWN by this stuff – surely, surely many of the other parents are feeling the same way and/or are DEALING WITH IT without so much hand wringing… and I am feeling fretful that this bodes poorly for our future with this school – am I going to go through YEARS of feeling resentful and frustrated?… and I am feeling MAD at myself for reacting like a Special Snowflake/whiny, pouty baby who should be catered to individually rather than just Finding A Solution. ARRRRGHHHHH.

And of course on top of this I am waiting for the ex-boyfriend of twenty years ago to contact me out of the blue and/or gun me down at the grocery store. YAY.

This is normal, right? Everyone feels grouchy and resentful about school stuff, yes? We will SURVIVE it all, right? RIGHT?

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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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