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Archive for the ‘Social Ineptitude’ Category

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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The Pre-K year, for us, has been The Year of Play Dates. We maybe do one or two a month, but that’s a 53,008% increase over previous years, so I’ve been devoting a LOT of energy to them.

Does everyone find playdates unbearably awkward? Well, I do. My personality – introvert, people-pleaser, awkward in general – is just not suited for focused encounters with other parents and children I may or may not know.

This is not to say I don’t want to do playdates with my child! I do! I want her to have friends. I want her to build the kind of social skills that playdates seem suited for. I want to get along with other parents. Hell, I want to make new friends.

Some of the issue, maybe, is that playdates are relatively new to me. For the first three years of Carla’s life, my husband and I both worked full time outside of the home. So playdates on weekdays were a no-go. And because we spent so much time away from Carla during the week, we typically spent weekends together, just the three of us. If we had anything resembling a playdate, it was a get together with our friends and their similarly-aged children.

But this year, we’ve had many. And by “we,” I mean me and Carla because my husband obviously still works full time outside the home. I cannot tell you how anxious these stupid playdates make me. Well, I’m going to try, I guess, considering I’m writing a post about the topic. Let’s see if I can break down the awkwardness into a few categories.

Initiating a Playdate

I don’t really know how to go about arranging a playdate. I mean, it seems pretty obvious, right? But I am shy and I am deeply afraid that the other parent won’t want to hang out a) with me or b) with my kid. There’s been a little bit of the old, “Oh, we should do a playdate!” kind of thing that never results in anything. And that kind of thing totally feeds my own self-consciousness/despair. When, in fact, the other parent could be feeling just as awkward/nervous as I am and/or could just be BUSY with LIFE as people tend to be. Also, the phone works two ways, Me.

Previous to this year – last year, Carla and I went on a whopping three playdates, two with the same friend – the other parent and I would suggest the playdate. But now, Carla and her friends have figured things out. And they seem to be scheduling playdates at school, without their chauffeurs in attendance to record the details. Once, Carla’s friend’s mom came up to me and said, “Carla said she wanted to do a playdate with my child. Let’s get together!” and then, miracle of miracles, we actually did end up getting the kids together. That’s my ideal, right there. A sort of mutual mention that results in an actual playdate.

But that ideal was a one-time thing. Usually, Carla comes home ALL THE TIME saying she wants to have a playdate with so-and-so and I get overwhelmed. Do I pick up the phone and call them up? What about the moms who have additional small children – will they even be interested in getting/able to get together? And what if I’ve never said more than hello to the parent at drop off? Some of the other parents seem to get their kids together all the time, but it also seems like those parents are friends. Would they welcome a suggested playdate from me and my child? Would they recoil in disgust? WHO’S TO KNOW?

The Playdate Location

This fills me with dread, too. First of all, who suggests where the playdate should take place? It’s the playdate initiator, right? That makes sense to me but… it hasn’t always worked out that way. Anyway, when I suggest a place for the playdate, I am always at a loss. I have gradually come to be okay with having Carla’s friends over to our house (listen, I’m an introvert and having people in my space is always nerve wracking), but… is that too forward? Is it too boring? Should I be presenting an option that’s super stimulating, like a trampoline park or a museum? And, if I DO suggest something like the latter, who pays? Am I supposed to pay for everyone because I suggested it? I am HAPPY to do that, but I don’t know what the protocol is! Summers are easier, at least, because you can just go to a nice, free, stimulating playground. But it is NOT summer and summer feels a million years away and I need to know what to do now.

I do love having playdates at other people’s homes, though. I love to see other people’s houses, and how they decorate, and the level of neatness they have (it is SO refreshing to see some clutter). But then there’s the awkwardness/stress of my child not eating anything they offer, or possibly breaking something, or bothering the dog, or whatever. And I always feel super self-conscious: how should I sit, what should I wear, do I trail after my kid or sit here like I expect to be entertained. Blah blah blah.

What to Do on the Playdate

So far, my playdate experience has been that the kids run off and play, and the other parent and I stay pretty much in one location and chat, intervening with the kids in case of an argument/injury/extended silence. Is that the expectation, universally? I mean, it is pretty ideal for friendship building. But what if you aren’t interested in/meant to be friends? Carla has a friend who is darling and wonderful and whose parent is someone I think is lovely and very nice, but we just aren’t clicking the way friends do, you know? It’s all small talk, and I find it exhausting. The PARENT is wonderful and does a marvelous job of keeping the conversation going, but I find it so terribly draining to be “on” with a person that I don’t feel 100% comfortable around. (This is the introvert thing again, I fear. If you are an extrovert, you may be furrowing your brow right now, trying to understand why ninety minutes of chatting leaves me feeling like I’ve just completed a biathlon.) I suppose I could just tell the other parent they could leave their kid with me but… that fills me with new layers of terror. And do I need to feed people? So far, when we’ve had playdates at my house, I’ve tried to have some kid-friendly snacks on hand and then I’ve offered the other parent coffee or tea. But is food expected? I certainly don’t expect it, when we go to other people’s homes. But that’s because Carla and I are both super picky, so eating at other people’s homes is additionally fraught with anxiety.

What If the Playdate Goes Sour?

And then there’s the other worry, that the kids won’t get along, or that something bad will happen. My daughter’s teacher gave me a Hot Playdate Tip, which I now pass along to you: groups of three are a bad idea. If you have three kids (at least, Pre-K-age kids), one of them will inevitably end up feeling left out. Okay, so as long as I’m the playdate initiator, that’s easy enough to control for (and egads I have enough trouble working up the nerve for a one-on-one playdate, let alone a playdate involving more kids!). But what if your kids start fighting? Or are bored? Or want to do completely separate things? How do you salvage a) the playdate and b) the potential for future playdates? Do you just throw in the towel? Write it off as normal kid behavior? WHAT DO YOU DO?

How Do You Get the Playdate to End?

You know how most birthday parties are about two hours? I tend to go by the Birthday Party Rule for playdate length, too. Carla has a playdate threshold of about ninety minutes. Sometimes she’s good for two hours. Other times, she’s done after an hour. And I can tell she’s done because she starts wanting to be alone and there is an increased level of pouting/irritability. Fine; she knows her boundaries, and so do I. But how do you communicate that to another parent, whose children may have no limit to how long they can be together? I have usually just said from the beginning, “Carla’s good for an hour or two but not much longer than that.” And when I am in control of the planning, I try to say things like, “We’ll meet you at this indoor park for an hour and a half and then we’ll split for lunch.” Or whatever. But sometimes the other parent wants to extend it! Or they’ll invite us for an open-ended playdate! Ack! We had one of those open-ended jobbers at our house recently, and I was able to close it out with my need to prepare dinner. But it can be tricky! Especially if the kids are getting along really well (as was the case at my house recently). (Although, believe me, “getting along really well” can transform into “the world is ending tears” in a matter of moments.) And, okay, sometimes it’s really just ME who needs the playdate to end. I guess this is a lesson for me to always have something to do immediately after the playdate, whether it’s going to the grocery store or making dinner or whatever.

How Often Do You Do Playdates?

I really think two playdates a month is my limit. But I think other parents and their kids are getting together once or twice A WEEK.

Okay, I am back after taking some deep, restorative breaths; the thought of two playdates a week made me a little dizzy. I think that’s my answer right there: two playdates a month. Sorry, Carla.

 

I do wish I could put less pressure on the whole situation. It’s a playdate, for goodness sakes. The way, for me, to make playdates the most palatable and least stressful is to have them out in the world. My preference is for going to parks in the summer (although, as I noted above: NOT CURRENTLY SUMMER DAMMIT). That way, you can be outside in the fresh air. No one has to cook (although I do bring enough snacks for everyone). No one has to clean. You can take breaks from chatting to push your kid on the swing or the merry go round or the teeter-totter. It’s free. The kids get worn out pretty quickly, so it’s easy to not spend seven hours together. If I could do a playground playdate every time, AND if I could get over my crippling dread of initiating the damn things, they might not be so bad.

I am holding out hope that the awkwardness will fade with time. Either that or Carla will develop a deep and lasting friendship with a mom who turns out to be my Friend Soulmate.

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Carla has decided that, when she grows up, she wants to be a zookeeper. A zookeeper with a cat for an assistant.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Carla. She loves animals more than anything in the universe. She chooses videos of animals whenever I give her the chance to watch something on my computer. She prefers stuffed animals over dolls, and her favorite game of late (read: past year and a half at least) is playing “Kitty,” wherein I count to ten, she hides, and then she pretends she’s a cat and I have to bring her home and teach her to do tricks. (The reward for the tricks is Goldfish crackers, obviously.) If I hand her my phone in the car or in the grocery store, she will keep herself busy googling pictures of whatever animal is most on her mind (mountain lion, giraffe, porcupine, praying mantis, armadillo). She has no innate fear of animals: she loves snakes and lizards and insects as much as she likes the fluffier, cuddlier critters.

If I had to choose her FAVORITE animal, though, I’d say dog.

She claims she likes cats best – and maybe she does; that’s certainly the animal she pretends to be. She seems to play with her stuffed cats most often. Cats star in her favorite online videos. But she hasn’t had much real-life experience with cats.

Dogs, on the other hand…

Dog

I don’t actually know this dog. But it hasn’t gotten the memo that I am firmly and forever A Cat Person. It’s very cute, though. 

Carla’s first experience with a dog was at her great grandmother’s funeral. Well, to be more accurate, the reception after the funeral; this wasn’t the type of mortuary that has dogs wandering around, although that sounds like it would be quite comforting. She was not quite a year old, and she fell in love with the dog who lived at the house where the reception took place. And she followed it around the ENTIRE TIME we were there. It was some sort of golden retriever and so it was big enough that it could knock her over with a wag of its tail. She loved it and I think it launched a passion for dogs that has so far only continued to blossom.

My parents have a dog, and Carla has been OBSESSED with him since she first met him. She will follow him around constantly. She has to be touching him at all times. Whenever she’s not with him – even if that means she’s sitting at the table eating breakfast and the dog is on the other side of the room – she has to know what he’s doing. Even though we were all in the same room together, she would insist on narrating what the dog was doing. “He’s licking his paw!” she would crow to my mother, who was sitting several feet away from the dog. “He’s sleeping!” she would announce to my father, who was literally at that moment petting the dog. When we are away from my parents and Carla mentions them – I miss them, I love them, I wonder what they’re doing – she never omits the dog. When we talk about members of her family, she lists the dog right up there with her uncle and aunt and grandparents and cousin.

We are lucky to live on a quiet cul-de-sac that has MANY dogs. One dog lives next door. Another lives across the street. Another lives across the street and three doors down. There are four others that live at the north end of the street, and three more that live at the south end. Plenty of dogs in close proximity.

Which is great!

But it’s also raised previously unknown-to-me etiquette concerns. What is an ideal Dog Neighbor Relationship supposed to look like? What are the appropriate Dog Neighbor Boundaries? How can we be good and non-irritating Neighbors to Dogs?

To make matters more complicated and uncertain, I do not like dogs.

Perhaps this changes your mind about me. I’m sorry if it does. But dogs are not my thing. I do not like how slobbery they are. I don’t like the licking. I don’t like the idea of picking up another creature’s excrement. I don’t like the hair or the scent or the forced walking.

Listen, I’m not going to be mean to a dog. I will say hello to a dog as I pass it on the street. I will happily look at your dog pictures. I will even, on occasion, pet one. I can appreciate a dog. I certainly want YOU to love dogs.

But I bring this up because I don’t really know anything about what it means to HAVE a dog. To be a Dog Owner. I mean, I grew up with dogs… but they were outdoor-only dogs and they had the run of our many-acre property so there wasn’t any pooper-scooper action or even any walking to be done. I never went to a dog park. My parents were responsible for the brushing and the feeding. They kind of existed at the periphery of my attention.

This means that I’ve had to learn, from scratch, how to interact with other people’s dogs. I’ve always sort of thought of Dog People as sociable types, who enjoy being outside with their dogs, who bask in sharing their Joy of Dogs with other dog lovers. So when Carla learned to walk, and we’d be out and about in the neighborhood, I thought nothing of allowing her to pet our neighbors’ dogs.

(Note for the concerned: I have always taken great care to teach Carla about Dog Safety: asking the dog’s owner before touching a dog; allowing the dog to sniff your hand first; preferred places to touch the dog; steering clear of dogs alone on their lawns, protecting their homes; being alert to signs that the dog is frightened or upset – ears laid back on the head, tail between the legs, growling.)

At first, it was easy enough – and, frankly, tiny Carla was adorable enough – to get away with a lot of dog attention. Our neighbors were very indulgent. But as Carla’s gotten older and more autonomous – and ever more obsessed with dogs – it’s gotten more uncomfortable. For me, I guess I should say. I have no idea how the neighbors feel. I am just assuming that their patience with Carla and our constant Dog-Related Interruptions is wearing thin.

For instance, Carla would see a dog in its yard as we walked past and would call out to the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or she would see a dog passing the house and would run to the door shrieking after the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or, worst of all, she would see a dog owner arriving home, and would call out, “Can you bring your dog outside?” Anytime we glimpsed one of the dogs on our street, Carla would make a beeline for it. And then she’d foist attention upon it – to the exclusion of all other things, like neighbors asking her kind questions about what she’d done in school that day, or like her mother noting that we’d need to leave in two minutes to go eat dinner – until the point where I would physically extract her from the situation, sometimes with accompanying tears and/or screaming.

Delightful, right?

Our kind, patient neighbors would usually acquiesce to her doggy demands with gracious kindness. But it makes ME feel like such an imposition. And an over-indulgent parent. And a person who doesn’t understand proper Dog Boundaries. AND a Bad Neighbor.

In maybe the past six months, we’ve instituted a new “rule,” which is that we only ask if we can pet someone’s dog if we encounter it on a walk. As in, if the dog is walking with its owner and we are walking. If we are on a walk and we pass by someone’s house, even if the dog and its owner are sitting outside on the lawn, we will not bother them. The rule is accompanied by a stern reminder that we need to pet the dog for short time, and when the dog owner or I say it’s time to go, we need to leave immediately and with no tears.

So I am trying to teach her about privacy and boundaries and all the things that are important to me. And we’re having success!

But it’s HARD. Because she LOVES THOSE DOGS. And sometimes, before I can remind her of the rule, she calls out – across the street, down the block, out of a car window – “CAN I PET YOUR DOG?” And then the neighbors feel obligated to comply.

In those cases, I usually explain to Carla that it’s not the right time, remind her of our rule, etc. And guide her away from the dog. But occasionally, the dog owner will say something like, “It’s okay,” and then Carla gets to pet the dog anyway. And I die quietly of humiliation.

Because I never know what’s appropriate, you know? I never know if I am being too strict with my own boundaries, or if I’m reading the situation correctly, or if I am totally overthinking things, or if I am being way TOO lax with what I allow Carla to ask and do.

The other day, we walked a few blocks to the post office. On the way, we noticed that our neighbor was walking his dog – about half a block in front of us. I reminded Carla of our rule, and told her if we crossed paths, she could ask if she could pet his dog. So Carla took off running. I had her stop and come back, but of course she wanted to catch up to the neighbor dog. At one point, the dog stopped to sniff a tree and we were within a few yards. So she yelled, “Hello, Mr. Neighbor! Can I pet your dog?” (I am also trying to teach her to acknowledge the person and not simply the dog.) But he was wearing earphones and didn’t hear.

I knew he had seen us though; we’d exchanged a wave. And I also knew that he KNOWS Carla and her dog obsession. I wondered if he was purposely staying ahead of us so he didn’t have to deal with Carla. And then I began to panic that he might think we were following him. No! We were just going in the same direction! Fortunately, he veered off one way and we went the opposite direction to the post office.

But of course, on the way home, we spotted him. I told Carla that we would probably cross paths and that she could say hello and ask to pet the dog. But he STOPPED, on the other side of the street. I don’t know why. To avoid us? Perhaps. (Panic, panic.) But we had to cross the street anyway, and then he was maybe five yards away, and she had been so patient and so rigorous in sticking to the rules, so I let her go up to him and say hello and pet the dog. Our neighbor was very pleasant about it. But sweet amaryllis did it make me anxious, intruding on his walk like that! If it had been up to me, I would have assumed that he was keeping his distance on purpose, and then I would have waved, stayed on my side of the street, and walked briskly to my house.

As an introverted person with, shall we say, Very Strong Boundaries, it is extremely uncomfortable for me to try to navigate these types of situations appropriately – and even worse when I have to teach my boundary-light daughter how to do so. What’s the right thing? What’s overstepping? What’s too much Dog Joy vs. not enough?

I think Carla is going to win lots of friends in the neighborhood when she gets old enough to be a dog walker. But until then, I guess I will just keep bumbling my way through Neighbor Dog Relationship Issues.

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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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