I am not the sort of person who walks into a party and makes four new friends and a business connection. I’m the sort who drops her canapé and says something congenial, but a little off. What’s worse, I intermittently pause for an eternity. You might give up and wander off, in search of someone who can speak English.
It’s true, I didn’t get that Rhodes Scholarship, but there’s a lot going on between the ears. I’m probably thinking about how your new hair color is flattering–or should I pretend I didn’t notice?–and how I can’t remember if I saw you at the lecture last month. Have I mentioned that provocative article I read? Or were you the one who told me about it in the first place? And aren’t our kids about the same age? I’m thinking your daughter’s name starts with an “M,” and is like Maria, but definitely not Maria.
“So…how are you?” I might venture at last.
The weird thing is, once I warm up and get over myself, I usually have fun–which is why I still try now and then.
A few years ago, my daughter switched schools, and I was invited to a cocktail party for grade level parents. I knew no one, and was therefore at a complete loss for what to wear and how to comport myself–even more than usual. I didn’t even know the woman hosting the event. Imagine that awkward moment while I teetered on the front steps, wondering if I was staring at the person who sent out the evite. “Is this–? Are you–?” I tried.
Luckily, she was. And she was very kind, but after bringing me in and supplying me with a beverage, I was on my own in a sea of people who knew each other well. It was terribly uncomfortable. I hung to the side, wondering whom to approach, what to say, and whether I looked a little too schlumpy for such a schmancy gathering. How would I break the ice–or even melt it a little?
Then, something magical happened. Another mom entered, garnering a hearty reception. Let’s call her Ellen. Ellen was three sheets to the wind. While our little cohort had been murmuring politely around the grand piano, grazing the artful caterers’ spread, and sipping gin and tonics, St. Patrick’s Day had apparently packed quite a punch in the outside world. Ellen had a spray of tiny freckles, a charming smile, and a bewilderingly complicated entourage of past and present significant others. And Ellen was wearing green sparkly fishnets topped with the tiniest pair of black lace hot pants. I swear. She drank more, laughed a lot, and spoke with a naked honesty that both charmed and astonished everyone in her wake. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what I was wearing or what I was saying. No matter what I might do, Ellen had already outdone me…and she was clearly welcome. I was free to flounder happily.
I was only a part of that particular school community for a year, but every day I was thankful for Ellen and her hot pants.
Now, in a couple of weeks I will join tens of thousands of others for a conference in Washington, DC.
I have gone through the closet repeatedly, wondering what I could wear that’s warm and comfortable, makes me look confident, happy, and successful, and yet seems well-grounded and completely effortless? I have reached out to a few people I know will be there, done a little reading, and–while on my way to pick up carpool–practiced responding to the question, “what do you do?” since the answer is neither simple nor brief.
But mostly, I’m wishing Ellen would be there.