Well, this is awkward.

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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.

 

 

Please excuse my tardiness

If you know me, then you know I am not a terribly punctual person. Never have been. You may have figured that out even if we’ve never met, seeing as today’s post was supposed to go up last Wednesday.

What you may not know is that I have been SERIOUSLY trying to improve my behavior out of respect for you and your valuable time. Sadly, some of you will never believe me. My friend Jessica broke up with me because every time I tried to meet her, my car would not start–for three years. In hindsight, I probably should have made up a few new excuses, because the real reason obviously got old after a while. Mechanics stared at me blankly after starting the car 20 times in a row without incident, and frankly, my husband didn’t believe me, either. When I would call him in frustration, he would say super helpful things such as, “Did you put it in park?” Thankfully, one day when he needed to catch a flight overseas, he suddenly discovered there was an actual problem with the car.  But, by the time he admitted he had installed the car security system improperly, Jess was long gone.

In the hopes of avoiding any such break ups in the future, I have decided to come clean and admit the extent of my struggle. I would also like to solicit your assistance, since my efforts to ameliorate this problem without it have been wildly unsuccessful.

Over the years, my tardiness may have appeared constant, but the underlying causes have shifted dramatically.  Right out of college, I was completely strapped, so most of my scheduling issues were financial.  For example, I probably walked the 60 blocks from my tiny apartment to yours. Luckily, that is entirely possible in New York; it’s just damned slow. I would also stand in line for eons to avoid the ATM withdrawal fees, save up all of my errands for the one day I took the subway, and travel back and forth across Manhattan rather than exit and pay again at Bleeker Street to go uptown. Furthermore, back in the stone age before online banking, I had to balance my checkbook to the penny. Once I started monkeying around with the calculator, I was unable to leave the house until I had resolved the missing 22 cents. It takes a lot of time to be broke.

Then I left New York and moved West.  I got a decent job and managed to start paying off my loans, but my punctuality did not improve whatsoever.  My excuses from that period were mostly ridiculously lame. Let’s just say I wasn’t above a fashion crisis, so this is the era for which I feel the most repentant. Feel free to let me know if I haven’t apologized sufficiently; I’d be more than willing to grovel a little in exchange for any inconvenience I may have caused you.

Once I started having kids, I essentially gave up trying to be timely at all. On a certain level, I no longer felt responsible for my inability to function on a schedule. Babies defy time management.  One typical scenario:  I finally have the baby washed and fed, and a bag packed with:  wallet, keys, two changes of clothes, diapers, wipes, cream, changing pad, plastic bags, snacks, a tiny sweater, a hat, something to chew on, a couple of toys, a book, a sippy cup, extra socks, sunscreen, a burp cloth, and for chrissake, the one cd that will make baby stop crying so I can drive around without going off a bridge.  As I am shoving this mountain of crap into the car, baby has what is affectionately known in parenting circles as a “blow out.” This is when she not only needs a fresh diaper, but a bath and change of clothes; and, if she was tucked under my arm, I do as well.  Particularly big blow outs produce the “Cuba spot,” which is a blast of shit that shoots well out of diaper range–the continental area–to somewhere miles off the coast–like the back of the neck. When you have two kids, you can also have a double blow out, but the second one usually waits until everyone is strapped in and you have already lost your parking space.

Also, some babies cry all night long until you lose your mind. It is very hard to be punctual when all you want to do is pull over and curl up in the trunk for an hour or two. That explains quite a few years of my incoherence, also, though sadly, not the vestiges of it.

In all honesty, my kids are older now, and my excuses run more along the lines of: “Sorry. The neighbor kid came over and ingested poison. There was a little damage control issue.” Or, “Sorry. The rain stopped, so Leila’s soccer practice was no longer canceled but I didn’t have snacks for the team and I was in charge of carpool and then Josie’s musical theatre rehearsal ran a tad late but I couldn’t find the cat and couldn’t reach Lucy’s mother to do the pick up instead.”  That sort of thing. It makes my eyes glaze over to even think about it, so I’m pretty sure you don’t want to hear it, either.

In any event, in an attempt to assuage some of my guilt and–hopefully–most of your irritation, here is my friendly request:  PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LIE TO ME ABOUT WHEN I NEED TO SHOW UP.  But whatever you do, DO NOT tell me that you lied, or I will adjust accordingly. Thanks, pal.

Cheers.

Mastering the Art of Fine

I came from a family where excerpts of Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette were read with alarming frequency at the dining table.  We must have been slow learners.  Though it seems unlikely Amy would have condoned the fork jabbing I got for interrupting my father, I was certainly programmed to follow the rules.  Consequently, I know what I’m supposed to say when people ask me how I am.  But why ask at all if no one really expects a meaningful answer?

There are those awkward moments, of course–standing next to someone too lurky, quick-witted, or dashing for me to concentrate properly–when I find myself saying, “How are you?”as desperate filler.  In such instances, even if I might possibly care about the answer, most likely I cannot even hear it.  I am too busy plotting how to weasel out of my clammy-handed corner without drawing too much attention to myself.

But usually I genuinely want to know.  Therefore I feel some sort of moral imperative to answer frankly.  This can be a very bad idea.

The other day, I was really in the abyss, but I decided to drag myself out for some Culture and Shmoozing.  I have no clue why this seemed important in my state, but I got a sitter and shoved myself into something fancy-ish.  Hurtling across town, I practiced, “Fine.  And you?” in a relaxed and self-confident manner.  I knew I was going to see someone who intimidates me terribly.  Someone who makes me sweat but could totally change my life if I could just get her attention and assistance.  My plan was to have a casual chat, perhaps fawn just enough, and then hit her up for a wee bit of advice and support.

The moment of truth.  She turned and smiled when she saw me.  “How are things going?” she asked.  Guess what?  Not well.  My oldest child is depressed and anxious.  A good friend recently betrayed me.  My projects have completely stalled, my husband is out of town, and everything at home is in meltdown mode.  To top it off, I threw my back out vomiting repeatedly while dangling from the driver’s seat.  (My apologies to the kind people on Reposa Street).  I looked at her and started having an out-of-body sort of moment.  I saw myself manage a weak smile.

“It’s a mixed bag,” I squeaked before disappearing into the crowd.  I figure that’s progress.