Kids in Unison - “Hey, Mom! We got invited to a church pool party for Thursday night! With the other VBS kids! Daddy said you can take us!”
Chicken-shit Me - “Uh…well, are you sure you wanna…I mean…it might be too chilly. How about we just wait and go to the pool this weekend, or…I don’t know if…let me talk to your dad.”
Why is this my response to such potentially fun-filled events? Every. Time. As I stuttered through my response to the kids I could feel my throat tighten and my stomach gurgle. There will be other parents there…other moms, in particular. We aren’t members of this church. I know it’s a community pool but is it big? Small? Is the deck spread out enough that I can find a quiet place to watch the kids? When I really think about the anxiety coursing through my mind, it truly makes no sense. I AM a social person…as I’ve shared before I actually have an intense fear of being alone. I suppose that my need for company requires that I have complete control over who said company consists of.
As a mother to three kids I’ve had my share of parent events…some including the children, some not. Teacher open-houses…concerts…sports end-of-season parties…award ceremonies…play groups…birthday parties. They all give me the same heartburn. I don’t know anyone. Who will I talk to? What if no one acknowledges or talks to me? What if I’m dressed wrong? What if they don’t like my kids?
In my world, I’ve always been a “transplant”. And always within a small town. Everyone KNOWS if you’re “from around here” or not. I was that way as a child…and have been in two different locations as a parent. My instant assumption is that everyone else attending ISN’T a transplant and IS from around here. Naturally, leaving me as the one and only outsider. How egotistical of me.
Add to the existing stress of the social situation alone, it’s a pool party. Involving swimsuits. Lovely. I had already been advised that because Ben is under 8 he would have to remain at arm-length to me the entire time. When we go to our own town pool I’m able to let him play a bit on his own because I can always see him. For safety purposes though, I get it. And honestly in an environment I don’t know, I’d feel safer staying very close to him anyway. So that means…I’m gettin’ wet.
I tried a few times through the week to weasel my way out…the weather forecast looks to be chilly that night…it might rain…I may have a headache that night. (Hey, that excuse has worked for me before!) Nothin’ doin’. The gentleman made it clear that because he did all of the driving to and from VBS all week, it was my turn to participate.
I anticipated it all day. I did. Sad but true. It was a flippin’ pool party….and I had a stomach ache over it. Have you been there though? Where the moms all seem to know each other? They whisper? They giggle…they refer to each other’s FB pages…they gossip about others they know. The only convo I have is with the child I brought…watching over that particular child like a hawk to keep them in line so as NOT to draw attention. Once in awhile I can chime in on some football talk with the Dads…of course that never fares well with the moms either. Sigh.
I worked a full day that day…showered and donned my swimsuit with t-shirt and shorts (assuming my hot pink cover-up may be a bit too much). We arrived at the facility a little early took a deep breath and made my way to the pool gate. WOW. This place was enormous. Waiting in line on the hot blacktop parking lot, trying to keep all three kids in line, I craned my neck to see the layout of the deck. Was it all open for the whole group? How many chairs are there? Given our distance from the front of the line will I still get my choice of seat? And then…I realized…I forgot deodorant. Dear GOD. Just as I began to panic and imagine all worst case “what is that smell, does anyone else smell that” scenarios Ben began his rant:
Why is this TAKING so long?!?!
It’s okay, buddy…we’ll get in soon
It’s so HOT out here!! Why are we still STANDING here?!?!
Ben, please just hang in there with me, buddy.
But these people are takin’ FOREVER. What’s wrong with them??
Honey, we have to wait in line…they aren’t quite ready for us yet.
GOSH…this is ridiculous!!
As I crouch down to whisper in his ear and put pressure on his shoulders I see the other moms begin to turn around and look. Their eyes were compounding the heat of the sun ten-fold. His frustration eased as the line began to move, rolling his eyes as we made our way through the gate. Yes, he’s a charmer, that boy.
As we entered the pool my anxiety began to drain as I quickly spotted several available seats and alcoves to set up “camp”. I soon discovered this would NOT be a circle of moms gossiping as their children run wild. In fact as more and more people poured into the area, I found quickly that I would be lost amongst a sea of people. THANK GOD. Breathe. Relax. Have fun.
The older two had their hearts set on hitting the enticing water slides in the distance…so Ben and I decided to take it easy and hit the lazy river. Fine by me! We made our way over, passing several moms of older kids who were able to sit and relax a bit. And naturally they stopped to watch Ben act out his most recent favorite movie on our way to the river. “Yep sweetie…you look just like Ironman.” Loud yet precise sound effects, arm snaps and all…he WAS ironman that night. Trying to keep his re-enactment from striking another child we finally hit our destination. I stepped one foot in the water and OH MY SHIT it was cold. My concern with air temperature this particular night was actually valid…it had only barely reached 80 that day and with a setting sun, the air was only getting cooler. But my butt landed in that inner-tube, I grabbed on to Ben’s and we floated…and floated…and floated. He loved it! The stress had immediately filtered from his face and he was my happy smiling boy again. It’s frightening sometimes how alike we are.
Once he was satisfied with a couple rounds of laziness we hit the water jungle gym…you know the kind with the big bucket at the top that eventually fills all the way up and spills over all of the kids? Yeah that one. Making sure to avoid the bucket o’ ice, I stood off to the side in the shallow water for nearly an hour…watching him slide, then climb, then slide over and over again. Amongst the chaos of children splashing and bounding I actually witnessed Ben engage. He found a friend and played WITH her…not just beside her. Thankfully my sunglasses covered my tear-filled eyes and I was soon distracted by another mom encouraging HER child to go make friends. We struck up a convo and snap…before you know it Mommy was making a friend too! I’m never bad at it but am ALWAYS scared of it. Please tell me why that is??
I grew up being the ever-self-concious-not-quite-up-to-par kinda kid. I wasn’t beautiful. I wasn’t skinny. I was the girl who walked around the public pool with her arms across her stomach, self conscious of her giraffe-esque height. If I wasn’t there WITH my friends I was convinced I wasn’t going to make any. But I always did. Every. Time. My mom used to tease me incessantly that I made a new best friend every week when we went to the grocery store. It never failed that as mom was sifting through coupons and writing her check, I was at the end by the bagger chatting it up with the other little girl waiting for HER mommy. I would spend the next 20 minutes in the car telling Mom aaaalll about my new best friend…her name, where she was from, what grade she was in, you get the picture. I’m not sure if I can chalk that up to social aptitude or astounding interrogation skills. Maybe a little of both. The gentleman could attest to the latter.
My mother, however, was not a social butterfly. Not in any way. She was the mom who dropped me off for events at school if she could at all get away with it. At the curb. She sat in the car and honked when picking me up from a friend’s house. I wonder now what my friends’ parents thought of her. To me, that’s just how she was. I always thought it would be nice if she befriended some of them…maybe stayed to chat so I could play with my friends a little longer. Never happened. I love my mother dearly but that is one attribute I don’t wish to inherit. I know now that she had this same anxiety when I asked her to take me to a friend’s birthday party, or a band parent’s meeting, or anything requiring social interaction with strangers. I feel guilty in retrospect for putting added pressure on her, understanding now what she must have felt. But I’m glad I got a little pressure to follow through for my kids last night.
It took some convincing to get me out the door. (And maybe a little leftover pinot noir in the fridge with my name on it saved as a reward for later.) But I got us there…and we really did have a great time. Cold water aside, I haven’t seen Ben smile that much in awhile. Naturally we faced Hell’s furry on the way home…we’re finding that for Ben with great highs come drastic drops. But it was worth getting him out of the house after a week or so of homebound summer vacay just to watch him interact. They were all able to splash and play with the new pals they made at VBS and spent our twenty minute ride home telling me all about THEIR new best friends.
And that makes the heartburn worthwhile.