am a teenage mother. Oh, not chronologically. Let's be serious, I couldn't even
get a date in high school, much less find some horny 16-year-old to knock me up
in the backseat of his parents' Ford Escort. No, age wise, I'm not even close
to being a teenager. But social skills-wise, I'm just one lousy retainer and a
bottle of Clearasil away from being shoved into a locker and sent crying to the
After surviving my first set of awkward years, I
grew into a charming adult. I had good interpersonal skills. I was witty, verbose,
well-informed. I made people laugh with me. Not at me. My career in the film business
and later, advertising required that I talk to all kinds of people, from movie
stars to janitors, and I did it well. Then I reproduced and any ability I'd had
to make new friends disappeared as abruptly as my flat stomach, perky breasts
and freedom to go to the bathroom alone. For I had become not only a mother, I
had become a social nightmare.
was thrilled when my friend Dena invited me to have dinner with two of her friends
from Seattle. I went to college in Oregon, so Pacific Northwesterners are my peeps
-- pasty vegetarians who stay indoors all day listening to The Grateful Dead and
suppressing suicidal thoughts. I couldn't wait.
night started off well with the women all lovely, and me my old, likable self.
Then someone brought up movies and suddenly all bets were off. Thrilled with the
chance to discuss films that didn't star talking animals, I breathlessly launched
into a 10-minute-long diatribe about the superiority of '70s filmmakers that was
so loud and impassioned, even Tarantino would have said, "Man, she's obnoxious."
Concluding with what I thought was a rather brilliant comparison between Apocalypse
Now and Must Love Dogs, I sat back, looked proudly around the table
and saw three stunned faces staring at me like I was an escapee from a Lord
of the Rings convention. I took a deep breath and braced myself for a wedgie.
panicked state, I looked for a way to divert attention. Pointing to the person
in the booth next to us, I quietly offered that he looked like "Mick Jagger,
circa 1978." This got a small laugh. Encouraged, I continued, "I don't
know," I said, "but whenever I look at him, I hear 'Sympathy for the
Devil'. Ah-yah!" This garnered even more amusement. I was back, baby. Then
Mick got up and two horrifying things were immediately evident: 1) Mick was a
woman 2) Mick had Multiple Sclerosis. Which, of course, I would have figured out
sooner if I'd been looking at her "Walk for MS" t-shirt rather than
her wavy Rolling Stones hair. As she slowly limped past our table, everybody's
eyes went to the floor. My entire body burning with embarrassment, I looked to
Dena, my only friend at the table, for some reassurance. She scooted her chair
warm spring day, I took my two-year-old son, Jack, to the park to ride the little
train. He was really excited to ride the little train, until I bought the non-refundable
tickets to ride the little train. Then he started frantically screaming "NO
RIDE WITTLE TWAIN!! NO RIDE WITTLE TWAIN!" (If Jack wore a mood ring, it'd
explode from overuse.)
little train tickets in hand, I approached a friendly-looking woman with a young
daughter, and asked if she could use them. This led to a very pleasant conversation
about our kids, ourselves, and the world in general. (Your typical park/birthday
party/Gymboree conversation: "Yes, I agree that we should consider trade
sanctions with North Korea. JACK STOP THROWING ROCKS!! I MEAN IT, MISTER! Do you
think the UN will be able to intervene? OWW! DID YOU JUST AIM THAT AT ME? YEAH,
YOU'D BETTER RUN, WHITEBREAD! What are your thoughts on the issue?").
Discovering we were both in the writing field, I told her about some of my
projects and she was very enthusiastic. She then graciously invited me to the
next meeting of her "woman's group," which included Harvard graduates,
novelists and other local literary professionals. I was delighted at the prospect
of being included in such lofty company and thus responded with all of the social
grace of Screech from Saved By The Bell. "That sounds great,"
I said. "But it's not a pyramid scheme, is it?" I'm still waiting for
was my son Sam's first T-ball practice and I was dressed in what I thought any
suburban mother would wear to a Little League field on a Friday night - a slightly
stained t-shirt, old Levis and a cat hair covered baseball hat. Then I saw the
other mothers milling about in their size-4 designer jeans, silk tank tops and
strappy sandals and once again, I was a 7th grade loser in JC Penney corduroys
while everyone else knew Gloria Vanderbilt jeans were now de rigueur. Hiding behind
an equipment bag, I tried to figure out why they looked like they lived in The
O.C. and I looked like a reject from Blue Collar TV. Had I missed the
coach's e-mail that said, "Bring a bat, a glove and cocktail party attire?"
Was there going to be a jazz band in the dugout after grounder practice? Or was
this just how mothers, at least in our neighborhood, dressed these days?
into peer pressure faster than a preacher's daughter at a hip hop concert, I hauled
it to Nordstrom the next day and shakily plunked down $150 for a pair of jeans
that were so stylishly low, you could see how I delivered my children. Back at
home, I modeled the jeans for my husband. "They look good," he said.
"How much did they cost?" I gulped and told him the truth. His eyes
widened, he took one more look at the jeans, then muttered, not unkindly, "They
make your ass look big." I returned them the next day and spent the money
on five pairs of Gap jeans and a sandwich.
these horrifying incidents, I tried to figure out why motherhood had caused me
to socially regress. Sure, most of my conversations these days are with people
under three feet high whose favorite words are "booger," "diarrhea,"
and "Chex Mix," but still
Maybe the brain cells that control witty
banter were somehow attached to my long lost placentas. Maybe repeated viewing
of The Wonderpets gives you the personality of a chronic pot smoker. But
more likely, maybe it's just the sad, simple fact that making new friends is hard
at any stage of life.
to lose my pariah status, I launched a calculated campaign to fit in better. I
no longer referred to my kids and myself as "playdate sluts" when talking
to other moms. I stopped openly making fun of scrapbookers, Christian rock and
conversion vans. I kept most of my thoughts, and cracklin' personality, to myself.
And it actually worked. I met a lot of other mothers and struck up tentative friendships.
I was mature and composed and finally felt like one of the in-crowd. It was time
for me to make my triumphant walk down the staircase to a round of slow, meaningful
applause and head off into a night of bliss at the prom.
then my Molly Ringwald moment came. You know, the one where she defiantly yanks
off her Homecoming Queen tiara because she finally sees that she hasn't been (all
together now) "true to herself"? I came to realize that while I had
a lot of new friends, I really didn't like them so much. They weren't funny. They
weren't weird. And I like weird. I am weird. And that's when I decided I was no
longer going to surrender my personality just so I could be that beautiful, popular
cheerleader at the football game. I'd rather be one of the dorks under the bleachers
making fun of her, anyway.
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