As if a mother and teen daughter don’t have enough to argue about, my 18-year-old girl, Meg, and I are constantly at odds over socializing.
From the time she was in grammar school, Meg could work a room like a politician, remembering everyone’s name as well as some factoid about what was last going on in their lives. For as long as I can remember, all the mothers, dating back to pre-K (some I didn’t even know), went out of their ways to say hello to her. Even now, when we walk through our neighborhood, shopkeepers stop sweeping to greet her, some tapping on their store windows to get her attention so they can wave. Meg not only waves back but flashes her hey-glad-to-see-you-too grin that is negotiating currency.
I usually have to leave a room after ten minutes to get fresh air and a minute of silence to recharge my batteries, and that’s after being in a corner greeting only those who made the effort to come over to me. Even then, I can’t wait until the encounter is over because small talk to me is the dry version of waterboarding. The mere thought of, “How’s the family? Some weather we’re having, huh? How ’bout them Mets?” causes me physical pain.
Meg refuses to accept (or quite possibly understand) that being a social butterfly is not only not part of my makeup but something not even on my bucket list. She keeps thinking that if only she puts me in the middle of the crowd, where she thrives, a light bulb will go off above my five-decade old head, and I’ll change my tune.
Often, my daughter has a look of confusion in response to my look of horror when she extends herself, and thus me, to other people. When we are out, my daughter invites people we run into to join our table; she tells me she’s invited family over for dinner that evening; or she tells me of plans she’s made for us with a group of other mothers and daughters—all lovely gestures but things I like to be presented with well in advance so I can psych myself up to mingle and chat.
Meg tells me that she knows if she follows those guidelines, though, the arrangements will never come to fruition. And she is, for the most part, correct. So I go along, not just to get along but because I know isolating myself will deprive me of time with her. As long as I can step outside of wherever we are (even our own home) to let the quiet wash over me for a few minutes, being out and about can almost be enjoyable.
I learned this trick as a teenager when my hostess-with-the-mostest mother would have our thousands of family members over for holidays. (Clearly, socializing skipped a generation.) Since I was a child, I watched my (now 93-year-old) mother give of herself. Not only has she had many friends but also, her friendships have lasted decades. She still gets Christmas cards from a woman who babysat me back in the 1960s and another from someone who used to take ballet lessons with me. These were people in my life, who, given the choice, chose to stay in touch with her.
My mother has been retired now for around 30 years, but her former colleagues still reach out to her. She moved to Manhattan from my childhood home in the Bronx almost two decades ago to help me raise Meg and her older brother Luke, yet she continues to get holiday flowers from her one-time outerborough neighbors.
Although I could never be like her or Meg, I’m grateful for the times they’ve invited me (dragged me kicking and screaming) into the maddening crowd. At the end of the social events, in order to cope, I may have blocked who said or did what during the dizzying swell of activity, but I’ll always remember watching my two butterflies soar.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novel Fat Chick and Back to Work She Goes
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