In 10 days all of my worldly possessions will be boxed, loaded into trucks, and carted away from my home. This is the only home Sally has ever had, and the only home Luke remembers. While I’m excited about the new house, and I know that it will eventually become home, now it’s somebody else’s house, on somebody else’s street, with somebody else’s neighbors.
But what of those neighbors?
I am not great at first impressions. Ask just about any of my friends and they’ll tell you that they didn’t like me, were afraid of me, thought I was a bitch when they first met me. I think of it as my hard candy shell. It protects my inner chocolate and I won’t melt in your hands. But since having kids, I can’t afford to make that first impression. I need friends. STAT.
I’ve faced the issue of Mommy Dating before with limited success. But this time it’s more important. At 6-years-old Luke needs friends to hang out with on the regular. I need to model how to make friends even if it makes me uncomfortable. In this vein, I will go to my neighbor’s houses to introduce myself and my kids. I will introduce myself to parents in the library, playground, and anywhere else we find them.
But what about when Luke acts, well, Luke-ish?
My allegiance is to him first and foremost, which means that my reactions in front of new friends and neighbors need to be the same as my reactions at home. Which means that I need to suffer embarrassment and judgement as I deal with behaviors that may seem shocking and egregious. I simply can’t come down on him for everything he does. The occasional (frequent) “I hate you!” “You’re stupid!” comments, the occasional (frequent) tantrums, hits, and kicks, get a different reaction from me than they would from a parent of a more typically-demeanored child.
(Just in writing this I can feel the judgement coming from some of the readers. I fully know what they’re thinking and what they may say in the comments. And I understand why they think and say it. If you have a typically defiant child, then your stern admonishment in the face of flagrant disrespect are necessary and effective. So of course I should sternly admonish Luke for saying and doing these horrible things. If I don’t, it’s my fault he continues to behave that way. Those are easy assumptions to make, and certainly the ones I would have made as well. But, what they don’t know is that they have typically defiant children and I don’t. What works for most children, does not work for Luke. My non-reaction (when I can manage it) is actually the right thing to do.)
So, how can I get to know new people in the face of my anxiety about meeting them coupled with my anxiety of waiting for Luke to do something that will cause them to look at me expectantly, then judge me?
Do I open with, “Hi, I’m Allison. This is Luke and this is Sally. While Luke is the kindest and most thoughtful person I know, he also acts rashly and says things he doesn’t mean. So, I may ignore him or physically drag him out of here under a barrage of punches. Please judge my parenting based on my interactions with Sally,”?
Of course not.
Luke picks up on my anxiety the way a chameleon picks up the colors of its environment. I need to convincingly pretend that I have all the confidence in the world that he will behave appropriately. (Which he totally can and does sometimes.) If he detects a chink in my confidence, and he will if there is one, then he will meet my low expectations and then some.
Luke also picks up on my stress. I’ve been so stressed during this moving process and his behavior has reflected it in spades. We’ve established some toxic habits these last few months that I’m not proud of. I need to somehow release all my stress and anxiety the moment I cross the threshold of my new house. Can I do that while surrounded by boxes and up to my ears in the work of moving in? I have no doubts about my inability to do this. I need to somehow make the chore of unpacking fun. I need to set the tone for the family – a happy, cooperative, copacetic, calm tone of familial well-being.
Essentially, I need to take me out of the equation.