Jackass

As you may know, my family moved a few months ago. We’ve now been here long enough for the brand newness to wear off, leaving me at the lonely intersection of Interesting-New-Person and I-Am-Not-Really-Friends-With-You. This is an awkward place to be. The trick to being new in town is making real friends before the newness wears off, leading straight to the happy intersection of Interesting-New-Person and Fun-New-Friend. Hindsight, right?

I missed my chance to make friends while still interesting just by virtue of being new because I’m not good at making new friends. At all. My sense of humor is completely uncalibrated so I never know if it’s going to overshoot or under, but it seems to always miss the mark. Generally, I compensate for this by not making any jokes at all until I think I have a gauge on my audience. The problem with keeping my humor in check is that without it I’ve got nothing. What do people talk about if they’re not joking around? It’s all weather and this year’s tomato crop. If I can’t be funny, I don’t have a single interesting thing to say. When I don’t have anything interesting to say there’s no telling what might come out of my mouth.

Here are a couple of recent examples which illustrate why I don’t have new local friends:

Braced for some killer talk about weather, tomatoes, and how precious our children are, I headed to my daughter’s preschool open house. Within minutes Tim and I found ourselves talking to Sally’s soon-to-be teacher. What happens next is like a slow motion nightmare- that dream where you’re driving a car, but you’re in the backseat so you can’t reach the wheel or the pedals, and you know a cliff is coming but it’s all out of your control. Well, the car was me and I was careening headlong off the cliff of WTF. I could not control the words coming from my mouth. Tim backed away, not wanting to go down in flames beside me. That traitor. I watched him walk out of my nightmare as I continued to talk:

Oh, you have a pre-teen daughter? Does she hate you yet? I’m terrified of the day Sally becomes a teenager and decides she hates me. And I think our cycles will sync up. That happens, right? All that PMS at once? Scary. Hopefully I’ll go through ‘the change’ before Sally gets her period….

On and on I went about my four-year-old’s future menstrual cycle and my own eventual menopause. Why? While my horrible words tumbled out my mind raced: How to back pedal out of this quagmire? I’m talking to a preschool teacher. WTF? Stop it! Stop it! Someone save me! Unable to come up with a graceful exit, eventually I pretended that someone needed me and I ran away.

Since then I’ve tried very hard not to talk about female reproductive changes with people I’ve just met. Surely I can make my way out in public if I just avoid that one thing, right?

In another effort to make friends I signed up for a class called Extreme Fit at my gym. I’m one of nine women tortured on a weekly basis by a sadistic 20-something with no parts that jiggle. Certainly this is a climate in which I can make a friend or two. During one particularly grueling workout I found myself collapsed on the floor next to another woman. I said something about my family going hungry since I would be unable to use my arms to prepare dinner. She said, “I have to work tonight so I need my arms. I have to lift babies!” She explained that she’s a nurse in a maternity ward. My inappropriate response? “Yikes! I hope all the babies are underweight!” She looked at me like I had just walked through the hospital’s nursery using my baby seal club on all the newborns over six pounds.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. We can’t joke about underweight babies with strangers? No one told me! Is there a manual for this shit?

The sad truth is that I’m a huge jackass. People who know me well fall into three categories: 1) they know and accept I’m a jackass and therefore are not friends with me at all; 2) they know and accept that I’m a jackass but like me despite that; or 3) they’re related to me. How do I get new people into one of these three camps? If I keep my obnoxious humor under wraps, I have nothing interesting to say so I find myself talking about puberty. Ack! If I risk allowing my sense of humor to range freely, I offend neonatal nurses everywhere. I’d give anything to skip this part and go straight to the intersection of You-Know-Me-Well-Enough-To-Know-I’m-Joking and No-More-Small-Talk. But I can’t. I have to plow straight through this and hope that there are a couple of adults still standing on the other side. Then I’ll know that I’ve found my people.

Jackass

Attention Target Shoppers

If you were in Target today between the hours of 1:00-2:00 you may have overheard a conversation that made me look bad. If you didn’t call the cops or social services, thank you.

Conversation at typical 6-year-old volume in Target:

Luke: Mommy, teenagers sometimes make poor choices.

me: (smiling apologetically at the pack of passing teens who inspired Luke’s comment but still kind of happy that Luke shares my general opinion of teenagers) Yes. Sometimes they do.

Luke: They drink and drive. Is it really bad to drink and drive?

me: It’s one of the worst things. Why? Was someone you know talking about doing that? (because I’ll kill that teenaged motherfucker)

Luke: Well, you drink and drive.

me: (looking around in panic) WHAT? I do not. Never. I never ever drink and drive.

Luke: (getting louder) Yes you do! You drink and drive all the time!

me: (loud enough to make sure all Target shoppers can hear) What are you talking about? I never drink and drive. Not ever. If Daddy or I have a drink the other one drives. Always.

Luke: No. Not always.

me: Always.

Luke: But you drink WHILE you’re driving.

me: (ack! panic!) WHAT!? That has never happened. Not one single time ever in the history of forever. (why did we teach you how to talk again?)

Luke: Well, not at the exact same time. You wait until you’re at a stop sign or a red light. Then you drink. Then you drive. Is that drinking and driving?

me: Oh! Haha! (nervous relief laughter. looking around to make sure people can hear this part clearly) That’s drinking water and driving. That’s okay. People can drink water and drive. That’s what you’re talking about? (whew) It’s perfectly okay that Mommy drinks WATER and drives. (thank god that’s over)

Luke: C’mon, Mom. It’s not always water.

me: (wtf?) Yes, Luke. It is always water.

Luke: It’s sometimes coffee.

me: (exasperation) Right. That’s okay too. When people say ‘drink and drive’ they mean alcohol. That is not okay and I never do that. You can drink water, coffee, tea, milk, juice, soda, and any other thing you’re going to think of that I didn’t mention, (mr. contrary,) just not alcohol.

Luke: Yeah, I guess you don’t drink a lot of beer because Daddy drinks it all the time.

me: (are you freaking kidding me with this horseshit in Target right now?) Daddy does not drink beer all the time. But when he does, he doesn’t drive. Can we talk about something else now?

Luke: Okay. I’m sorry if you’re embarrassed talking about how you drink and drive so much.

End scene.

I’m half expecting a knock on my door any minute, followed by a pointed interview of me and each of my kids. To be safe, I’m going to lay off the sauce tonight as my defense will be stronger if not spoken through wine-stained teeth. But you know what I’m really in the mood for? A beer.

It’s Payback Time

I’m guessing I was about six at the time – old enough to remember it clearly, old enough to know better, young enough to do it anyway.

My parents took my sister, brother and I to a performance of The Nutcracker. Nice, right? It might have been until I spotted some unmemorable Nutcracker trinket in the theater gift shop that I HAD TO HAVE.

I asked for it. My mother said no.

I begged for it. My mother said no.

I asked if I could use my birthday money to buy it. (Genius! There’s no way she could say no to that!) My mother said no.

I lost my shit.

In my crying, screaming fit of righteous brattiness I shouted that my mother had stolen my money from me. 

Imagine this: In a moment of possibly insane parental optimism, you buy expensive tickets to the ballet for your family. Oh the music, the ballet, the magic! My sweet bright-eyed children will love it! Chances are your sanity has returned by the time you cross the theater’s threshold.

And then your child starts screaming, in a crowded theater, in the small community where you and your husband live and work, that you STOLE HER BIRTHDAY MONEY.

Kudos to my mother for not killing me. Kudos to my mother for somehow convincing my father to also not kill me, and to take me back home with them.

I recently recalled this particular scene from my childhood as I dialed Goodwill to see if they accept donations of gently-used children.

My kids’ shockingly obnoxious behavior is completely embarrassing. Behind closed doors, Luke calling me stupid is horrible. It makes me question his character and my shortcomings. But Luke calling me stupid in the supermarket? at the doctor’s office? in the playground? at a family gathering? in front of neighbors? Humiliation. Blood pressure spike. Prickly sweat. All sorts of thoughts that hold no resemblance whatsoever to I love my son so much and am so grateful to be his mother.

He does this to see what I’ll do. Which means that he is fully aware that I will be embarrassed. He just wants to see if I care more about throttling him or about appearing normal in front of other people. (This is where I should say that my reaction is totally consistent regardless of where we are. This is where I should say that as his mother my responsibility is to him alone, my own social standing and happiness be damned. So, let’s just pretend I said those things, m’kay?)

When I loudly accused my mother of stealing my money, over and over again, I knew very well that we were in public. I wanted to embarrass her. Of course she hadn’t stolen my money, but it was the meanest thing I could think of that might make some kindly stranger step in, tell my mother how horrible she is, and save me by buying me the trinket and possibly arresting my mom. To steal her adorable fancy-dressed daughter’s birthday money? For shame! She’d learn her lesson alright and she would never maltreat me again. Of course, at six, these thoughts weren’t quite so well laid out. It was probably more Captain Caveman-ish: Me mad! It her fault! Shame her! She bad!!!! Waaaaaaaa!

My mother did not kill me that day, or any other day for that matter. And she did bring me back home with her, albeit by dragging me unkindly through the parking lot while using her scary-quiet voice through gritted teeth. “You just wait until we get home!” Probably all that happened when we got home was me crying and quaking with fear, and my mother yelling something about something. That part I don’t remember.

Likewise, I have not killed my children and I keep taking them back home with me. I have a mean scary voice that when combined with gritted teeth has the desired effect of scaring the living shit out of them. My kids won’t remember every time they’re sent to their rooms or lose out on a toy or privilege  They won’t recall the words that I scream at them when I’m screaming at them. (Let’s pretend I don’t do that.) But I bet they’ll remember The Look. I’m certain they’ll remember that scary voice. And I look forward to the day when they remember some specific incident from their childhood when they each acted like a tiny raging asshole, because they are dealing with their own tiny raging assholes.

In the end, our vindication does not come the way we imagine it at six. It’s not police at our door telling our parents that they’ll go to jail if they don’t get on board and buy us at least one Cabbage Patch Doll, since every other girl in the universe has, like, a hundred of them. Vindication happens much later. It’s when our own children experience the awful humiliation of having unhappy children in public places, the bitter disappointment of a special treat or surprise turning into a nightmare outing.

My mother will read this and tell me that it’s not about vindication. That she would prefer it if I never had to endure this stuff. But that’s not all true and I know it. No one drags her daughter out of The Nutcracker after that scene without wishing for her to get what’s coming to her one day. So, Mom, rest assured; I’m getting what I deserve. In spades.