Social anxiety by proxy: The introverted mother

As long as she has been able to string two words together, my daughter has had a gift for small talk.

“I Anya,” my three-year-old would say to some random stranger in Target. “My Mimi. My mommy,” she’d continue, pointing to my mother and me. “My baby,” she’d say, pointing to my pregnant belly. She would then ask the other person’s name, and the names of their children, and go on to discuss their clothes, accessories, kids, and the contents of both our carts until her new friend excused him/herself.

All the while, I wished desperately for the floor to swallow me up. I suck at small talk. And talking to strangers. Talking in general is not my strong suit. I prefer to type.

Anya was never very social in her play, but she did crave child companionship from a young age — that’s part of the reason why she has a baby brother in the first place. She’d love for me to have another baby; she and her brother may butt heads, but they’re also very close. And she loves to talk with kids of all ages, whenever, wherever.

“I’m Anya,” she’ll say to some kid at the park, in the toy section of a store, attending whatever kid function we’re at that day. “Want to be my friend?”

She has a harder time pulling off the small talk with kids, who have been indoctrinated with stranger-danger from the time they were in diapers. Some are open and friendly; most, put off by her gregarious nature and her lingering speech issues, are more reticent, and a handful are even cruel. I was relieved to find that her classmates warmed to her; every encounter with a school mate has the two children hugging like they’ve not seen each other in years, even if they’ve only been parted for 30 minutes or so. She also bonded easily and naturally with the girls in her Girl Scout troop, and those on her softball team.

She lets the rebuffs roll off her back; she knows she is loved and has friends. I’m the one who lies awake at night ruminating over them. “She was just trying to be nice to you,” I think. “Why do you have to be so mean to someone so sweet?”

Her baby brother is now three, and is starting to make more overt attempts at socialization. He is constantly handing me this toy or that and inviting me into collaborative play. (Anya never did this, so it’s a new experience for both Kai and I.) And the other day at softball, I watched him approach a group of older girls (older than Anya, even; probably around 8) and try to strike up a conversation.

“I’m sorry,” one of them said to me, a cute little red-haired girl who appeared to be Kai’s favorite. “I don’t speak baby.”

Kai was wounded, I could tell — he’s a big boy, not a baby — but he kept trying. To no avail; not many 8-year-olds are interested in 3-year-olds. But he continued to try to join their conversation until we left.

My children seem so brazen to me. Did I ever have this confidence? The me I remember would have crumpled at the first insult, intended or actual, and slunk away. But perhaps I was more dogged at 3, at 6. Before the rebuffs and insults piled up.

At the mention of a park (preferably not deserted, which is how I remember preferring them — and continue to prefer them), a party, some other kid-friendly activity, they light up. It’s not the location or the activity that excites them — it’s the kids. They love nothing more than to play with other kids. And every time, my heart freezes. Will they be treated kindly? Accepted? Or ridiculed and excluded? How do I guard my heart against the latter, when I still bear the wounds inflicted by my own childhood?

Then again, the other night Kai and I left without even approaching the baseball field where he was to play t-ball, and I think part of it was because he was terrified of all the people there. I saw myself in those tear-filled eyes — at 3, at 23, at 43. And no matter how much I begged him to just try it, reminded him of how much he’d been looking forward to t-ball, and assured him that I would be right there with him the whole time, he would not budge.

Does this ever get easier? For any of us?

 

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Banana ice cream

It’s hot.

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My house at 7 pm last night.

And when it’s hot, I don’t cook much. So I’ve not been creating many recipes lately. We’ve been eating mostly fruit, actually. I’ll try to do better next week.

But I did make one new recipe this week: Banana ice cream. Let me say first off that the photo doesn’t do this stuff justice; when I took it, it was 80 degrees in my house. (At 8 pm.) This stuff looks much more like ice cream than in the photo. I can’t vouch for the taste because I detest bananas. Loathe. Have never liked. But my son loves them, and we had a bunch of bananas that were about to go to waste. So I threw them in the freezer this morning, and pureed them into a treat this evening. It really is that fast and easy.

If only I could stand bananas.

Banana Ice Cream

6 bananas, cut into chunks, frozen (freeze at least 6 hours)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Add the ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. It will take longer than you think it should, but after a few minutes it’ll come together. Serve immediately (soft serve), or freeze to scoop.

 

 

When does the hair positivity get here?

I have naturally curly hair. Some days it looks good…

tutorial

Other days…not.

frizz

I live in the Memphis area, so I have a lot of not days. Especially in the summer, which lasts roughly 9 months around here.

I didn’t grow up curly. My hair was curly as a toddler, but it changed to silky straight around preschool. Then somewhere towards puberty, it started waving and frizzing while simultaneously becoming thick and coarse:

goat
Yep. That’s a goat.

I wore it in a ponytail for a few years because I didn’t know what else to do with it. Finally I cut it off. That was a bad idea. Grew it back out, and discovered hot rollers, which at least helped me control the poof. Then I dialed the frizz up to 11 by bleaching the crap out of it for a few years, because it was the 80s and everyone else was doing it:

red
I do miss the red, but the price is too high.

When I stopped doing that and let it do its own thing, I was stunned to find that it was curly. I don’t mean a little wavy, beachy, whatever. I mean seriously curly. I grew it out, thinking the weight of it would turn the curl to waves. Um, no:

doom
Pulled straight, my hair was down to my tailbone here.

So…it’s curly curly. Over the years I’ve constructed a hair routine that isn’t exactly in line with what’s recommended to curly girls, but works for me: I wash it at night, put some mousse on it, and try not to crush it too bad when I sleep (on satin pillowcases, because tangles). In the morning, I wet any fuzzy sections, then straighten my bangs with a curling iron.

68185-Girls-With-Curly-Hair

I still have bad hair days, but that’s what buns are for.

I used to straighten my hair (or have my hairdresser straighten it, because she’s better at it) for any and all photographable moments, but in recent years I’ve come to discover that I prefer my hair curly. When it’s straight, I just don’t look like me. So you can keep your flat irons and your blowouts; I might straighten my hair on a whim, but most days I go twirly.

Then today I saw two things that made me sad and horrified. Horrified because…well, just go look at that. Here I thought it was bad when I applied bleach to my head every 4 weeks to be pretty, but jayzus. Sad because I grew up watching people — guys and girls — apply all sorts of chemicals and products to their hair to look good, wondering what they thought was wrong with it in the first place. Then I spent 20 years hating my own hair, at times frying it with various implements up to and including a clothes iron, because I fell victim to the fashion bandwagon. Now the pendulum’s swinging back the other way, and I feel sorry once more for the girls who will douse their head in chemicals to try to look like someone else.

I see a lot of body positivity these days, but we’re still screwing with our hair. Can we stop that, please?

Look. I’ve had straight hair, curly hair, short hair, long hair, red hair, dark brown hair, and salt-and-pepper hair. It all had its good days and bad days. But overall, my hair looks best when I don’t mess with it too much. My mother taught me that; she’s worn her hair the same way since I was 6 months old. It works for her. I think most people are that way — we tend to look best with what we were born with.

You do you, I tell my kids. Nobody can be you as well as you can. That goes for your hair, too.

Tri-pepper corn chowder

Necessity may or may not be the mother of invention, but it definitely had a hand in this corn chowder.

My daughter wanted to try sliced bell peppers…and didn’t like them. I’m not a fan of them myself, except in recipes. I also had an abundance of corn, as we bought a whole bunch and then the kids decided they no longer like corn. So my choice was clear.

Most of the recipes I came across called for potato, but my potatoes had sprouted. So I winged it. This recipe is an amalgamation of about 10 recipes I found. Luckily, the final result was good enough to share.

 

Tri-pepper corn chowder

3 cans corn, undrained, divided
4 vegetable bouillon cubes (2 if you use the larger cubes that make 2 cups of broth)
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 green bell pepper, diced
1/3 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/3 orange bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons Sunny Paris seasoning (from Penzeys)
1 cup white cooking wine
1/4 cup sour cream

Puree 1.5 cans of corn plus the liquid from both cans with the bouillon cubes until smooth. Set aside. Melt the butter in a large stock pot and saute the peppers and onion until tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the Sunny Paris and saute for another minute to release the flavors. Add the remaining 1.5 cans corn, drained; stir well and cook for a minute more. Stir in the pureed corn and the wine and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in sour cream and serve.

11 years of weird

Look! It’s a Friday post!

Um…don’t get used to this, okay? It’s just that today is a special occasion. You see, today marks the 11th anniversary of the day R and I decided we were officially dating, after we’d been unofficially dating for nearly six months. And then we dated for 10 years before we got married. We don’t rush into stuff, okay?

Anyway. In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tweets about the man. Because he is nothing if not entertaining. Then, now, always.

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R (brushing his hair): Ugh…the baldness.
Me: Welcome to middle age.
R: There are thousands and thousands of middle-aged men who aren’t bald.
M: They’re short. Does that make you feel any better?
R: No.

My husband threw a gummi bear into the toy pile on the living room floor and told the kids whoever found it gets another one. They are now happily cleaning. I married a genius.

R, after eating a sandwich he cooked himself: Mmmm…thank you for the sandwich.
Me: Did you just thank yourself?
R: I did. It was that good.

R is talking in his sleep again: “Ub dub dub. Ub dubdubdubdub. Ub dub. Dub. DUB. Ub dub. Yeah.”

Okie dokie.

Me: I’m hungry, but don’t know what I want to eat.
[R and I reminisce about all the foods the kids have thrown up.]
Me: I’m not hungry anymore.
R: You’re welcome.
#relationshipgoals, we are.

I you, funny man. I you big-big.

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Edited because for some reason my brain told me it was 2019 when I wrote this…I do tend to live in the future, but sheesh.

Talking with my daughter about boys

A couple of years ago, I ran into a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Let’s call him Guy. We weren’t really close back in the day — he was my best friend’s boyfriend — and after he went to college we lost touch. We had a nice chat, considering we were at a funeral, and he asked for my cell number so we could keep in touch.

A few months and several conversations later, I was remembering why we’d lost touch: conversations with him always made me uneasy. I was also unnerved by the fact that, though we did end up connecting on Facebook. he would respond to my FB posts in texts. Who does that? People who don’t want a public record of what they’re saying, that’s who.

Still, nothing he said was overtly offensive, so I wondered if I wasn’t misreading his intentions. (Once you’ve been in a relationship with a gaslighter, you forever question your perceptions. But that’s a story for another day.) So while I noped out of there, letting more and more time elapse between texts, I felt bad. Several months later, I felt sufficiently guilty to agree to meet him for lunch while I was out running errands with Anya.

It was a good lunch. We had a great conversation, catching up on the past 20 years, and even took Anya to the park after we ate so we could chat some more. (It takes a while to catch up on two decades, and Panera’s portions are small.) He was going through a divorce, so we commiserated about that. I enjoyed talking to someone my age, someone who knew me when I was young. Anya especially enjoyed interacting with someone who isn’t a relative; she almost never gets to do that.

Shortly after that lunch, Guy accepted a job in another state. We had a goodbye lunch before he left. And this is when I discovered that Guy had created this whole fiction surrounding our high school experience. One in which he and I, had circumstances been just slightly different, might have dated.

I never even thought about dating Guy. Not that he didn’t flirt with me, before, during, and after his relationship with my best friend. That I could deal with, but of course it didn’t stop there. He would do things like start “tickle fights.” Only it didn’t really tickle because he was grabbing and poking at me — hard — and trying to brush up against my boobs. I was too busy defending myself to tickle back, which made the fights pretty damned one-sided. These sessions would always end in him “accidentally” grabbing my crotch. (Yes, he literally grabbed me by the pussy. That’s really a thing.) The worst part was that I felt like I had to laugh, because he was playing. And because he was a nice guy. My friend.

So…yeah, I can’t say I ever entertained the notion of dating him.

His tactics matured a bit in the intervening years, but his end game never changed. At our last lunch, he regaled me with richly detailed stories of events that never happened. I will admit that I don’t remember everything from high school, but these stories contradict things I know for certain transpired, and have me doing things that I know damned good and well I never did. Any time I tried to disagree with his narrative, he’d interrupt me with “I’m sorry, but your memory isn’t as good as mine” or something similar. And then, a few statements later, he would try to smooth things over by saying something like “we both know you’re smarter than me.” Which is probably true, but not the point. The point is that I finally caught the pattern as it was happening. This is what my wasband used to do to me.

So I wasn’t exactly sad that Guy was about to move away. I had already agreed to invite him the wedding, but I figured one day, a day in which I would be surrounded by family and friends and thus a bit too busy to deal with him one on one, would be okay. After that, I could go back to radio silence, and hopefully he’d just fade back into the oblivion from whence he came.

A few months later, he sent me a text that set all my alarm bells off: I have a question.

No follow-up. Felt awfully flirty, so I just ignored it for a day or so. Finally, I got tired of it hanging over my head, so I replied: What’s that?

Do you think we would be happy married?

This is what I get for giving people the benefit of the doubt.

It took me a week to formulate an answer, but I did. I told him firmly, and not exactly gently, that the question was inappropriate, that I had never and will never have those sorts of feelings for him, and that under the circumstances, I was no longer comfortable with him attending my wedding. He apologized, but I blocked him anyway. He unfriended me on Facebook.

It took me three more days to screw up the courage to tell R about the whole thing. Even though I’d done nothing wrong. It felt like I’d done something wrong, somehow. And that’s when I knew I was right to uninvite Guy and cut all ties.

That’s the kind of guy who rapes people, R said.

And that was it. I married the good guy. Life went on.

Except Anya didn’t know all of that. All she knew was that she’d had a really good time at the park with Guy, he said he’d come to the wedding, and then he didn’t come to the wedding and she never heard from him again. She asked after him periodically, and I would give her evasive answers — he was busy with his new job, that sort of thing. The other night, she asked about him again, and I just…snapped. Told her the whole story, crotch grabs and all.

That’s mean, she said. But I could tell that, finally, she understood why Guy is no longer in our lives.

I hadn’t meant to tell her all this so soon. But how soon is too soon? I was her age the first time I was molested. I’m starting to think that perpetuating this myth about the idyllic innocence of childhood does more harm than good. So I kept going.

I told her that in a few years, boys might start treating her the way Guy treated me, and that it is not okay, ever. I told her that people tend to pass this sort of obnoxious behavior in males off as normal — admirable, even, a sign of affection. I begged her to tell me if a boy did something that made her feel bad, or sad, or sick. Because not all guys are like that. Her daddy isn’t like that. Her daddy would never, ever treat someone that way.

A week later, in passing, Anya mentioned that W, the little boy she called her boyfriend all through kindergarten, is no longer her boyfriend. D is her boyfriend now. Because W doesn’t care about her, and D does. I’ve seen her with D, and they are adorable. He absolutely cares about her, even letting her hold his arm as they go down stairs.

Was the breakup with W because of our conversation? I’m not sure. But I’m encouraged to see that, at 6, she has a handle on how to tell if a boy cares about her, and the good sense to kick anyone who doesn’t to the curb.

And I will definitely be having this same conversation with her brother in a few years.

Rosemary cream sauce

This sauce was supposed to be for butternut squash noodles. However, I found the texture of the frozen squash noodles…unpleasant. Anya said they looked like puke. They didn’t taste much better. Since I already had the peas and the sauce ready (and I was starving), I cooked up some egg noodles. They were, of course, delicious, though nowhere near as pretty as the butternut squash would have been.

Not integral to the recipe, but an interesting note: Because hungry me is not patient, I cooked these noodles using the cold water method: I put the pasta in a pot, added enough cold water to just cover the noodles, and turned the burner to high. When the water was just beginning to simmer (I wasn’t timing that part — maybe 3 or so minutes), I set the timer for 5 minutes, as the instructions said 5-7 minutes. In 5 minutes, the noodles were done. And that’s the last time I boil gallons of water to cook pasta.

 

Rosemary cream sauce

1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, ground
1/4 teaspoon dried garlic
1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup skim milk, or 1 cup half-and-half
1 vegetable bouillon cube (1/2 a cube if your cubes make 2 cups of broth)
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper, if desired

Melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the rosemary and garlic and cook briefly to release the flavors (30-60 seconds max), then slowly add the cream and milk. Dissolve the bouillon cube in the water and stir into the cream mixture. Cook until bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in Parmesan, and ladle over your favorite noodles. Sprinkle each serving with freshly ground pepper and serve.