We went to the zoo today. My dad’s work was having their yearly ‘company picnic,’ complete with catered lunch and crafts for the kids. Dad dotes on his six grandkids. I know this is what grandparents are supposed to do, but he certainly didn’t dote on me (at least, not that I remember from my teen years). My sister was there too, quieter, sadder, and I don’t know when she’ll again enjoy a simple outing without thinking of how things were supposed to be.
At the lunch, we remarked on the nifty plastic tablecloths. They were fitted and had a tiny edging of elastic to kept them from shifting. My dad was so struck by them that I volunteered to go ask the friendly, middle-aged zoo host guy where they got them. He and his helper were very chatty. I said the tablecloths would be great for church activities, and then later in the conversation he asked what I thought of the whole event. I said that the only thing not perfect was that I wasn’t sure that the paints being used for the birdhouse craft would come out of my childrens’ clothes. And he said, “Well, that would be a great topic for a Relief Society night.”
This caught me off guard and I didn’t respond right away. He said, “You know, getting paint out of clothes.” Still a confused look on my face, so he rushed to apologize: “Oh, when you said that about church activities, but, I’m sorry . . . ,” and of course I said, “Oh no, that’s fine, you’re right, it would be a great topic for Relief Society.” (Although it wouldn’t. Who wants to learn about laundry techniques on the rare night out with the church-girls?)
The weird thing is that I’m sure at some point in my life I wouldn’t have been at all surprised by his casual reference to the church I belong to. And at some other point in my life I would have been offended on behalf of every non-Mormon that someone would assume from a simple “church activities” that I was Mormon and not Baptist or Catholic. I’m pretty sure they have activities too. Not to mention his assuming that everyone knows that “Relief Society,” in Mormon terms, refers to the entire women’s group, and not some committee to send aid to lepers in the leper colony (although Relief Society women have been known to knit those funny bandages).
Now I’m at a point in my life where it was just awkward, and I felt bad for him putting me on the spot and for me putting him on the spot. Of course, it was even more awkward when, after he had taken pains to speak to the craft women and to assure me that the birdhouse paint was water-soluble, I spilled an entire coke all over the nifty plastic tablecloth and then had to stand around apologizing and feeling stupid while he cleaned up after me.
Not my finest moment.
Also at the lunch, a woman came over to Dick and me. I did not recognize her at first, though she looks much more similar to her pre-children college self than I do. In other words, she looks great. Turns out that the three of us were in Writing Fellows together, which was the class/club/ finally-I-know-who-I-am-group where Dick and I met at BYU. She is married to my dad’s, well, not boss exactly, but very-respected colleague of some sort. We asked some personal (awkward) questions in an attempt to catch up. Yes, those four kids are hers. No, the older two (including a 14 year-old) are from her husband’s first marriage. Etc.
Dick and I talked too much, in our excitement at seeing her and through her, re-connecting with our idealistic, impressionable selves. I often feel later that I have monopolized a conversation, talking too much about myself, my interests and I never know if it’s because I am a really insufferable person (probably) or if the people I tend to be friends with are just really good at asking questions and seeming to be interested in me.
We asked her if she was writing. And it was as if we had asked if she were curing cancer yet. She was bashful, a bit apologetic, wistful. (I guess if you felt you should be curing cancer you’d be REALLY apologetic). I stumbled to say, “Of course, I know with kids and all, it’s almost impossible to do anything else.”
So, no writing, except for some family history things, stories about her ancestors, that sort of thing. Which, of course, is “writing,” though it was obvious that she didn’t consider it to be the kind of thing that we were talking about. Even after we told her we mostly blog, and everyone knows that isn’t a very respectable form of writing. And Dick is a technical writer, which everyone knows is selling out.
I wondered how I would have felt two years ago or a week ago when I felt like never writing another post, if someone had asked me, “Are you writing?”
Quite likely I would have screamed, “Are you KIDDING me? When should I be writing? Between the mopping of the syrup and the listening to the tantrums? Or the policing of the snack cupboard and the feeling guilty for pulling hair? Or the listening to the whining and the smelling stinky panties? I haven’t even had my Mountain Dew yet, and you think I SHOULD BE WRITING?”
I wanted to apologize, and yet, how could I? I’d apologize for the fact that her kids are taking up so much of her time, only she looks like she’s enjoying it, and her kids look really happy too.
The worst part is that Dick and I actually had cards to give her. I felt like a realtor, or a Mary Kay consultant. At least my cards were free at Vista Print and I only got them for that blogging conference I went to a few weeks ago. And they don’t have my picture on them.
Still, it was awkward, especially since she probably saw the thing later with the spilled coke all over the nifty plastic tablecloths.
The good thing is that, even though I have now stayed up another hour and a half to write this, and I’ll be paying for it tomorrow, I feel so much lighter, so much freer. Like I’ve apologized for real now, in writing, for all the awkward things that happened today. And that, Dear Reader, is why I write.
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