22 January 2012

So we went to the Chinese New Year party and both of us had a tough social time. It was one of those days that it was impossible for me to talk to anyone -- could have really used someone who was so wrapped up in themselves that they talked to me non-stop without asking a single question. Unfortunately, I did not bump into that person.

I did chat with two people I know from school, but I was awkward and felt like I was running out of things to say, questions to ask. There was a time when I was this way all the time. It was my brand of being shy. It was not that I didn’t want to meet and talk to people, but I had no idea of what to say. More importantly, what to ask. With David, who was also not a party animal, we hung together. We were an insular whole. We did not make new friends when we went on vacation; we could live without neighbors.

Slowly, I changed, never becoming a brilliant conversationalist but I could be very friendly. I could talk to people almost anywhere and be very presentable. And although parties where I and/or we knew no one could still be a challenge, I seemed to be past my very awkward stage.

And I would say that I’ve been pushed back or entered a new phase of awkward. Nothing to say. No questions come to mind. I am forced and strained. I do not keep up with current events. I have no job to talk or complain about. Fallow year activities do not yield interesting anecdotes. At least, not right now. I do hope this passes and that I find my friendly bones again, but for now, I have no choice but to dig in and be the lone stranger who wanders a cocktail party looking for all the world like they wish the earth would swallow them whole.

As for Julia, well, she is my partner in awkwardness although hers takes a completely different form. As we approached the high school where the party was to be held, I tell her to be friendly, to pay attention and answer questions when other people ask. We go over her basic facts: name, age, where we live, what school she goes to, what grade she is in, and the name of her teacher. And we rehearse, “Happy New Year.”

The school was laid out with a central plaza/cafeteria/gathering place right inside of the front door. We went early to help with decorations and as soon as Julia entered the building she spotted a basketball team sitting on the steps down to the plaza. “Hello, boys!” She called. “Happy New Year! My name is Julia.” They were all very amused. Oh, well, awkward in a whole new way.

Julia is trying to socialize, but she does it with statements, not questions. At the arts & crafts tables, she creates cool stuff and then asks the person next to her if they life her work. Some grownups accommodate her. Some get it immediately and draw her out a bit. Usually, until she turns her attention elsewhere, which tends to be when the grownup wants to take a turn at asking a question or saying an original thought. Some let her stay on her topic which inevitably gets to dinosaurs. Some just look confused. Kids are not as kind. But Julia tries. She tries all the time. It will not be easy for her to learn to socialize but if she wants friends enough, she will learn it.

We both need to practice asking questions. Ummm . . .

And so mother with no questions and daughter with few interests decorated before the crowd arrived. Julia is getting better at staying on task when I give her a task. She tied ribbon around balloons and then tied the balloons around railings for about 35 minutes. I had to remind her at times to stay on task and she was slow at it, but I don’t know if she was slower than any other 11 year old, and truth be told, no other kid was there helping with decorations.

Julia wore ear plugs so that she could stand the loud music the accompanied the dance groups -- little girls in pretty costumes fluttering about an open space -- and the lion dancers which was a mix of adults and kids from a karate club in town. Julia knew one of the lion dancers who was the head of one of the fierce lions. She was so happy to put her red envelop in that lion’s mouth. Julia spent most of the performance on my lap which is always fine with me, but of course, if more appropriate for a 5 or six year old than for an 11 year old.

There is some ego stuff working, and some mama bear protection, but we went, we hung out, we did crafts and we fed the dancing lions for good luck.

Happy year of the dragon!

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