Oh, and you should read my better beauty rules column over at The Frisky. When you get a chance, I mean.
My friend was having a birthday party, and of course I didn’t want to go. I know people like parties. I know parties are supposed to be fun. But I dread them. I force myself to go to them sometimes, when it’s someone who is a close friend, or because there is this voice in my head that is definitely my mom’s that is always saying “you never know! It could be a great opportunity!” and otherwise I make something up.”I think I have swine flu. Again.”
(i don’t have the right hat! source)
“My mom is coming,” she texted. “Just so you know.”
“I’m in!” I wrote back. “Of course I’ll be there!!”
Thank god for my friends’ moms. I love them. I have loved them since I was a kid. You know what kind of kid– one of those secret introverts, loud and friendly on the outside, dying to get home and curl up with another Tamora Pierce book on the inside. I always wanted to hang out with moms. I don’t know why.
Guesses: they’re nicer than kids. They are impressed when you’re friendly and polite. It doesn’t take much to impress them. They know interesting stuff.
Once my friend’s mom farted in front of us, and she was like “Oops.” And she didn’t even care. It was an amazing moment. To be at the point where you don’t even really care that everyone just heard you fart. Hell yeah.
When we were seven, my best friend’s mom did this whole ceremony with us to mark our transition from childhood to preadolescence, or something. It was badass. We dimed the lights and sat in the rec room in their finished basement. She’d put a lace cloth over the little table, and we sat on the rug around it, with some candles lit. It was very solemn.
I was friends with a pair of sisters when I was thirteen, and their mom, a music teacher, listened to me play piece after piece on their baby grand, and told me I was a great talent. She also told me I had a delicate sneeze, which made me feel very feminine.
I visited a college friend in another state one summer, and while she was in a class, her mom and I sat in a coffee shop and talked for hours. I told her all about how unfair it was that my parents wouldn’t accept my boyfriend, who was really, really nice, even if he was a little hopeless in certain ways. She listened.
I have always felt safe with moms. I am the friend who wants to hang out with your family. Who is hoping for an introduction. Who will happily celebrate a holiday with you, learn your traditions, sing along, and hang out in the kitchen with your mom, drying dishes after, talking and talking.
It’s been made perfectly clear to me, the way it has to every one who was ever a child, that I am supposed to be good at people my own age. That my peers matter most. When people talk about socialization, that’s what they mean. When they talk about social deprivation, they mean kids who don’t have a lot of friends the same age as them. For my entire life, when people found out that I was homeschooled, they felt sorry for me, because I was missing out on so many potential friends, all exactly the same age as me.
(a friend for every desk! That’s how it works, right? source)
That was the thing I loved most about not going to school, when it finally occurred to me that my not going to school was a thing. I loved not having to be around people my age all the time. I loved reading in my room. I loved hanging out with the retired women in my poetry group. We all got tea together on Wednesdays. I was fourteen, they were sixty-five and seventy and fifty-eight.
They gave me life advice freely. Some of it was terrible. Some of it was great. ”You need to try caviar at some point. I had an orgasm from smelling it once.” Someone really said that to me. “Whatever you do, don’t wear high heels a lot. They will ruin your back.” Around older women, I was precocious. I was schooled. I was easily loved.
(I have had it, the orange kind, on the outside of the crab roll. No orgasms so far, I’m sorry to report. Maybe it just wasn’t enough? source)
Socialization is supposed to be harder than that. You’re supposed to be learning all these tough life lessons. I don’t like those. I like to be appreciated. I like to learn the easy way.
I am not supposed to admit how nice it was to not have to be around my peers all the time. I feel guilty, writing it now. Like I’ve failed. Like I am responsible for representing homeschoolers better. We are normal! We are just like you! We love to party! We got good SAT scores! We have so many friends! We are super cool and hip and groovy!
My mom would ask me to invite friends over sometimes, to make sure that I was normal. And there were days when I really wanted to. I always had a few really close friends my age. We played in the woods when we were young, we went on long walks and to the coffee shop when we could drive. We had sleepovers at every age. We told each other we would tell each other as soon as we had sex for the first time, and then we mostly didn’t tell. We made bets on who would be first. They said me, but they were usually wrong.
I have always liked girls my age, one on one. I like them now. When someone I’ve never met asks me if I want to grab coffee sometime next week, I almost always say yes. And I almost always really like her. I almost always think she has intriguing clothes and successful hair and a cool speaking voice and an impressive air of confidence. I always try to be at least a little funny.
Last year, a group of my friends took me out to dinner for my birthday, and it was really incredibly nice of them, but I spent the cab ride home (you get to take a cab instead of the subway when it’s your birthday) crying and texting my brother. I liked every single one of them on their own, and together they became this sleek, unforgiving machine that glided forward at its own pace. It ran me over. I felt myself disappearing underneath it. I felt like I had to fight to fit a few words into the conversation. No one was really looking at me. Their eyes slid off me like I was slippery and went to someone stickier. There were all these little moments where my thread was torn off by someone else and she started fresh there, in the middle of the dead point I’d been trying to make. One of the other girls got up to go to the bathroom and everyone said, “Oh my god, she’s the coolest. She’s so gorgeous. Her outfit is amazing. She’s so much more successful than us.” And I thought, arrogantly, privately: I am gorgeous, too. I am successful. I hope I am. And I still can’t tell who I am in a group. Am I loud and funny? Sometimes. Do I shrink and become less important? Sometimes. And sometimes, around these brashly beautiful, tall-heeled, boldly dressed women my own age, I think I am just generally less noticeable. There is something about my manner that I sense for a second and want desperately to correct—something apologetic, clumsy. Something uncomfortable and gentle. I don’t come equipped with the smooth defenses I think people use so often.
I felt ridiculous, crying in the cab after my birthday dinner. Like I was thirteen again. Because you are not supposed to cry over being subtly excluded when you are twenty-six. Because at twenty-six you are supposed to have found friends who pay attention. Because at twenty-six when someone cuts you off, you have to fall quiet and smile or dive back in.
Oh hell, who knows what twenty-six is really supposed to be like?
And I like my gentleness. I like my rough-edged awkwardness. It is not so much a failure of personality as an open window into who I really am. It is like the fringes on the ends of the prayer shawl that Jews pray in. They are there, we’re told, to remind us that we are all rough around the edges. We are all imperfect and vulnerable. And we have to be vulnerable, so that we can let the world in. So that we can learn. So that we can grow and love and laugh hysterically with our silly real laugh and cry at little things that actually do matter.
My mom always wanted me to socialize in a bigger group of my peers. She was popular in school. She was one of those pretty girls with shiny hair and a posse. My mom was always a little worried that homeschooling wouldn’t work. That I would turn out flawed. She was brave enough to do it anyway, though.
My friend’s birthday party was awesome. Her mom sat across from me at the restaurant, and we talked about the choir she’s singing in at her synagogue. We talked about liturgy and spirituality and everyone talked together about being confronted with homelessness and about what it means to be a good person—giving charity, volunteering, how and where should you do it? No one could turn sleek machine, because her mom was there, guarding the weapon’s bin, being uncool in the critical, life-saving way that parents have.
Now that I’ve moved into this new apartment, everyone is saying that I should have a housewarming party, but I’m nervous. I imagine a stream of the fashionable, sexy twenty-somethings I know, rushing in, already being witty at each other, wearing fabulous shoes, and I am backed into a corner in the kitchen. No, that’s absurd. It’s my home.
I imagine that Bear, soft-spoken and patient, unsure what to do with his hands, will be no help.
Or maybe I just won’t do a housewarming party.
Or maybe I will, because I totally can. God, I’m twenty-six, I can do this kind of thing. It’s not a big deal. People like me. I’m friendly.
Or maybe I’ll invite a mom. .
* * *
Who else likes their friends’ moms?
Unroast: Today I love the way I feel and look in flowing pants.
A couple things:
Cake pics from a beautiful, hungry reader:
And to the adorable curly-haired girl who recognized me under the Manhattan bridge the other day and was telling me things (in case you’re reading this): that band was playing SO loudly, I couldn’t hear you, and I felt like I came off sort of cold, but it was just that I couldn’t hear you.