Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Social Retard

So I realize the title of this post is far from PC, and I understand if the two folks who actually admit to reading  my writing want to stop now. It's fine. I get it.

Or...curiosity just got the best of you, and you will keep reading. I know I've had my share of reading things I can't unread!

Tonight, something lays heavy on my heart and mind. After years of trying to figure out my own weird deal, I finally found the words to put with that feeling I have every time I address an unfamiliar crowd. It boils down to I am socially retarded.

Earlier today, I took Jude with me to pay his school tuition. In the past few weeks, Jeffrey and I have had conversations with him about the sacrifices we make so he can go to Catholic school. While we make sure to point out that these are sacrifices we want to make for him, we also want him to know that we expect him to perform at his best. (Note this does not mean we expect all As. If he tries his darnedest and earns a C, we'll be proud of him.  If he merely settles for a C, though, we won't feel so thrilled.) Because we've talked money for the past few weeks, it seemed appropriate to drag Jude up to the school to witness the exchange of funds.

Jude will be entering first grade in August thus beginning his third year at the school. I have had plenty of time to get acquainted with the different school employees, and everyone there seems to know Jude and treat him well. They also know who I am and treat me just as nicely, which is why I can't explain why I clam up and speak with parrot-like responses whenever one of them addresses me. Today, the ladies in the office complimented on how cute Frank (who also tagged along) was and proceeded to tell me that I looked great. They, of course, had no idea of the internal struggle I fight daily over my weight and body image, so the compliment left me a little shocked. While I silently told myself to just say "Thank you," instead I stammered out,"Oh...pause...well...pause...I wish I looked greater." (Hey, I was honest.) I could tell from the looks on their faces that they weren't sure how to respond.  Even Jude looked at me like I had lost my mind. I could not get out of there fast enough. When we returned to the van, Jude earnestly said, "You know you're still the best mommy ever, right?"

Even on the last day of school for Jude, I found myself at a loss for words. As Jude's teacher said good-bye to him, I caught myself getting choked up because...the kid's growing up and entering grades that have NUMBERS assigned to them. I wanted to tell his teacher in the moment something along the lines of "I couldn't have picked a better teacher for Jude if I had tried. He loves school, learning, and God thanks in large part to you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you," but instead I quickly escorted Jude out of the room so I wouldn't cry.

My social awkwardness goes beyond Jude's school environment. This afternoon at swimming lessons, another mom complimented the dress I was wearing. I did, in fact, say "thank you," but then I caught her attention again to point out how I got it off a clearance rack at Dillard's for six dollars. Why? She was just being nice, and I'm sure she didn't give two rips about how much I paid for it. Then again, I think the bargain is what makes the dress so lovable in the first place!

Here's the puzzling part, though. I can stand up in front of dozens of eighteen-twenty year olds (with the occasional fifty year old) nine months out of the year and speak like it's my job (oh wait...). I've had colleagues tell me how they look forward to my speeches at the annual student awards banquet. I've given presentations to different audiences in different states. My words have brought defensive linemen to tears. Once, I made one of my superiors actually cry (not that I'm proud of it...ok, maybe just a little proud). I lead a large department (a department that now includes Speech--how's that for irony?).  I'm getting much better in my role as a lector at Mass. Finally, I dole out stories and advice to my fellow colleagues like a Jehovah's Witness shamelessly knocking on my door, Watchtower mag in hand, inquiring if I know the Lord.

Yet I can't say thank you to the people who have been so wonderful to my child. I'm at a loss for words around people who raise children like mine. I open my mouth and a bunch of stupid vomits out leaving everyone there to witness the verbal train wreck wishing for a way out (myself included).

It's true that I'm an introvert at heart and that I look at any speaking role I have as more of a performance that serves as a means to get a job done. I'd much rather have my head in a book at any given time, but sometimes the unavoidable occurs and I must speak.

However, I have to tell myself the same thing I would tell Jude, Malcolm, and Frank. Just keep trying. At the very least, Jude's still young enough to think I'm cool.