This guest post comes from The Polka Dot Palace. She is a sweetie and you need to check out some more of her great posts; The Sisterhood of Motherhood, Maybe Baby, For Just a Little Bit Longer, I’ve (almost) Got It Going On, and Getting Schooled. You can also follow her on Twitter @polkadopalace.
Q and A with The Polka Dot Palace
Elle: What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
TPDP: Reality TV – specifically The Kardashians. I know it’s junk, I know they’re just famous for being famous, I know it’s probably rotting my brain but it’s like a train wreck – I just have to watch!
Elle: What’s one of your favorite children’s book?
TPDP: But No Elephants – was one of my favourites when I was a kid and now it’s always my pick when it’s Mommy’s Choice for storytime with my kids.
Elle: What’s a song that makes you want to dance around the house?
TPDP: “Dirty Dancing” by NKOTB. I crank it up every time and dance around the house while my daughter groans and rolls her eyes at me!
I suck at small talk.
The very act of conversing with strangers (or near-strangers) makes my heart fill with dread. I consider myself to be a good conversationalist. I can keep up my end of the chatter, throw in an insightful witticism here, a well-placed pop culture reference there. No, having a conversation with someone I know reasonably well is not a problem at all.
But small talk is a whole different ballgame.
I got through university relatively unscathed, although I lived through my share of awkward small talk moments. Having moved away (3,000 miles away) to go to school I didn’t know anyone. However, the first weeks of university are ripe with perfect opening lines (“what’s your major?” “on campus or off?” “do you know if it’s chicken burger day in the caf today?”. There was no need to struggle with what to say and soon enough I had found my group, the ones that would make those four years liveable.
Sure there was the occasional party where I would find myself in a corner, nursing my drink and bobbing my head to some dj’s cheesy remix, only to be approached by an equally bored stranger looking to strike up a conversation. There would be an awkward exchange about what I was drinking, or how they knew the host and then, if I was lucky, the music would be too loud to allow for any further chit-chat. We would each take a sip of our drink, resume the head bobbing, and that would be that.
Once I moved past my university years, I thought I would be home free. For a few years there, I basically only hung out with people I already knew and when meeting anyone outside the circle there was usually a mutual friend in attendance to act as a buffer; someone to help us through the initial stages of conversation, leaving us only if/when it became obvious there was a connection.
Then I had kids.
Had I known the ability to participate in small talk would become such an important part of my life as a parent, I may have actually reconsidered the whole “having kids” thing. Forget sleepless nights and potty-training, for me, small talk is even worse.
At kindergarten pick-up, standing on the sidelines at the soccer field, on the benches at baseball, in the rickety plastic chairs in the gymnastics viewing area, rifling through the sale bin at Children’s Place, in the Lego aisle at Toys ‘R Us while ‘encouraging’ my son to choose a present for his friend’s birthday party SOMETIME THIS DECADE! The list goes on and on. Anywhere two parents and their kids may inhabit the same space, you can be sure there will be small talk.
I really have no one to blame but myself because quite often I’m the person who starts the conversation. Not unlike the way a terrible singer is always the first to volunteer at karaoke night, I never seem to remember how bad I am at this until after I’ve already started it. I always think that this time it will be different.
Maybe this time I will come up with witty and insightful things to say, instead of stammering incoherently in a misguided attempt to fill the silences. Maybe this time we’ll hit it off, make a plan to meet up again for a play date, laugh about reality TV, share books, get the families together for dinner, trips to the zoo, vacations on the Cape and a lifelong friendship. No pressure. Basically the exact opposite of what actually happens.
The chats usually start with the typical exchange of basic child-age information and some reference to the particular location we may be in. After that it usually stalls and I spend the next two minutes racking my brain for something, ANYTHING, to fill the silence.
My mind races through the mental list of possible topics to bring up next. Do you have any other kids? Nope. Don’t want to seem unfeeling to those going through infertility. Job questions? Nope. I’ve stepped on the stay-at-home vs. working mother landmine enough times to know this is a dangerous area. Politics? Definitely not. Who has time to read the newspaper? The relationship of Kim and Kanye? People will think that I’m shallow gossip; well, truth be told, I am, but it becomes awkward when the person gives me a vacant stare and asks “who are Kim and Kanye?” That’s it, no vacations on the Cape together if you don’t know who Kim and Kanye are.
Silence. Awkward silence. Say something …say ANYTHING!
Desperate now, I usually throw out a
random comment about the weather or my companion’s expensive-looking stroller as my eyes dart frantically, hoping to find my kids doing something that requires my attention and I can therefore reasonably excuse myself.
“It’s been great chatting with you bit I just noticed that my son is eating rocks so we’ll have to do this another time!”
One of the many ironies of motherhood is that when I’m trying to have an in-depth discussion with a friend about something really important my kids inevitably do everything in their power to get my attention and pull me away. They run with sticks, climb on countertops, turn the TV up to 45 volume, or fight with each other over some ridiculous and, until that exact moment, completely undesirable item.
I can’t ever seem to finish a conversation that lasts longer than two minutes when it’s a conversation I actually want to be having. On the other hand, when I’m engaged in awkward small talk with some stranger that I’m desperate to get out of, my kids magically transform into angels with perfect behaviour. They play quietly together, sit adorably and eat their snacks, gazing at me lovingly.
It’s like they know I’m suffering and take joy in watching me squirm.
After years of suffering through it, I’ve decided that I suck at small talk because, realistically, I don’t see the point of it. When I’m standing next to another parent at the park, I want to talk about everything except the weather and politics.
I want to know if parenthood is everything they thought it would be. I want to know if they feel fulfilled in their role as a parent. I want to know what they love about it; and what they don’t. I want to know what moments of the day bring tears to their eyes and which ones make them cringe in defeat.
I want to talk about all the big stuff, not the small stuff.
But that’s not allowed. That’s not what people expect during a chance encounter with a random stranger while pushing their kid on the swing. And so I stifle my desire to ask the questions I really want answered and instead ask the questions that are expected.
“Your son is so cute, how old is he?”