The hostess just stared at me, and this long, awkward silence spun out. I said, “It’s in this science blog . . . I think Discover or Psychology or something . . . I can’t remember the name . . .” Anyway, she kind of laughed in response and said, “I don’t know, I’m just more interested in information that actually applies to my daily life.”
So yesterday was that classmates party for Kidling. It was pretty cool. I met some neat people, neighbors in our neighborhood, and was able to spend some time talking with another guest — the mom of my son’s best friend. Let’s call her Lori. She works, so we don’t often get time to meet up — it was neat to see her. She’s a very cool lady.
Anyway, I took Kidling to the place at 1 p.m., as the invitation specified. The invitation also indicated they wanted the parents to come (something I confirmed when RSVPing), but I felt pretty out of place when I first arrived. It was crawling with kids — they have 6 kids, and they invited a classful of students in addition to that — but I was the only other parent (besides the birthday girl’s parents) there until 1:45 or so.
At one point, when I was talking to the mom while she nursed the youngest of her kids, I happened to glance up and see a girl with long blond hair glaring at me with an almost confrontational expression. Like she couldn’t quite understand why a parent would stick around at a kid’s birthday party. I smiled at her, and she frowned back and shook her head, then turned away from me. It was a little weird, and I started worrying that by sticking around, I was coming off as this over-protective parent and making Kidling look like a momma’s boy to his classmates.
Soon after, Kidling’s best friend arrived, and Lori and I chatted for a bit with the hostess, then made our excuses and left. I’d had some pre-existing plans with friends, and had planned to take Kidling and make a polite exit after 2 hours. The invitation said it was an all-day party, but to be honest, I hadn’t really believed anyone would have the fortitude to host a classroomful of children (the invitation was sent out to all the classmates) for an unspecified amount of time.
After arriving, through, a lot was explained — the hosts own a very large tract of land with their own private forest and river and whatnot. Besides a rather large house, they also had several children’s playground areas, walking trails, etc. Basically, imagine a local community owned nature preserve and parks area — like Burfoot Park, then take away the “community owned” aspect. Additionally, once I realized they had 6 kids, it was clear they were used to the nonstop hustle and noise of a crowd.
Anyway, so I left Kidling there with the other kids and went home to grab my motorcycle. I took a short ride, then stopped and had coffee with Tobiah and Michelle, some friends and former co-workers of mine. They were doing well and it was nice to re-connect with them. Afterwards, I took the long way back to the valley property — by freeway, it would have been maybe 20 minutes, but it was such a seriously gorgeous day that I went by the back roads.
Around 4:30, I arrived to pick up Kidling. I couldn’t find the adults, though — I wandered a bit, and some of the kids were on the playground and some were down by the river. I gathered the dad had taken some for a tractor/ hay ride, and no-one seemed to know where the mom was, but apparently she had another group of kids or was fetching food or something. I went to the house and knocked on the door, but no-one answered, so I wandered around the grounds a bit more — found my son and talked to him, then made my way back to the house. I felt a bit weird just taking my son and leaving without notifying the hosts I’d done so — I know I’d freak out if I was hosting a party for children and one of the guests appeared to just disappear.
So I went back to the house and this time, went in to check the kitchen. This time, I found a guy jiggling a cute little 3 month baby in the kitchen. I can’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Mitchell, because as I type this I’m watching a show with a character named Mitchell. I asked him if he knew where our hosts were, and he said no. I sat down and started talking with him, and we ascertained that we are actually neighbors, in that he lives right down the street from me. It was pretty cool. He seems like a really friendly, chill, laid back guy, and I was impressed at how easy going and happy he seemed — completely unconcerned with whatever oddities the situation may throw at him.
About a half hour into our conversation, our hostess appeared and offered to take us on a walk through their forest. That took about 30 minutes or so, maybe 45 (there were pauses while she told us about future plans for the land, like laying down walking trails and building more bridges and creating a bird conservation area and buying more of the valley and whatnot). Now, I gotta admit at this point, I was feeling vaguely uncomfortable in a way I couldn’t really define. All the children reminded me of numerous church activities from my childhood — since leaving the church, I generally am not around large amounts of children. Most people I know prefer to have one or two (if any), and most family-friendly activities have more adults than kids. There are usually enough kids that they can play together and entertain themselves, but there are more adults overall. You can drift from group to group until you find some adults who share the same interests and such.
So being in this environment of 4 adults (2 of whom were the hosts) and 20+ children was a little unnerving and very, very much reminded me of my churchgoing days. On top of that, the spacing of in their forested areas really reminded me of that Joseph Smith praying in the grove painting that are in like every church manual ever:
The association was so strong that I kept referencing religion in conversation, which was probably a bit of a faux pas. It was seriously weirdly disturbing to me, though. I mean everything about it — the tons and tons of kids, the park-like atmosphere, the spacing of the trees — everything was like a flashback to every ward activity ever. Anyway, after I said the place reminded me of the parks we used to have ward activities at, and she should host church stuff at the place, the hostess said she was non-religious (I’d figured she was Quiverfull or something).
About 5 minutes later, she was showing where they’d had their Easter Egg hunt and explaining that they hadn’t found all the eggs, and I said something about how a zombie egg hunt would be fun in these woods. She didn’t know what that was, so I tried to explain, and she started laughing and says, “You say the weirdest things. You’re really strange.” I felt kinda like a complete dumbass. I need to get out and interact more with people — it’s part of my impetus in joining PTSA and applying to finish my BA — but at the same time, I always feel so out of step and just odd when I talk to people, like I always say the wrong thing and make the wrong associations.
Anyway, I was feeling pretty tired by the time we got back to the house — it was one of those awesome sunny days, you know, so in addition to the trail-walking and exploration of their property during the party bits of the day, I’d been riding my motorcycle and running errands during the non-party bits of the day. Back at the house, the hostess wandered off to do hostess stuff, so I sat down and chatted a bit with Mitchell. Then Lori arrived, and the three of us had a nice visit. Plus I got to hold Mitchell’s little 3 month old, who was just adorable.
There was another awkward point (for me) where we were talking about a recent home invasion in the news, and the hostess said she didn’t need to worry about that because they had a full security system on the house and the wild coyotes that ran across the property at night would kill anyone who wandered their land uninvited. I said something about how the howling of coyotes had kept me up when I lived in Centralia, and she said they never woke her up. So I brought up what seemed to me an interesting factoid: basically, a man is more likely to be woken by the sound of an intruder breaking in, and a woman is more likely to woken by the sound of a baby crying. It’s something to do with evolutionary psychology.
I felt like such a nerd. It was such a flashback to church activities, when my YA advisers would tell me to “stop reading and have some fun!” or the other girls would see me reading and say, “You’re reading again? Is that a different book?”
Part of me wanted to lash out all rudely, but mostly I just felt tired. I thought the nerd-hating and knowledge-shaming would disappear after high school. It wasn’t a revelation or anything — I’ve run into adults before who don’t share my interests and find me an off-putting combination of esoteric knowledge and flighty silliness. I end up feeling stupid and out-of-step no matter what I say. That’s fine; everyone has their own interests and causes and stuff.
Sometimes even when you share interests the degree of focus doesn’t overlap — there’s a difference, for instance, between someone who has a few pets, and someone who thinks of animals as “furkids.” There’s a difference between someone who bakes occasionally to relax, and someone who bakes for a living. And, whether or not it’s socially acceptable to say this, there is a difference between a person who has one or two kids and maintains their own identity, and someone who has half a dozen or more kids and identifies themselves through their relationship to their children. You can throw these people with surface similarities (“likes animals,” “likes to cook,” “likes kids,”) into a social situation and it just goes kaplow! because the surface similarities implode under the differing degrees of passion/ interest/ identification with a topic.I don’t really know what this all means. There’s no life lesson or neat little bow on this. Who knows, maybe in the future this woman and I will become besties and find all sorts of things in common. Or maybe we’ll never really hang out again. Mainly, I’m all conflicted because part of me feels like this isn’t high school or passive-aggressive, petty church activities anymore. I’m an adult and I don’t have to put up with people making fun of me for having different interests. At the same time, I’m an adult and I have to deal with people I wouldn’t otherwise want to because of other obligations.