Something strange has happened to me. I noticed it the other day when an acquaintance I like a great deal greeted me warmly and said, “Hi! How are you?” and I responded with a vague smile, an awkward wave (who waves at people they’re standing right in front of?!), and a mumbled “Nice. Fine. Sorry?” and shuffled off. In the corner where I took myself so I could bang my head against the wall repeatedly, I wondered what had prompted this communication breakdown on my part. And, as I was thinking about it, I suddenly realized that this wasn’t an isolated incident. I’m like this all the time.
“Hi, how are you?” is a puzzle that somehow I can’t solve. “What’s new with you?” is a challenge I just can’t meet. “Fine thanks, how are you?” isn’t immediately available to me. Nor is “Nothing much, how about you?” Simple, trivial things that would have come naturally to me a few years ago suddenly leave me a tongue-tied, slack-jawed mess. I can feel the gears in my brain shifting, trying to activate my tongue so I can speak, my lips so I can smile. But the machinery needs oiling and it’s moving too slow. Me no talk good anymore.
What has happened?! I think I used to be witty. I think I used to be quick. I think I used to engage in thoughtful discourse, and have opinions about things, and get the joke immediately. I have a vague memory of being that way, anyway. But that was when I spent my days around grown-ups. Now I spend my days around two-year-olds. To them, I’m a laugh riot!
The adult world is a place I no longer inhabit. I visit it regularly. I still have a season pass. But it isn’t my everyday domain. Most of my conversations revolve around trucks (“Ooh look! A cement mixer! What do those do?), food (“The sandwich on Mommy’s plate is exactly the same as the sandwich on your plate”), and bodily functions (“Hooray! You peed in the potty! Which sticker do you want?”).
Got a why question? Let me at it. Need help getting your shirt unstuck from around your head? I’m your girl. Want to hear the story of The Three Little Pigs for the four millionth time? Come sit on my lap. But ask me how I’m doing, or if I want to get lunch sometime, and I’m going to need a minute. A lot of minutes, probably.
Feeling tongue-tied when talking to other grown-ups isn’t new for me. My social anxiety sees to that. But now I’ve become the person I always dreaded I actually was. And I feel bad for the people who have to respond somehow to my awkward fumbling for the name of the place we are on our way to (the playground), or my strange non sequiturs (“Have you seen my dirty tissue?”) when all they asked was “Are you still working at that school you used to teach at?” Ha. No. And I miss the connection with other adults that my previous ability to coherently communicate fostered. It can get a little lonely here in Toddlerville.
With other moms, it’s different. We’re all ensconced in the same, strange, adult-free world. Talking to other moms just requires giving voice to your internal monologue: “He fell at the playground yesterday and has a nasty bruise. Do you think I should take him to the doctor?” “He was sleeping through the night just fine but now he’s waking up all the time. What’s going on?” Or, at the very least, other moms will understand immediately if you can’t get the words out and find yourself staring blankly at them. They’re probably staring blankly at you too.
Some readers have already stopped reading and scrolled down to the comments section to deposit their steaming bag of “special snowflake” below this piece, responding, I imagine, to their misinterpretation of my article as some sort of pathetic bid for sympathy. But, should anyone still be reading, I’ll just say for the record that I have absolutely no interest in your sympathy. I’m in need of none.
My fumbling, forgetful, unintelligible life is exactly the life I want to be living. I knowingly gave up the regular company of adults so I could be there to hold my son’s hand, to read him stories, to build forts, and pretend we’re pirates, and eat ice cream, and giggle. And I even gave it up in favor of the epic tantrum related (somehow) to Thomas the Tank engine, to explain patiently that we must wear pants outside, to wait (less patiently) for him to pee already so we go out. This immersion course in Toddler-ese (such that I forgot how to speak Grown-up) was part of what I signed up for, a package deal. So no, I don’t want sympathy.
I say all of this only to explain why the friend you bumped into in the grocery store the other day, whom you haven’t seen since she had a kid, suddenly seems to have been replaced by a zombie. And to reassure you that the mom at Target that you accidentally bumped into with your big, red cart and apologized to profusely isn’t actually still angry at you, she just forgot to say “It’s okay!” even though she thought it in her head for a really long time.
So, anyway, I’ve had some time to think about it now so, I hope that acquaintance from earlier is reading this. “I’m fine thanks! Great, actually. I’m really, really great. How are you?”