At social functions I used to compensate for my dorktastic amounts of shyness with large servings of alcoholic beverages, which helped lubricate my inhibitions to the point of feeling that it was perfectly all right to feature some kickboxing moves while publicly dancing to “Hey Ya”, at least on one fuzzily memorable occasion.

These days I have only my sparkling personality and rapier wit to fall back on, which is to say I do a lot of blushing and mumbling. On the bright side, I no longer find myself yelling “EVERYBODY SAY ‘DIRTY SANCHEZ’!!” while laughing hysterically and accidentally sticking my hand into the punch bowl.

I was thinking about the New Social Me (99.9% Less Likely To Be Arrested!) yesterday while we were making our rounds at JB’s office Halloween shindig, which included a family event in the cafeteria. I noticed the table laden with a dot-commish selection of free microbrews, and it occurred to me that a few years ago I would have been making a beeline for that table, thinking how I really needed a beer before going back to the business of being introduced to JB’s coworkers. Or, preferably, six or seven beers. At which point I would begin greeting his coworkers not with a handshake, but a warm, boozy hug and possibly the announcement that their coshtume wash rilly, rilly cool, were they a DINOSHORE?

I’m kind of making fun of myself here, but the truth is I did rely on alcohol to 1) help me feel less self-conscious, 2) make me feel more funny/interesting/cool, and eventually 3) help me deal with the bad memories from the last time I was so very funny and cool in public.

Instead of a bottle or a glass in my hand, I have a small child. I’m here to tell you that when it comes to social occasions, a small child provides pretty much the exact polar opposite effect as a nice stiff drink. I guess you could say small children are icebreakers, in that they are very loud and attract a lot of attention, but if your goal is to feel less awkward and obtrusive, they’re about as useful in that regard as a maraca-playing kangaroo.

(Ditto pregnancy, by the way: if your default nature is to shrink into the wallpaper, the massively protruding belly will give away your location every time.)

When we took Riley around JB’s office our kid could not have been more chatty and outgoing. He stopped in front of total strangers to carry out weird, otherworldly toddler conversations (Riley: “HI!” Stranger: “Um, well hi there!” Riley: “something something something indecipherable SHOES something HAWEEN COSTUME!” Stranger: “Uh huh, yes!” Us: “Okay Riley, let’s keep going! Say bye bye!” Riley: “SEE YOU LATER ALGATOR!”); he crowed with delight over the less-scary decorations and howled “TOO FREAKY!” over the too-scary ones; he galloped at top speed and occasionally fell flat on his face; overall, he was a pint-sized ball of mummy madness.

I’m kind of envious of Riley’s approach. He hasn’t learned to worry about what people think of him, and I wish he never would. I mean, I’d like him to have some social graces (I’m thinking of some software developers I know), but the endless anxiety-loop that cranks up in my own head whenever I leave the house, man, I’d like that particular personality quirk to pass him by.

Since he was born, my boy has forced me to more fully participate with the world around me. I get down on the ground to look at tiny bugs, I join him in loudly praising the many glorious features of helium balloons, I talk to people I’d normally be too shy to make eye contact with. And of course I sometimes attract the palpable gaze of every person within a fifty foot radius as I carry my kicking, screaming kid out to the car.

I sometimes feel as though I lived for so many years with this airless layer of alcohol between myself and the real world, with all of its problems and inconveniences and challenges. The scenery was always the same, the view never changed. And now I’m moving forward, at times almost flying along, with the fresh breeze stinging my face and making my eyes water. Marveling at the amazing things I’m seeing from my new vantage point.


44 Responses to “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited”

  1. samantha jo campen on November 1st, 2007 3:12 pm

    That was such a fabulous and well-written post (though, um, ALL of yours are, but whatever. We’re talkng about THIS one now).

    Is it weird to say I’m proud of you? Even though you don’t even really know me? Because I am. Very.

  2. Melissa on November 1st, 2007 3:20 pm

    Great post.

    I have to agree with you about children as icebreakers. We just recently moved into a new home and I used Halloween as an opportunity to introduce myself. I mean how can they resist a mom with a cute little princess out for her first time trick or treating. Worked really well and I feel more comfortable in the neighborhood. Much better than a boozy intro – I’ve been there before. :)

  3. Mary on November 1st, 2007 3:25 pm

    What she said . . . :-) And I do know what you mean, my two guys have forced me to really shift my viewpoint and to brave the conversation with people I don’t know.
    My five year old doesn’t really like to speak to people he doesn’t know much either and we have the discussion of “hello, goodbye, please and thank you are a minimum, dude . . . and if you really feel it’s impossible–at least try a smile and a wave so they know you’re not just being horrid.” Inside, I am so sympathizing with him . . . .

  4. leigh on November 1st, 2007 3:26 pm

    Oh yes. I, too, remember looking at the world through shame colored glasses. I’ve also struggled with readjusting my perception of myself in sobriety, turns out I’m not really that much of an extrovert without the booze! I’ve actually found my kid to be a useful shield…when things get too rough at family gatherings I can “go see what Alex is up to.”

    What I can’t get over is how good it feels to get up and run in the morning. I used to get up and puke.

  5. Melanie on November 1st, 2007 3:42 pm

    Beautifully said. You’re absolutely right; I’ve never felt more OF the world and present than I do right now.

    Plus, nobody breaks ice like small people who are not even aware of ice’s existence. We took our 3-year-old real trick-or-treating for the first time last night and, at our first house, the nice couple opened the door and she walked right in, yammering, “I’m a pretty good Tinkerbell. Nice house you’ve got.”

  6. Angela on November 1st, 2007 3:59 pm

    Simply Wonderful!

  7. Eric's Mommy on November 1st, 2007 4:06 pm

    Wonderful post.
    I’m not the kind of person who runs up and indroduces myself to everybody, but Eric is, he must get that from his dad.

  8. warcrygirl on November 1st, 2007 4:12 pm

    It’s amazing how having kids can change you. Mine have made me a better person, if only because I’m terrified I’ll fuck up and embarrass them in public. Also: And of course I sometimes attract the palpable gaze of every person within a fifty food radius. Fifty food radius? Is this the preggo version of the Food Pyramid? ;)

  9. sundry on November 1st, 2007 4:17 pm

    Warcrygirl: heh heh heh OOPS. Wonder what’s on my mind? (HALLOWEEN CANDY) Thanks for pointing that out.

  10. Yams on November 1st, 2007 4:53 pm

    Well written post.

  11. stacy harper-watson on November 1st, 2007 4:54 pm

    Totally different subject….but….how large a can of pumpkin are you supposed to put into the pumpkin chocolate chip muffins?? I had a “large” can and they turned out very dense. (still tasted okay but didn’t seem right) The recipe just say’s “1 can pumpkin”. Help!

  12. Lori on November 1st, 2007 4:55 pm

    Awesome. You.

  13. Katie on November 1st, 2007 4:56 pm

    I too have been forced out of my alcohol-infused shell to join in on conversations and LIVE life. And, I do think that I have my son to thank for that.

    Although, truth be told, there are some nights when the boy drives me back to a margarita. Just one, though. And that makes me love him again.

  14. sundry on November 1st, 2007 4:57 pm

    Not the large size. The regular size. 13 oz, or whatever. You can re-check the recipe, I updated it a while ago.

  15. Amber on November 1st, 2007 5:16 pm

    You’re amazing. Really. Amazing. Also, I would totally go to a party with Riley. He sounds like the best party accessory ever.

  16. Swistle on November 1st, 2007 6:10 pm

    This = quality article. Pitch to magazines.

    IF there was such a thing as a magazine WORTHY of it, that is, which as far as I can tell there is NOT. All the magazines for mothers are all smoooshy.

    Hey. *Idea forming* You wouldn’t want to turn your writing/marketing skills into starting a MAGAZINE, would you? A GOOD parenting magazine? You could do the articles AND the ads!

  17. TB on November 1st, 2007 6:58 pm

    I just had a conversation with someone today about how I hope more than anything that Myles didn’t inherit my extreme introversion. I don’t want him to have to deal with the things I have nor do I want him to develop the extreme self criticism that comes along with it.

  18. She Likes Purple on November 1st, 2007 7:04 pm

    I totally agree with Swistle.

  19. Taryn on November 1st, 2007 7:13 pm

    it’s strange to me that you describe yourself as so shy b/c if you hadn’t said this before i would never have guessed it about you. that is really a good description of how i feel in social situations.
    i do find that when i’m able to talk myself out of the anxiety of meeting strangers and having to mingle w/ them that it usually goes ok. and if not, it’s b/c they’re boring stiffs and not b/c of me.
    i don’t have any kids, but i think there’s a lot to be reminded of by them. we forget to appreciate the very simplest things in life. if you can do that, then anything on top of that is icing.

  20. mothergooseamy on November 1st, 2007 7:43 pm

    You ARE funny/interesting/cool. I know what you mean though, sometimes it’s hard to think that of yourself because you remember all the negative things people have said to you and you’ve said to yourself. I am an extremely outgoing person, but I am still really self-conscious and am constantly wondering how can other people find me to be funny/interesting/cool, even though people tell me that all the time. Well, not the cool part, but I can live with that!

  21. Mrs. Breedorf on November 1st, 2007 9:15 pm

    Maraca-playing kangaroos everywhere are taking great offense at this post.

  22. Pete on November 1st, 2007 9:18 pm

    Really good post.

  23. breckgirl on November 1st, 2007 9:22 pm

    Great insightful post. I agree with Swistle, it would be a great article. Which magazine, I don’t know. Sometimes Real Simple has some excellent human interest articles that I really enjoy. And I enjoyed your post more than I did the article about some lady and her teenage daughter in this month’s issue. I can totally related with you on the sobriety issues and man, doesn’t having a two year old make you appreciate hangover free mornings? Amen to that.

  24. Niki P. on November 2nd, 2007 5:06 am

    8 am here on the east coast and I am a teary eyed. Excellent post.

  25. Jenn on November 2nd, 2007 5:34 am

    Oh, please….start that magazine with Swistle. I would so TOTALLY subscribe and sign up all my friends!

  26. kendra! on November 2nd, 2007 6:09 am

    I have reason to believe that the laughter the Too Freaky one induces is intoxicating in and of itself.

  27. Christina on November 2nd, 2007 6:12 am

    I cannot agree with you more. I think I have mentioned that the New Year’s I turned 30, I was ridiculously OUT of control which made me change my ways to the point of not drinking on virtually any occasion. I do still drink from time to time but 1-2 drinks versus 10-20….

    One of the main reasons I always drank from the age of 14-15 on had to do with my social inability. I was shy and self conscious and quite frankly I disliked how I looked and who I was, all the stupid secrets I felt I had to keep. Looking back at the age of 33 (9 days till 34), I just think how lame all of that was (you know hindsight and all that…) I have changed so much in the past 10 years but even more so the past three years. In part because of my son.

    He is gregarious and forces me to see the world from his POV and frankly I like the kiddo POV more so than the adult one. It has made it a lot easier for me to look up at people right in their eyes and to be more chatty (or less aware of my social ineptitude – okay really I am much more okay with being a total dork – in fact I embrace that!)

    But also to be quiet and not feel as socially inept as I used to (and still do feel at times.) I am learning slowly to push that to the side because my son needs me to be social and friendly and I want him to learn to be that way because I never did learn those valuable lessons.

  28. Diane on November 2nd, 2007 6:23 am

    Yes, I would totally buy the Swistle/Sundry magazine!

    Your writing is funny, moving, thoughtful, intense, fantastic!!

    “Too Freaky” is my new favorite phrase.

  29. Jamie on November 2nd, 2007 6:36 am

    Well it sounds like SOMEONE has an awfully healthy attitude towards life.

    Seriously, I’m so impressed. No sarcasm intended. I wish I could be that optimistic when I think about all the regrettable things I’ve done in the past.

    It’s like you’re a mature adult or something. :)

  30. Kelli on November 2nd, 2007 7:05 am

    You are one talented writer.

    Great post.

  31. Emily on November 2nd, 2007 7:53 am

    Sundry- Completely real and inspiring post. Lovely images and feelings. Your writing is pure magic.

    Swistle- GENIUS! Sundry must start a magazine. Although I would hope that didn’t stop her from posting here. I’d miss it WAY too much.

  32. dorrie on November 2nd, 2007 8:18 am

    mmmmmmmm hmmmmmmmm.

  33. samantha jo campen on November 2nd, 2007 8:19 am

    I’m back to add my vote to the whole magazine idea! You can combine your sundry articles with the purple fruit ones, and throw in the sundry buzz for good measure. Your photog skillz would cut out the need for a professional photographer and you’d be rolling in money.

    Do IT! Do IT! Do IT! (I’m trying to make you buckle under the peer pressure. Is it working?)

  34. Maura on November 2nd, 2007 9:55 am

    Incredible post! You inspire as always:)

  35. Banana on November 2nd, 2007 11:21 am

    I love it when little kids have random conversations with me. I’m pretty fluent in toddlerese.

  36. telegirl on November 2nd, 2007 11:36 am

    Sundry, you are a beautiful person. Tell yourself that a million times a day.

  37. pennyjar on November 2nd, 2007 5:21 pm

    I’ve abused alcohol for 30 years, for much the same reason as you, I thought it made me wittier and more social, when in reality it made me stupider and more fallie-downie. Your journal has been a real touchstone for me, in coming to my own realization. I quit 2 whole weeks ago. And you know what, food tastes so much BETTER now! No, wait, that’s smoking. Food tastes the same. But what is different is that I’m holding my head up a lot higher these days. I’m having REAL conversations with people, without that rosie-sloshy overly-friendly heeyyy ohhh wowww yeahhh thing happening. I’m able to go pick my kids up from work and school functions any time of the day or night now, without intense pre-planning and negotiations with my back-up driver (the husband). Unfortunately, I no longer have a toddler available for navigating sticky social obligation things. I could borrow my niece, in an emergency;
    band banquets, bar mitzvas, baptisms, or any function in which MY MOTHER is in attendance…

  38. Kristie on November 2nd, 2007 9:04 pm

    That was lovely. Kids really do make adults come back to what’s most important, things like being curious and eager to meet new people.

    Although, alcohol can help you along on occassions and shouldn’t be discounted entirely. ;-)

  39. Swistle on November 3rd, 2007 6:15 am

    Heh-LO, it has been a day and a half and I still don’t have a SUBSCRIPTION to your MAGAZINE.

  40. Lindsay on November 3rd, 2007 4:27 pm

    Ok, first, I love love love your blog, but I am mostly a lurker so I don’t say that often enough. The lurking is due to MY extreme social phobias… I had to laugh about the software engineers comment, because my fiance definitely fits that mold and I have very serious worries about our future children and their ability to leave the house.

    Anyway, I loved this post. And I would TOTALLY buy that magazine.

  41. C on November 3rd, 2007 10:33 pm

    I have a question for you, what do you do when you quit drinking, but all your friends do. I mean, not on a “my friends do so I feel pressured” level, but more in a “this is what we DO” way. A couple of my friends (esp my best friend) and I have even talked about how we should quit/we need to quit/its becoming a problem/etc.., however the next time we get together – we go to go to the bar/or get drinks for staying home/etc.., We’ve tried to be “good” and it always leads to one of us suggesting and then the other basically going “hell yeah”. Do I need to stop hanging out w/my friends in order to cut the temptation completely? And, by the way, I would literally be cutting off ALL of them. Just wondering your thoughts on this.

  42. C on November 3rd, 2007 10:36 pm

    I should probably add that I think I know the answer to this, its just a scary thought. I’m already a single parent and my family lives over 50 miles from me. Cutting off all my friends will basically leave me alone, besides my child of course. (I live in a 6 unit apartment building and all 5 of the other apartments party too…I literally am surrounded constantly by it.)

  43. Emily on November 5th, 2007 9:12 am

    When you get a chance, will you let me know how you quit drinking for good?

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