Being the New Kid is Getting Old

I can’t believe I did this, but after making 2 giant lasagnas and slicing 2 giant watermelons for a potluck for my high school daughter’s Quebec Exchange program and all the participants’ families, I dropped off the food and hightailed it home.  I was fully prepared to be brave and sit with my daughter and her “twin” from Quebec, and maybe meet some of the other parents; maybe make a friend.  But when I got there, I got a big slap in the face.  Teens can be cruel, and adults who don’t know any better, can cluster together to shut out the new girl.  

I pulled into the parking lot, to a chorus of mocking teen boys calling out, “SUE’s here!  Everyone watch out! OOO, It’s SUE!”  My daughter had already warned me that it was her class joke that I take away my daughter’s phone when she is disrespectful or her grades drop – they call each other “Sue” as an insult, or if someone is not being nice, they say, “watch out, or Sue will take away your phone.”  Ha. Ha. I’m fine with the idea of all of them doing this, since I am quite convinced that I am making good parenting choices and the phone is a good tool in disciplining my daughter.  But when surrounded in real time, by a big group of teens that are whispering and laughing, while looking at you sideways?  That’s a whole different story.  I’m glad I never taught in high school, and I feel great compassion for any teacher who is the butt of these kids’ jokes.  

So you’d think my daughter would be happy to see me and make me feel better.  Nope.  She runs up to me and demands, “I hope you brought me a change of clothes!”  When I said, “no, but I brought a lot of food – will you please help me unload the car?”  she became upset and flounced away.  

I asked one of the parents where I should enter the building to bring in the food for the potluck, and she answered, “THROUGH THE DOOR.”  Seriously.  So I hefted the huge lasagna into the front door, found the entree table myself, and went back out to the car for 2 more trips of food.  This entire time, there are dozens of people milling about, hugging, chatting, taking their places at the many long tables set up for the dinner.  

When I tried to think about sitting down with total strangers who didn’t even make eye contact with me or smile, my heart just jumped up into my throat.  I went up to my daughter and whispered in her ear, “is it okay if I sit with you at dinner tonight? I feel a little nervous.”  And she said, “Mommmmm, I want to sit with my friends, and they will all just make fun of you and that would mess up the dinner. Maybe you can just go home and bring me some clothes?  You don’t have to stay for the dinner, but you can bring me the clothes when you come back to pick up the dishes.”  

That did it.  Flashback to 1st grade in Monterey, 2nd grade in Moscow, 4th grade in Kuala Lumpur, 6th grade in Reston, 7th grade in Shanghai, 9th grade in Kent, 10th grade in Bloomington, 10th grade in Taipei, Freshman year in university, 1st year in England, 1st year in Texas, 1st year in Carmel, 1st year in Pacific Grove, 1st year in Hawaii, 1st year in Banff… Maybe I have a lot of practice being the new girl, but tonight I felt knocked down and stepped on.  Tonight I felt so lonely that my throat hurt, even with 50 people clustered around me.  I can only plaster the smile on my face for so long before my cheeks start to hurt and I just want to run away. So I put my head down, got into my car, and headed for home.  

I wish someone could wave a magic wand and a door would open to this town.  Well, I say that, but I guess my real wish is that I didn’t have to have any interaction with any more people in this town.  

You don’t believe me.  If you just met me, you don’t believe me.  I’m smiley, I ask questions, I make conversation; of course I must be outgoing and personable, right?  But if you really know me, you know that inside I squirm at the idea of getting thrown in among strangers.  When I was little, being the new kid was always fortified by the strength of my sisters.  Every 2 years we moved to a new place because of my father’s job. But my sisters and I could be the new kids together.  Now, I usually have my own kids, or my husband.  My husband, especially, is very sensitive to my stranger panic, and he will hold my hand and introduce me, then whisk me home at the earliest opportunity.  The kids have lately complained that I am “anti-social” so I have been making great efforts.  But this town is shut tight like a clam.  They don’t really want help in the schools, which is the best way to get my foot into the door and meet other parents.  How many times can I knock before my knuckles start to hurt?  And after a year and a half, is it okay if I just give up and retreat to my books and my family?

I know I am being completely unreasonable, and my friends would tell me, “Don’t be silly – they are all your future friends just waiting to meet you.”  And that is very good advice.  It’s just that tonight I didn’t quite believe myself when I tried to whisper that out loud while driving home, face frozen in a tearful grimace.  I know I need to wipe these stupid childish tears and check my makeup and find a decent shirt for my daughter, and get back into my car to return to the potluck.  I just need a few more minutes to breathe and dig really really deep to find a shred of courage to grasp.  Just a few more minutes.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Leave Them in the Fridge and Get on the Bus

As I was wrangled into chaperoning for my teenaged daughter’s Sevéc Exchange field trip to Edmonton, I braced myself for a miserable day. I expected misbehaving teenaged boys, a crazy bus ride with 40 unruly 9th graders, followed by an overwhelming day in the biggest mall in Alberta. For an antisocial geek who would prefer to hang out in her pyjamas and read at home all day without speaking to a single soul, bringing me to a mall that is big enough to have its own amusement park and water park is akin to feeding me Ex-Lax and then locking the bathroom door.

Surprisingly, I did not perish. The bus ride was exactly what I expected, but I may have given an over-indulged boy the first “no” in his life (he wanted to throw trash out the window), so my good deed for the day is done.  The rest is a blur that my mind is trying to cushion me from and is now doing its best to erase from my memory. Fresh off the bus and faced with 5 hours to kill in the mall, I brought my laptop to the Genius Bar in the Apple Store for a checkup, stood in Williams & Sonoma and just breathed (I left without buying anything simply because I wanted it all), and sat in the movie theatre, all by myself, to watch the new Star Trek movie. But even alone, I was not lonely. My fellow geeks took the afternoon off to watch the same movie, and we all laughed and cried and cheered at the same times. It was heartwarming to be surrounded by kindred spirits. After that, I sat at Baskin Robbins with a diet Pepsi (yes, I resisted the mint chocolate chip ice cream- too much indulgence in one day and I could explode) and noodled around on my laptop by piggybacking on my iPhone. In the olden days, I would have brought a good book and just sat in Starbucks for 5 hours. Either way, I would have been happy. I wasn’t required to watch the kids while they were in the mall, and being in such a big mall, I never ran into a single one of them. It was dreamy.

At 6pm, our bus jumps into rush hour / long weekend traffic, and we begin the long ride home to Jasper. Being so far north, our spring/summer days are super long. The sun is still out and shining in the evening, and we have the treat of seeing lovely scenery the entire way. As our bus leaves the city behind, the buildings and busy roads pass into the distance and the green of the approaching countryside beckons. Larches and Aspens just beginning to grow their spring foliage, gentle and soft, begin to stand out from the standard pine and spruce. The rolling farm fields are plowed and ready to be planted. The land is wide open and poised – waiting to leap into summer. We have 4 hours to go before we make it back into the mountains and home to Jasper. In the winter, this drive is the dreariest, most boring ride. Usually grey and dead-straight, unlike the winding road that provides the striking views of glaciers and craggy mountains we have when driving to Banff via the Columbia Icefields Parkway. But in the sunny months, the drive to and from Edmonton is quite beautiful. There is a delicious feeling, seeing the rich brown soil in the fields in contrast to the green trees. There are farmhouses and barns painted the perfect shade of red, as if the farmers are waiting for an artist to come by and put their images on canvas. Soft round hills, velvet with green grass. Verdent. Grazing brown cows dot the landscape, as if some giant hand has sprinkled them there for our viewing pleasure. This is countryside as I always imagined it should be. Such a difference from our rocky mountains and icy lakes back home. I expect the air to be warm and to smell sweet if I roll down the window. The sky is big, and the land seems to go on forever.

Sometimes it’s good to not be in the driver’s seat. The passenger can enjoy the scenery. And sometimes it’s good to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ll take my lesson and say Thank You. And I will put in my noise-cancelling earphones for the next few hours.  LIfe is Good!

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