Last night we went out to eat at Addisu with our friends Trevor and Jenee. They have a toddler boy and a baby girl just like we do, so our families match perfectly. The only problem with this wonderful setup was that Nati didn’t have a nap yesterday. Apparently, the combination of a sleep-deprived toddler, a public place, and a friend, results in pretty much the same situation as feeding a young child Red Bull. This kid was literally running around the table and shrieking.
The people at the table behind us moved farther away. Awkward turtle. All us parents agreed that it was a reasonable decision, and that we would very much like to move farther away from our table too…you know…if the kids weren’t ours and all.
I’m very self-conscious in public. I think a part of it stems from growing up in Kenya where I stood out like a giant marshmallow in a bag of chocolate chips. Whenever we drove into a town, the kids would chase behind our car yelling, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” (“White person! White person!”) I don’t think I cared as much about the fact that I stood out as I did about the fact that people assumed I didn’t belong. I hated that people could take one glance at me and label me a foreigner in the same league with all the ridiculously loud tourist who walked around in shorts, so I tried my best to prove that I knew my “place” in society. There was nothing I hated more than looking like I didn’t know what I was doing, which unfortunately happened often.
When we moved back to the States, suddenly I was like a giant marshmallow in a bag of giant marshmallows. Except maybe I was secretly chocolate flavored and nobody knew it. Nobody thought I was a foreigner, and everyone thought it was perfectly okay if I talked ridiculously loud and walked around in shorts. Of course I didn’t talk ridiculously loud, or at all, because I didn’t know what to talk about and I was still terrified of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. I once ate my lunch in a bathroom stall at school because I didn’t know where to sit in the cafeteria and I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.
Thankfully, over time with some really great support from friends and family, I developed a little more self-confidence. But I still have a long way to go. Yohannes knows that if he wants me to take the car to get the oil changed, he first needs to draw me a map of the building including the entrance and exit I will be using, and give me step by step instructions of when to get out of the car, who to give the keys to, exactly what to say, where to wait, how much it will cost, etc. He usually gets an earful afterward, because he forgot to tell me that the door opens away from you or some tiny detail like that, which was obviously not his fault but made me feel stupid.
I consider taking my kids out in public to be my therapy for this. I know every time I walk out the door that it is probably not going to go according to plan and I will somehow end up in a situation where I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like it’s okay, because this is what every parent goes through and I’m not supposed to have it all together. This is my opportunity to grow along with everyone else in an environment where I’m finally not way behind the curve. So go ahead, Nati: Run around the table and shriek when we go out to eat. You’re making Mommy a better person. And for the rest of you who are just trying to have a nice dinner, feel free to move to the other end of the restaurant. I’ll only die inside a little bit. 😉