family fun day

Let me ask you this: As parents of children in the same class, do we need to talk to each other?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying talking should be, like, banned. You probably enjoy talking to other people! That’s so great! And everyone is super nice and interesting!

But is there any way of opting out without being, you know, that creepy guy who is just standing in the corner sort of watching everyone? And since when is people watching a crime?? If people-watching is a crime then send the SWAT team to sidewalk cafes around the city and start roundin’ up law-breakers, J. Edgar Hoover! People there are self-proclaimed people-watchers! They call it people-watching!

But outside of the NYC cafe scene, it is taboo to stand at a social gathering and remain silent. You must speak to people, even if it is the last thing on earth you want to do, even if it brings you great anxiety.

Which brings me to last Friday. When I was secretly dreading our kids’ Family Fun Day.

It is called Family Fun Day because it is objectively Fun For The Whole Family.  There were food trucks! And a magician! And it was all in the field outside West School with a big playground and basketball courts!

And lots and lots of other parents. And we would be there for an hour and a half. And Liz was out of town.

On the drive there, I tried to play it cool.

“What say we all stick together?” I proposed to Finn and Lucy. “It’s called Family Fun Day, after all!”

“Totally!” they cheered.

But we got there and the doors opened and my kids were gone, because they saw their friends and they had to go bounce off each other like atomic particles.

So I was looking down the barrel of Family Fun Day. Alone.

I pass the ticket table and enter the vicinity. Everyone is talking to everyone – I can see that already. The only other person I can even see that is alone is not actually a person, it’s Westy the Whale, and he’s not walking as much as sort of drifting, kind of like an actual whale, across the basketball courts.

Nobody else is alone on Family Fun Day. Because you’re not allowed to be alone. Because if you are alone you are weird.

And thus the voyage of the introvert begins.

Introverts at gatherings like this have one mission: Somehow remain invisible to everyone else around them.

Now, as Westy the Whale was demonstrating, the best technique for one to remain invisible is to remain in constant motion. Nobody just stops a person in motion. When you are in motion you are doing something. You are not a creepy weirdo that stands alone and stares at things like people and the sky.

But you have to be careful, my introvert friend. You can’t just walk. If you only walk for an hour and a half people will notice because you’ll start to look like a Roomba. So here’s our secret: Introverts must learn to walk with a purpose.

That’s what I did. I walked with purpose, over to the food truck. It was an ideal time-killing ploy. You have to wait on line, you have to choose your food, you have to wait for them to cook it. If you’re lucky you’re looking at a full fifteen minutes.

It backfired. I went in too early, so nobody else was on line and the food truck guy was excited to serve his first customer so he saw me coming and by the time I got there he was already holding a hot dog out at me like the sponge guy at mile twenty-two. The whole thing took maybe forty seconds. I barely broke stride.

Out of options now, I was forced to play my last card: I walked over and laid out our picnic blanket next to the other parents with picnic blankets. I took as much time as I could, setting that out, praying my kids would show up. They didn’t. So I had no choice. I sat down with my hot dog. And since I’m not good at sitting criss-cross apple sauce, I sort of reclined back.

I knew I had made a mistake as soon as I did that.

I’m alone on this picnic blanket with this hot dog and lying down like I’m expecting somebody to come over and balance my chakra and I appear to have no children whatsoever. Which I’m sure is now causing everyone to stare at me and talk about the guy just lying down alone with a hot dog on a picnic blanket like a disoriented vagrant.  So I pop back up but I’m still alone, and that’s a problem because nobody would choose be alone at Family Fun Day, so if you are, you must be an object of sympathy, and I just know that a nearby parent who prides herself on her charity work is going to be standing up and putting her fists on her hips and turning to her fellow parents and declaring “Well I don’t care if he does lie down alone and eat hot dogs! I am going to go talk to him!” And then I’ll be trapped because it’s not like I can just start rolling away from her.

And in that moment – my most desperate moment, when I was sure there was no escape – I was rescued. By Lucy.

She came running over with her friend Twila. “Lucy!” I cried, arms out, as if she had just returned from war.

Twila and Lucy both wore beautiful dresses, because they had agreed to wear beautiful dresses to Family Fun Night. Lucy had a piece of pizza folded in her mouth. I made her take a photo with me. You’ll see in the background there is a kid who has fallen to the ground, because somehow kids are always just sort of falling down.

 

“Dad. Can we get a balloon from Balloon Louie?”

“Who’s Balloon Louie?”

“The guy making the balloon animals.”

I looked over. The balloon line was long. Balloon Louie was taking his time, chatting with every single kid. It was perfect.

I told Lucy I’d get her a balloon animal.

“And for Twila too?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Things were looking up. I walked over to stand in line. I was a man with a purpose. I was a man who was not weird at all. Then Finn came running over.

“Hey dad. Have you seen Magnus?” Finn panted. “Wait – what are you on line for?”

“Balloon Louie.”

“Oh. Have you seen Magnus?”

I told Finn I didn’t know if I’ve seen him because I don’t know what Magnus looked like. “Is that Magnus?” I pointed to a kid running past.

“No. Are you just guessing?”

“Yeah.”

“Well can you be base?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. If we see Magnus tell him you’re base, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

So Finn hung out with me for a few minutes on line for a balloon animal.

And suddenly not only was I not the weird guy rolling around alone on a picnic blanket with a hot dog in his hand, I was a father talking to his son and getting a balloon animal for his daughter and her friend Twila. I was totally fitting in.

Then Finn ran away because Magnus said I couldn’t be base.

But it was okay because Lucy skipped back up to me.

“I got tattoos,” she said.

“Where?”

“From that guy over there. Near Westy.”

“No – I mean where on your body?”

“Oh. Right here.” She stuck out her arms.

“Nice,” I said.

“Okay, I’m going to go get a popsicle,” Lucy said.

“Come back when you’re done.”

“How come?”

“You have to tell Balloon Louie what you want.”

“I want a dolphin.”

“I don’t think Balloon Louie makes dolphins.”

“Can you ask?”

“I’m afraid he’ll feel bad if he can’t make it.”

“Can he make a puppy?”

I shrugged. “Probably?”

“Okay. I’m going to get a popsicle.”

Balloon Louie could make a puppy.

Balloon Louie made them all puppies.

Then she ran away with Twila, on the right in the light green dress, because it was time for freeze dance. But first she took a photo with Westy the Whale. 

All of this, this whole story, is merely to say this:

You know how people say “Practice gratitude!” And it never helps? Because you probably just sat in peanut butter and why should I be grateful about sitting in peanut butter?

Well, I have trouble feeling gratitude for Family Fun Day. Events like this are viper pits for an introvert.

But because Family Fun Day was a source of anxiety for me, it ended up doing this for me:

Every tiny moment that allowed me to avoid a conversation with somebody gave me a moment of gratitude. The walk across the lot to get the hot dog. Getting to wait on line for balloons for – no lie – forty five minutes. Acting as base for my son and acquiescing to balloon animal demands for my daughter.

Any of those things could have annoyed me. They could have put me in a bad mood and frustrated me. And yet on that Family Fun Day, they turned into gifts. Not because they were any different from those normally annoying things, but because I was desperate. And desperation is the stage on which Gratitude shines. It’s when Gratitude walks out of the wings and into the spotlight and brings down the house. 

I’ve felt that desperation before. I’ve felt it in much bigger and in much more difficult phases of my life. I’ve felt the moments of pure, undiluted gratitude for tiny moments in those difficult phases.

But those moments didn’t have photos of Lucy holding a balloon puppy, standing next to Westy the Whale. So I’m writing about this instead.

You get what you get, people, and you don’t get upset.

While we’re at it, here are…

The Top Five Balloon Shapes that Balloon Louie Was Making:

1. Flower

An easy one for little girls to get happy about. And it kind of looked like a flower! But it wasn’t, it was a balloon.

2. Sword

Balloon Louie was getting a little lazy with his swords at the end. Toward the end of the evening he inflated a long balloon and a kindergartener grabbed it before Balloon Louie could put a hilt on it and went running off like he was the Highlander and Balloon Louie just kind of shrugged.

3. Alien

You can see Balloon Louie making an alien in an earlier photo with me and Finn. That alien was no joke, man. It was like a full-bodied alien. Definite wow factor, that alien.

4. Swan That You Wear on Your Head

I guess a crown would be boring, or maybe it just sort of looked like a swan and some kid decided to jam it on his own head, I don’t know.

5. Balloon Giraffe

Literally a balloon dog with a longer neck. Come on, man.

By | 2018-09-26T07:01:33+00:00 September 26th, 2018|29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Marcy Prager September 26, 2018 at 7:13 am - Reply

    Kudos for stepping up and going with your children to a day that was important to them! I, too, am an introvert, so I totally get it! I can stand up and teach to any crowd and speak to parents on Parents’ Night easily. I have spoken to hundreds of teachers at conferences. But put me in a My Gym class with my grandson, and I am lost while he runs to do his thing. It’s a lot of anxiety to experience ahead of time and during the event, but what a relief when the class or event is over! The good news is, your children will remember you were there with them, and that memory will live with them a lifetime!

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 11:04 am - Reply

      It’s so funny, that disconnect. I am great with students here, great in front of people, etc. But these things give me hives.

  2. Another Liz September 26, 2018 at 7:16 am - Reply

    Now imagine this same scenario in a foreign culture, where you are clueless about social codes between parents.

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 11:04 am - Reply

      Oh my. Where did that take place?

      • Another Liz September 26, 2018 at 11:11 am - Reply

        France, mon ami — back when my kids were “that age”.

        • Conor September 26, 2018 at 11:14 am - Reply

          Mon dieu. Mes condoleances.

          • Another Liz September 26, 2018 at 11:34 am

            🙂

  3. Heather Barnett September 26, 2018 at 7:39 am - Reply

    Conor, I feel your pain. Being an introvert is difficult. I usually find the animals and pet them while others are speaking with other humans. Even as I type that, I feel how stupid that is, but I can’t help it, couldn’t help it if I wanted to help it.

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 11:05 am - Reply

      Petting animals would have been a dream come true. I should have just petted Westy the Whale.

  4. Elsa Brule September 26, 2018 at 8:33 am - Reply

    Fellow introverts unite. Gah, could totally relate. omg…

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 11:05 am - Reply

      Elsa!! #IntrovertsUnite!!

  5. Bryan September 26, 2018 at 8:56 am - Reply

    Among many other reasons, I wish we still lived in same town, so we could not talk to each other at events like these.

    Keep showing up. Talking optional. Presence counts.

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 11:06 am - Reply

      Dude. Fist bump.

  6. Liz September 26, 2018 at 10:12 am - Reply

    Oh babe. I’ll go with you to the next one. You are such a great dad.

    (Also you should write one blog from the perspective of an extrovert who works from home so she is forced to have conversations with a confused but otherwise happy-for-the-company puppy.)

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 11:06 am - Reply

      YES!!!! And Hi love!!

  7. Annette September 26, 2018 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Hilarious! Esp loved when you said “I was secretly dreading our kids’ Family fun Day.” Yes when you’re an introvert, FUN days aren’t fun and PARTIES are terrifying. I always sweat bullets before social events. Give me a task, keep me busy and I’m fine. But expect me to stand there and converse with someone new, FORGET ABOUT IT. Booze helps but probably not a good idea to show up at your kids school with alcohol on your breathe. LOL.

    Keep’em coming Conor. I love reading the things you write. I just finished Little Princes. INCREDIBLE BOOK. Thank you for sharing your experience. You are a wonderful person. Perhaps (like me) a little awkward at social events… but wonderful just the same.

    • Conor September 27, 2018 at 9:54 am - Reply

      Yes!! Totally!! And thanks Annette!

  8. Elena September 26, 2018 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    Firstly, I like Lucy’s tattoos. Secondly, well said Conor. And you’re lucky because you usually have a very fine extroverted wingman with you – initials ELFG!

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 3:52 pm - Reply

      We are indeed PERFECTLY matched :-).

      • Elena September 27, 2018 at 5:49 am - Reply

        Yes indeed! We really miss you guys. Hope you come visit us here!!

  9. Kelly September 26, 2018 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    I read this to Abigail (my introverted daughter). She kept going,” Read more! Read more! This is ME!” Lol. We loved this- especially the pictures!

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 9:30 pm - Reply

      Tell her #IntrovertsUnite!

  10. Laura September 26, 2018 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks for coming clean and representing all of us fellow intros so well!!! Hppe it helps people umderstand the world is filled with all kinds of people. Every Family Fun Day should have a pet therapy corner!! They do it for stressed out college kids…how about the rest of us??!!

    • Conor September 26, 2018 at 10:15 pm - Reply

      A corner with puppies. Is that so much to ask???

  11. Dawn M Davis September 27, 2018 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    I’m kind of the opposite – don’t mind going to these things while the kid runs off and I strike up random conversations – some can be surprising. But at work…well, why is it everyone feels that they need to say “hello”, every time we pass in the hall? I can’t list the number of fake distractions I have come up with to avoid saying a ridiculous, “hello” to someone I just saw 3 minutes ago. Maybe I will make that list…others may be suffering as well.

    • Conor September 28, 2018 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      Ha! Yes, that’s TOTALLY me! I’m a “hello to everyone but can we sort of just avoid talking” kind of guy. I love to hear all sides of this!

  12. Karen D September 28, 2018 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Yet another thing I am grateful for…kids who are done with high school and as a result, no more school open houses or auctions or meet the teacher days where I feel totally lost because I don’t want to make small talk. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂 It is also so wonderful to know that there are other people dreaming up fantastic excuses to not attend “perfectly normal social activities.”

    • Conor September 28, 2018 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      Yes! That day is coming…

  13. Pat M October 2, 2018 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    The minute I read “Walk with a purpose” I knew we were kindred spirits! Hone your skills, you’ll need them for a lifetime! PS Make friends with one other parent, one who is sure to attend. Stick to them like glue!

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