I have been drowning in statistics homework lately (you know, in case you haven't read my facebook
I didn't have to wrestle anyone else into their shoes, or listen to anyone complain about having to get out the door; I just put on my shoes and jacket and hopped in the car. So easy! I forgot that's what it was like before I had kids. And I didn't have to worry about getting anyone settled into the nursery, or having them fidget on my lap until it was time to sing the children out. And don't get me wrong, I am perfectly happy doing those things on any given Sunday, but it sure was nice to have a different experience. I listened to a service that spoke to me about being kind and compassionate to others, and it was great.
But I have to admit that going to coffee hour without the kids felt a little bit like going into battle without my armor. In social situations where I feel nervous or unsure of myself, it's become very easy for me to make everything about the kids. If I'm stuck in an awkward conversation or feeling a little too vulnerable, I tend to make a quick joke and excuse myself because "the kids need me" or "we'd better head out before meltdown time". And often, those things are true. But, also often, I use them as a way to get around or out of social situations where I feel uncomfortable or vulnerable. You read me right: I use my children as human shields. (I figure it's okay for their health because they have no idea, and they're not shielding me from anything violent). And the anxiety that rose up in me today at the thought of heading into coffee hour unshielded, vulnerable, and exposed was a real, live thing, like a serpent rising in my stomach. What if I didn't have an out? What if people wanted to interact with me in a way that was real and honest? What if they didn't?
And as that service ended, I decided: I was not going to do it. There was no way I was going to coffee hour without my little buddies. I would simply duck out, and nobody would notice, because of course nobody would notice; I'm not important (at least, according to my anxiety).
But then something happened. Someone from my small group ministry that I like very much asked how I was doing, and I could tell she genuinely wanted to know. And within the space of that short, kind conversation, I was somehow carried on the current of moving people right into the heart of coffee hour. And I stayed. That one interaction gave me the backbone to tell my anxiety to shove it, to move into that room and smile at people who I have met and would like to get to know better. And you know what? It was all right. In fact, I got two phone numbers and promises to get together from two women who I've had friend-crushes on for a while (you know? that thing where you meet someone and you think, "Oooooh, we have GOT to be friends!"), and it was really nice.
If I had left that church service without going to coffee hour, I would have had a relaxing morning but I would have missed something really important. Instead, I left feeling like my cup was full, something I have felt only very rarely since becoming a parent. I felt like I was part of a beloved community, and I felt excited for new friendships, and I felt good because I think maybe I helped others feel that way for a moment at least.
So.... I think it's time to work on maybe not using my kids as human shields. It's hard to think about how that will work, but at least I have the reminder that being able to have actual grown-up conversations without that protection was really wonderful.