During the weeks leading up to a social gathering at my house, I clean like a mad woman. It’s not that my house is in a state of disarray, and needs a thorough cleaning, because I have a fairly involved weekly cleaning regimen. Cleaning gives me an outlet for all the nervous energy I have surrounding people being in my space. I wash walls and wipe baseboards while I think about all of the conversations I will have to be involved in. I vacuum rugs and sweep wood floors while I contemplate what sort of drama will erupt among various family members. I wash down the furniture, dust the knickknacks and organize the rest of it all while I stress about the weather, and if we will have to move our summer cookout indoors and what that means for my gluten free house.
If it’s not just a family gathering, my friend C arrives first, long before everyone else is scheduled to show up. She comes to catch up on how I've been, and fill me in on what’s going on in her life. She knows that I am going to be busy getting ready, and offers her help, even though she knows I am going to tell her that I don’t need any. She’s really there to sit on the stool in my kitchen and distract me. To ease me into the social interactions that are going to be taking place all afternoon that I will have to be a part of. It’s not that I don’t enjoy social interactions with people. I do, just on a small scale. I am perfectly happy to sit and talk with you for hours on the porch, or out in the backyard while we watch the birds play in the trees, or cars drive up and down the road. I may listen to you talk for a while, and not have anything to say, but that is because I need a break from all the talking.
In a large group, I’m happy to just sit and listen. Small talk doesn't appeal to me, and I don’t really understand people who thrive on it. My SIL is a fantastic conversationalist. She asks the right questions that carry the conversation along, and draws people out and into discussion. Talking with her is a joy because I don’t feel like I have to do so much and it’s not as exhausting when it’s over. In my backyard, on the day of a summer cookout, there is too much going on. Too many conversations, and good natured bantering, and I don’t really want to be part of it. So often, I retreat to the company of my nieces. We play in the kiddie pool, or with summer toys, or I sit on my tree swing with one of them on my lap, and just swing and enjoy their company. They don’t demand anything more from me than to love them and to listen to their stories. Perfect, if you ask me.
When it all gets to be too much, I retreat into my kitchen under the guise of having to clean up. I realize that this breaks about 20 of Miss Manner’s rules of social etiquette, and I’m OK with that. In my own kitchen, alone with the dishes and my own thoughts, I can regroup and recharge so that I can go back out again in good time and rejoin the merrymaking. I still may not join in, but I can sit, and listen, and enjoy the company of my friends and family.