I remember a time not long ago when I was the life of the party. I was cool, casual, and I always knew just what to say in every party-type situation. I was fun to be around, and people seemed to genuinely want me to be there. My reason for being on this earth seemed to be party attending.
Now flash forward around seven or so years. I find myself at a party standing red-faced and panting over the screaming, thrashing body of my four-year-old daughter. I’m violently strangling and shaking the child’s pink stuffed bunny in my hands. The words, “I’LL SET YOUR STUPID MISTER FLUFFERS ON FIRE WITH GAS AND FLUSH HIM DOWN THE TOILET!” have just left my lips only seconds ago, and at the top of my lungs.
Around me are a number of wide-eyed, mouth-hanging-open partygoers…the same partygoers who used to want me at their parties. The room is dead silent other than my panting and my child’s maniacal tantrum. Two women sitting near me lean toward each other and begin whispering, most likely wondering to each other how I have not had my children taken away from me by now.
So how is it that we got from one reality to the other? What happened in those seven years? How can a fluent, suave party professional end up declining to the point that he finds himself in this ridiculously embarrassing scenario?
Children are what happened. They have transformed me. They are not growing more mature; I am growing more infantile. I used to be the life of the party. Now I’m the elephant in the room.
Where I used to surf the party crowd, hopping effortlessly from conversation to conversation with ease, I now find myself only getting a few sentences out before feeling the dire need to find out where my daughters are, and what or whom they are harming. I used to be calm and collected. Now I’m nervous and sweaty. Whenever other people’s children run past, I scan them for fresh bite marks or missing clumps of hair that resulted from playing with my children. While engaged in conversation, I find it hard to complete a full sentence or two without instinctively stopping to yell, “HAS ANYONE SEEN HANNAH? WHERE’S HANNAH? NATALIE ISN’T WASHING DOLL HAIR IN THE TOILET AGAIN, IS SHE?”
I feel like a zoo keeper who is in charge of a pair of tigers. Only the tigers are not confined to a cage. Instead, they are free to roam among the zoo visitors, and it is my job to make sure no one gets eaten.
And being at the party, my two tiger daughters are even less apt to actually listen to me than usual. So anything I tell them to do, or not do, must be said three to five times with an increase in volume each time my demand is repeated.
If it happens to be a party that has the combination of food and nice carpet, I end up nauseous from the stress. I constantly picture myself writing a check to replace the carpet that my daughters have just spilled sloppy Joe and grape Kool-Aid all over. And if anything goes wrong during the party, I assume it was caused by one of my children. I impulsively and furiously begin apologizing.
“I’m sorry about the furnace catching fire, Bill. I’ll find out what they did to it.”
This is how I find myself standing and panting over my screaming child. The tantrum was caused by another partygoer’s child wanting to play with the stuffed bunny that I was now threatening to dismember. My first few attempts to calm her down and assure her that it was OK for someone else to play with Mr. Fluffers were ignored. In fact, she actually turned up the volume of her fit in response. This is where I once again lost it. And if it was not bad enough that I lost it, I lost it while surrounded by two dozen of my friends during a party, in the middle of the living room, and with everyone’s undivided attention on my lunatic-like meltdown.
I sometimes wonder if I’ll return to normal after the girls are grown and gone. Or will I carry these mental scars for the rest of my life, like a shell-shocked soldier who can’t escape the vivid images of war? I fear that even if I am able to return to a normal state of mind, I will have long since eliminated all chances of anyone actually inviting me to their party.
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