Last Thursday night I went to a Moms Night Out for my kids’ school. It took me an hour to figure out what to wear before I left. It was not going well. In a moment of pure insanity, I even tried on a pair of maternity jeans I had set out for a friend who is expecting. While admiring the boot cut fit, I schemed about a shirt that would actually cover the elastic band around my waist. Then I imagined bending over at the party and showing off my secret to neatly dressed, put together women and I peeled off the jeans and chucked them across the room.
Going to the party was definitely out of my comfort zone.
Which begs the question: where is my comfort zone?
And the answer: I have no idea. I have not been comfortable for years.
There have been many changes in my life in the last six years. Sometimes I liken myself to having gone through menopause several times.
First we moved to Kiev, Ukraine. Elaina was 2 1/2 and Zoya was 9 months old. For two years my husband helped out with a church plant in another part of town while buying groceries, paying bills and looking after his little foreign family. I studied the Russian language full time and learned to walk to the Metro station looking down at my feet. Things that came easy to me, American mannerisms like smiling at strangers, wearing your shoes in the house and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese were boxed up and left in my mom’s attic over the garage in Michigan.
Time went on. I tucked comfort around my children in our little seventies style apartment like a warm fleece blanket the only way I could think of. I mixed our new culture with the old, pouring the American Happy Birthday song in with the custom of not wrapping birthday gifts in Ukraine. We dressed the girls up in costumes for New Year’s Day and pretended it was Christmas. I found the only store in Kiev that sold Lasagna noodles.
Everything I did in Ukraine was uncomfortable, until one day it wasn’t, and I was able to conjugate the verb ‘to buy’ in Russian’s past, present and future tenses. After three years there I noticed friendly faces around me, offering to show me how to make a warm compress for my daughter’s cold instead of reaching for Tylenol. We were part of a church that was growing closer to one another and to God, and my oldest daughter was learning addition and subtraction in her Ukrainian preschool.
I almost felt comfortable. So we decided to try for our third child.
God blessed our efforts and along came Polly. She was born there in Ukraine, three weeks early, in a private hospital that looked a lot like our western hotels. After her birth I had to learn a new language. I had to find out how to speak special needs; words like Down syndrome, IEP, therapy, hypotonia.
We landed (twenty days overseas in the NICU, packing our lives up once again, saying goodbye to our church) in Michigan and attempted to find comfort in our new surroundings once again.
I thought that moving back to the States would be easy. I already spoke the language here. Only, my time overseas changed me. A large part of me identified with Ukraine. I was out of place in church. The music was loud. There were too many faces. Every thing was so big and people had a lot of stuff. I came home from Zoya’s preschool round-up drenched in sweat. I remember standing in the school supplies aisle at Walmart, overwhelmed by the variety of paper and pens and lunch boxes.
And then last summer, we moved again, from Michigan to Chicago, from rural to urban, from middle class to upper class, from being average church goers to my husband pastoring a church.
And once again I am out of my comfort zone.
So, you see, there really is no such thing as small talk in my life. Which is why I dreaded the Mom’s Night Out last week. My small talk either gets big quickly or it gets quiet. Simple questions like, “where did you live before you moved here?” or “what does your husband do for a living?” or the ever present, “tell me a little bit about your kids?” do not have simple small talk answers.
After I found an outfit that fit, the party last week wasn’t that bad. I made small talk. The questions came up and I answered shortly, “we lived in Ukraine,” “my husband is a minister,” “I have three girls; seven, six, and two.”
My life has changed so much and so quickly, at times it’s like watching a three ringed circus. I have the poles and the plates, I am just having a hard time getting them all to spin at once.
In the midst of all these changes, I am finding that comfort is not really the point.
I speak different languages; special needs, English, Russian, Christian, urban, rural. And every language molds me a bit more into who I am to become.
I guess I am learning to speak small talk here in Chicago as well and to be OK with it.
That, in and of itself, brings me a bit of comfort.