I wrote this last year. It is loosely autobiographical: the party happened, but we left immediately and there was no conversation. The thoughts are mine.
I am late. Mother of the year. But when I found out about the preschool Christmas party for parents—and they specifically said “maminky”—it was too late to change my work schedule. So, I am the last mom here. The school is packed, and I don’t like crowds. I feel boxed-in. How long should I stay? Is half an hour enough to be polite? I have chocolate chip cookies. I put them down next to all the intricate Czech Christmas cookies.
Drinking that Coke Zero was a bad idea—caffeine always makes me nervous. So does skipping lunch. The teachers and children have prepared a program for us. All the children come out and line up, singing and playing instruments. Well, except for my kid. She immediately ran off and hid behind me. She doesn’t like crowds either.
I should talk to someone. My Czech is basic, but I don’t like forcing people to speak English with me. Do I look aloof? I’ve been told a few times that I look aloof. I’m not aloof; I’m uptight. I’d really prefer to talk to one of the teachers, but they’re swamped. The mom in the red shirt looks friendly; maybe I should go talk to her.
I say dobrý den and introduce myself. I was right; she is friendly.
“This party is nice,” I continue. “They decorated well.” You doofus! Couldn’t you think of anything better to say?
“Yes, they did,” Red Shirt (Crap; I forgot her name already!) answers. “Is this your daughter?”
“Yes, this is Arvaneh.” I don’t know why I gave her a name that’s so difficult for Czechs.
It takes Red Shirt a few tries to get it right.
“And is that your son?” Call me Captain Obvious.
“Yes, this is Honza.”
“He looks like he’s having a good time. Does he like this school?”
“Yes, he’s made a lot of friends here. Does your daughter like it?”
“Yes, she does.” She is very reserved like me and hasn’t made any friends yet. I don’t know how to help her.
I decide to change the subject. Dale Carnegie says people love talking about themselves. “So, are you from here in Prague?”
“No, I was born in Moravia, but I came here for school and stayed because I found a job. Do you like Prague?”
“Yes, I like it a lot, but I get homesick. Especially in the winter!” I smile. This is true. But I also feel a lack of sensitivity here. But maybe that’s all big cities. Maybe it’s just everywhere now. And I’m afraid of going home in today’s socio-political climate, and where is “home?”
“What do you do here?” Red Shirt asks.
“I’m an English teacher now, but I’m trying to change careers—to some form of writing or editing.” I’m getting closer to 40 but still don’t feel like a real adult. You look like you have the adulting thing down, and you’re probably younger than me.
I don’t really want to talk about myself. “What do you do?” Probably an office job, surely something stable.
“I work at Raiffeisen Bank.” Bingo!
“And do you have other children?” I ask. I’m sure you’re a much better mom than me. You seem “grounded.”
“Yes, I have another boy; he’s seven years old now. Do you have any more?”
“No, just Arvaneh.” Even with just one, I’m afraid of screwing up. I don’t know much about kids. I had no experience with them before. All I have to offer her is love, and it’s not enough. I couldn’t even get her to take a bath last night and she watched Masha and the Bear for way too long, and I let her do it because I like hearing her laugh.
“So, what does Honza like to do?” I’m running out of things to ask. How long have we been talking?
“Oh, he’s into cars. And buses, planes, fire trucks, tractors. Typical boy stuff.” Oh really?
“Arvaneh likes tractors too. And animals. Do you like the Museum of Agriculture?” I lurk on their page looking for free events.
“We’ve only been once. But he sits on the tractors when we visit my parents in the country. He likes animals too; we have a dog.”
“Oh, what kind?”
Red Shirt mentions the name of a dog breed I don’t recognize and asks if we have any pets.
“No. I’d like to have a cat someday, but we can’t now. I’ve always had cats.” I pause. “Those cookies look good,” I say, and proceed to take a few for my plate. “Which ones did you make?”
“I made these.” She points to the Linzer cookies.
“Oh. They look pretty.” I can’t pinpoint the exact difference, but the ones I had in Germany were better. I never eat the Czech ones.
“Do you bake Christmas cookies?” she asks.
I prefer American sweets. ”No, I usually make a gingerbread cake for Christmas. Or pumpkin pie.”
“Pumpkin pie? What’s in it?”
“Well, it’s usually made with pumpkin puree—I use the Hokkaidos—sugar, eggs, milk, and lots of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove.” Actually, my recipe is vegan, but I’m not going to tell you that because you will think I’m being pretentious or condescending. “And we serve it with whipped cream.” I use the spray can. I know how silly it sounds to use that stuff on a vegan pie, but I really can’t be bothered to make coconut whipped cream. The minute they put coconut cream in a spray can, I’m on it!
“Sounds interesting. I only use pumpkin for soup.”
I smile and nod. Your lipstick is perfect. I wonder if that color would look good on me. I’ll look for it at DM next time.
”Oh, I’d like to talk to Arvaneh’s teacher while I’m here. It was nice meeting you!” You’re a nice person, but I’m out of things to say.
“You too, have a nice Christmas!”
Between my broken Czech and the teacher’s broken English, we manage to have a conversation. I kill enough time that I feel comfortable saying a general na shledanou and leaving. The nervous energy has built up inside me and the walk home will do me good. If my daughter wasn’t with me, I would run. But I’m glad I went. Those people are nice—it’s me that’s the problem.