“Why does a catastrophe always follow you?” my husband asked, as he smoothed my hair and handed me a Kleenex. Yet again, Alison the Great made a hot mess of a situation. I don’t know why I do, and I wish I didn’t.
Yesterday, my husband was hired to photograph a friends’ daughter’s birthday party. We’ve known the family for quite a while, I lifeguarded with the oldest brother back in college and two of the younger brothers became good friends with my husband’s childhood best friend. So for this party, while my husband took pictures, Emerson and I attended as guests. And while I would consider these people my friends, and even those in attendance I don’t know well I find to be incredibly nice and friendly, I do feel a bit shy and awkward around them. I may seem very outgoing on the blog, but I do get a bit of anxiety when I am in unfamiliar situations, and it’s usually because I know I am not outgoing, not polished, and prone to catastrophes.
They had a Slip and Slide in the front yard and Emerson wanted to go in. I didn’t think we’d be going in the pool at this party and didn’t bring suits for us. But how do you say no to a four year old who sees all the other kids running around in the water? Emerson dressed herself for the party which meant she was wearing multiple layers (she can’t just wear a dress, it has to be a dress with a skirt and bike shorts or leggings underneath). I took off her sundress, hiked her skirt up like a tube top and left her bike shorts so she could play with the other kids. I felt resourceful, she had a blast, all was well. Then everyone decided to head into the backyard to go in the pool.
I didn’t have a suit on, so I told Emerson she couldn’t go in the pool. We had a discussion and agreed she could go in but would stay on the steps. I sat on the side with her for a bit, but there were a couple other kids hanging out on the stairs so I stepped back to allow her to socialize. She walked down one step, another, and then slipped and went underwater. It was shallow enough that the pool wouldn’t be over her head but she was freaked and couldn’t get her footing and the lifeguard in me kicked in, I jumped in the pool in my dress and pulled her out. I carried her to a bench to calm her and check on her. Though she was obviously okay by the volume of her crying, in my head I was thinking about this story. I calmed her, she said she wanted to go inside. I said we couldn’t because she and I were both sopping wet. She asked for us to go home, I said we couldn’t but did she want to go take a walk to the front yard where we could dry off in the sunshine and be alone for a moment. She agreed. We went to the front yard where I sat with my skirt around me trying to dry it in the sun, she danced around in the pooled water at the bottom of the Slip and Slide. And that was when I realized I had jumped in the pool with my iPhone in my pocket. I took off the cover and let it sun next to me, but could see the condensation in the camera and under the glass.
After a bit, my dress was no longer sopping so we went into the back, I changed Emerson into her dress and asked the host to use his dryer to dry her skirt, bike shorts, and underwear. Emerson played with a dollhouse, but was obviously not feeling good. Her nose started running again, she sounded all stuffed up, she said water tasted bad and didn’t want to eat. She was getting cranky, and wasn’t playing nice with other kids. She asked if she could go to the potty with me, and in there she said she didn’t have to go potty but wanted to talk with privacy and told me she didn’t feel good and felt sad and wanted to go home right away. Unfortunately we couldn’t leave since Karl was working, but we discussed what would make her feel better. She said she wanted to play with me, and wanted to be in the sunny room (luckily the one with the most toys in it). So I got on the floor in my damp dress and played castle while every other adult had adult conversations drinking adult drinks in adult poses.
Karl checked on me and told the host I had jumped in the pool with my phone so he put my phone in a cup of rice to help it out. I felt like such a goober, lying on the floor of their living room with frizzy hair and a damp wrinkled dress, playing with Emerson and a handful of two-year olds. Emerson had green snot coming out of her nose and the cloth wipe I was using previously was went since it too was in my pocket so I was using a flannel rag I had in my purse which was frayed on the side and faded and I know these people thought me batty for not just using a paper Kleenex or toilet paper.
Emerson was getting testy, sick of playing with these little kids. She started getting bossy and yelling at them. I brought her over to the couch to talk to her. She said she hated it there and wanted to leave. I had decided at the top of the hour we could leave without it seeming as though Karl shirked his duties. 30 more minutes, 30 more minutes. And then the heavens opened and an angel with the name Emilie came down. This little girl came into the play room and picked up a mini Magnadoodle and came over to Emerson and pretending to be a waitress, asked her what she wanted for dinner. She brought Emerson tea and pizza from the play kitchen. Emerson thanked her and it was off to the races. They were playing princess castle and kitchen and running around telling everyone they were best friends and going to have a play date and a sleepover.
I got myself a beer.
I went outside, and tried to talk to adults sitting in adult seats drinking my adult beverage but it had been three hours of a sick miserable child and I was chilled to the bone (hello wet synthetic underwear in air conditioning) and just done and I think the lovely people at the party found me strange and at that point I was too tired to give a fuck. I tried to have a pleasant face and make pleasant conversation, and watched Emerson wipe snot across her cheek and see her hair get stuck in it as she laughed and chased her new friend across the yard. I thought of how we were in the front yard together and she pulled me to look her in the face and she said, “Mommy you protected me.” And I told her I would always protect her. She then apologized for ruining my dress, and I reminded her it was an accident, and she is more important than any dress. And I wondered if jumping in the pool with my phone was on purpose, the whole everything happens for a reason. To be more present, to spend more quality time with this child, and less with dresses. To have her always know that she is more important than any dress, and that I will always be there to protect her.
And then, it was time to go home. Karl had gotten whatever cold Emerson had, I was utterly exhausted, and Emerson was obviously exhausted but on a high from playing with her new friend. She got her goodie bag, thanked the hosts, and took the long car ride home. When Emerson asked if she could have McDonald’s for dinner, though she had eaten cake and drank juice, we didn’t refuse. We all were looking forward to some fries and a clean kitchen.
The entire ride home, and the whole evening my body wanted to cry. It wanted to sob, and I wasn’t sure why. Emerson ended up having a good day, she went to bed happy and told me it was the best day ever. Karl said he got some amazing shots. And me… well it was just a typical day in the world of Alison, where a catastrophe always follows me. Lying in bed, Karl said he was right there when the pool situation went down, I could have just grabbed her from the side and not jumped in. But my instinct was to get in so I could pull her up, not grab and possibly drag her down. He reminded me that the host was right there in the pool, he could have gotten Emerson, she just needed a hand to right herself. But I saw a panicked child, my child, and knew a stranger may not realize how terrified she is of getting her face wet and going completely underwater would freak her out enough that she may not be able to be easily righted. But I am always the one who does something like forgets a swimsuit, tells a dirty joke to a conservative audience, or spends an entire day in a wet dress from jumping in to get her kid in 3’ water. I’m the one with the smeared lipstick who is gnawing on her nails, who has a run in her tights and a coffee stain on her blouse. I’m the one who loses her keys, gets to dinner and realizes she left her check card at home, trips on her hem and falls in the middle of Connecticut Avenue at rush hour.
I am no longer 25 where being a klutz can be passed off as cute. I can’t just say I’m Allie and I’m a catastrophe, ha ha. I’m 38, and I am the mother to a very wonderful person, I don’t want to be the joke in her bestselling memoir. I’m working on quitting the nail biting habit by getting regular manicures and taking NAC. I make more lists so I can be prepared better for situations and not forget events on my schedule. I try to slow down and think before I speak and act. I’m tired of being the catastrophe. It’s not cute, it’s not charming, it’s not funny, and it’s not a way to live a life, especially when I have another life to protect.