How did an introvert like me give birth to Miss Congeniality?
Unlike me, my daughter, Meghan, can work a room like a politician, remembering everyone’s name and how she first made their acquaintance. She is 12 years old.
At any pageant in the world, my girl would win—by a landslide—the title of Miss Congeniality. All the mothers, dating back to pre-K (some I didn’t even know), go out of their way to say hello to her. When we walk though our Upper East Side neighborhood, shopkeepers stop sweeping to greet her, some rap on their store windows to get her attention so they can wave. Meg not only waves back, but flashes her hey-glad-to-see-you-too grin that is negotiating currency.
The former assistant director at her elementary school once dubbed her “the mayor” because, since her bus arrived first in the morning, she would wait before going to her classroom so she could stand by the entrance and welcome the rest of the students.
Meg’s way with people is not in that cheap salesman tell-’em-what-they-want-to-hear way, but comes from a genuine concern for others. At a picnic hosted by her sports class, I watched her ask younger children what they wanted to eat and helped them get it. She also made some proactive gestures to get drinks: “Here I got Jason his soda—caffeine free.” Jason’s mom praised her for taking such good care of her young son.
At this same party, I sat on the grass with my sandwich as she flitted from group to group like the social butterfly she is. A while later, she came over and asked how come I wasn’t talking to the other moms. “I don’t know them,” I told her. She knitted her brow and said, “Why don’t you go over and introduce yourself?”
And suddenly there I was, transported back 35 years to my aunt’s Jersey Shore beach club, where my mother once suggested the same thing when she saw a bunch of teens my age and thought it would be nice if I went over and made some friends. At least when Meg recommended it, I didn’t cringe, roll my eyes or tear up as I did back then.
Not on my best day have I ever been able to just walk up to a group of strangers and say hello, let alone make conversation. Primarily because I hate small talk. The mere thought of, “How’s the family? Great weather we’re having, huh? How ’bout them Mets?” causes me physical pain.
Every time I see or hear of Meg’s outgoingness, I realize that, until my girl came along, I had not seen anyone give so much of herself since, as a child, I began watching my mother in action.
Not only has she always had many friends, but the relationships have lasted decades. People refuse to let her go. My mother still gets Christmas cards from a girl, now woman, who babysat me back in the 1960s and another who used to take ballet lessons with me. These were people in my life, who, given the choice, chose to stay connected with her.
My mother has been retired now around 25 years, but former colleagues still keep in touch. She moved to Manhattan from the Bronx 10 years ago to help me raise my children, yet continues to get holiday flowers from her one-time outer-borough neighbors.
There is that moment when a daughter supposedly becomes her mother. I never became mine. And I’m glad my daughter is not becoming hers. Meg will come to know more peace, acceptance and admiration as her grandmother.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel, Fat Chick, from The Vineyard Press, is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
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