The dinnertime conversation was about K. Rudd and the recent comments that the more you got to know him, the less you liked him. The man across the table from me said,
“Apparently Wolfowitz was like that too.” Everyone at the table nodded as though they understood and they agreed. Some nodded so emphatically it seemed like they had heard that about Wolfowitz as well.
I was thinking “Who the hell is Wolfowitz?” The name seemed really familiar – was he a politician, an author or a Wiggle?
My general knowledge may be fading, but I can still pick up on social cues, so I laughed and nodded like everyone else. I resisted the temptation to run to the bathroom and google Wolfowitz on Husband’s iPhone.
The conversation then continued:
“There’s nothing like filling out US immigration forms to make you feel like you’re in a Kafka novel.” This time I knew what he was talking about, not because I have actually read any Kafka (there I said it, I have not read any Kafka), but because my best friend has read a lot of it and 20 years ago she explained it to me – thereby enabling me to fake my way through many a pretentious conversation at the Uni Bar.
This was my first adult dinner party for many years. By “adult” I don’t mean that we placed our keys in a bowl at the front door. No, I just mean that we were invited to a friend’s place for a sit-down three-course dinner, with two new couples and no children, no Lightning McQueen crockery and no leftover fishfingers.
I admit I approach meeting new people with a little trepidation. Having to sit down with them for three hours and sustain a continuous conversation? Cold fear. My current pattern of social interaction is fragmented. Talking – much like sleeping, eating, weeing, showering and even sex – is constantly interrupted by one to four small children who either need something, want something, have broken something or are about to run into a carpark.
I am worried I have forgotten how to converse with adults in full, fluent sentences. At the very least, I know alarming gaps are appearing in my vocabulary.
According to my neurosurgeon father, the brain is a muscle, and it needs to be exercised in order to stay in shape. I struggle with mental exercise almost as much as I do with sit-ups. At the end of each day, after parenting and domestic activities, I am drained. I need to watch a depraved American crime drama to relax (complete with perps who were all badly parented) and then I fall asleep.
I can feel myself drifting a little from the world and the exchange of complex ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade this time with my children. I enjoy being here for them, teaching and stimulating them. I want to invest my time, my education and myself into them whilst we can (sort of) afford for me to do this, and whilst the children still love my participation in their lives.
Conversations in our home vary. Today, in Government Studies, my 6 year old son and I talked about the Arab Spring and leadership. According to him, Bashar al-Assad and Senator Palpatine are bad and Obama is good. I have to agree with his politics, Assad has the makings of a Sith Lord. My 8 year old daughter and I studied Commerce, Financial Planning and Philanthropy whilst she sorted her toys into the eBay pile and the Salvation Army pile, to work out how much more money she needs to buy a puppy. My three year old son learnt about Health and Safety (“No darling, you can’t put your finger up your bottom unless you are self-administering an enema.”) and I taught Communication 101 to my two-year old son (“Use your words not your teeth to tell me how you feel.”)
I am stimulating them – are they stimulating me? Yes, without a doubt. Do I find mothering as mentally stimulating as I did trying to set up a legal training programme in Rwanda. No, probably not. For now, I am comfortable with that. Am I wasting my education and intellect by being at home? – No, but unless I start making an effort to exercise my brain a little more, I know it will go the way of my post-partum abdominals.
The dinner party conversation that night continued on to families and the value of generations; migration, diasporas and identity; our worst moving house stories; films and whether Sergeant Brody in Homeland really is a terrorist or just a returned soldier.
I laughed, I finished my entire meal as well as my thoughts and my conversations. I even stayed seated. Once I went to the bathroom and wee’d peacefully. I laughed some more and I felt energised by the company.
And I realised that I have a much better chance of getting my brain back into shape than I do my poor, failing abdominals.
Shankari Chandran is a recent returner after ten years in London. Formerly a social justice lawyer, Shankari chronicles the day-to-day of her family’s return on her blog.
Do you ever find it hard making conversation at dinner parties? How do you handle meeting new people?