So we got invited to meet up with some extended family for what I realised was the first time in my life around Christmas/ New Year’s (let’s start the post on a melodramatic note, why not?).
I feel like I’m still adjusting to actually knowing these relatives. I only saw them a couple of times before Age 12 and in the nine years since then, I’ve only seen them very occasionally. After this age and especially after age 16 I was of course getting very socially awkward. I’ve had social anxiety around this lot in particularly quite badly, and that’s possibly because I’ve been so anxious for them to get a good impression of me. And they are a family of ten siblings while I’m awkward penguin only child.
Anyway, this is how it went.
We went first to my cousin C’s farmhouse where she lives with her husband and kids. At first the three of us were stood in her kitchen talking to her. My mum and C get along really well. To her and and the other relatives this side my Dad is regarded as an oddball (that’s the main reason I’m aware of for aforementioned fallouts) when in fact he has mild Asperger’s and an intellectual, quirky personality that just contrasts dramatically with their practical, straight-thinking personalities. And from their perspective, I must be the shy one that doesn’t talk. So basically me and my dad are the odd ones out although he seems happily oblivious to this while I am all too conscious of it.
Dad cracked a cringey dad-joke that no one understood, but I actually wasn’t mortified like I would’ve been as a teenager (I say that like I haven’t only just morphed out of teenage-hood). C took us all into the living room and put on the Shaun the Sheep movie for her two little boys and saying how “It’s actually great for adults too”. Then her and my mum mosied off back to the kitchen where they continued chatting while the two kids, me, Dad, our dog and their dog sat in front of the telly. This was actually a big relief to me.
Then my cousin’s husband came in. He’s a people-person, very likeable kind of person, and started talking to my Dad. Here goes, I’m thinking.
“Well then Steve, got any projects on the go: gardening, DIY…?”
“No I can’t say I have,” says Dad.
You’re writing two books, you could mention that… I’m thinking.
But almost immediately he’s getting quizzed about what he does for work and as this ties together with his books this comes out and they both start having a theological discussion. This’d be ok if Dad wasn’t trying too hard to shout over the TV and it wasn’t apparent that J wasn’t altogether on his wavelength.
After him repeatedly struggling to bellow over Shaun the Sheep they both absconded to a quieter room to continue the discussion. I was left with two dogs who hated each other (in the most hilarious way) and the two kids. Usually I’m awkward with kids and that’s awful for my social anxiety, because I don’t like failing to interact with them when the adults in the room are (to my mind) expecting me to be amazing with them. In this situation I didn’t have to feel self conscious so I actually enjoyed watching Shaun the Sheep and having lightsaber fights with them. Until my other cousins arrived. Then it was back to awkwardness and trying to make small talk.
Then we all drove to the little place where we were having the meal. There was a massive table set for us. And even more cousins etc. I ended up in a conversation with my uncle and dad, (a farmer and an academic so you can imagine that was fun). They’re two contrasting personalities, and the ones who really fell out all those years before. And now they were acting like it’s all in the past and my uncle was acting happy go lucky and asking my dad all about his holiday to Iceland. I was actually able to contribute to this conversation, having been to Iceland myself the year before. Mum was busying herself in the kitchen but clearly observing these goings on with baited breath.
And then somehow they end up on theology. This is the scenario she’s been dreading. Because he can be controversial and apparently ages ago in a scenario like this he seriously offended my uncle but couldn’t see he was offending him because that’s a limitation of Asperger’s for him. So I’m also feeling like Oooohdeeear now; Dad’s getting carried away bellowing over the corny Christmas music to be heard, his voice carrying so much that everyone else is giving him side glances. Uncle’s egging him on, light-heartedly. At least he’s probably not as easy to offend as he was 20 years ago. I’m just standing here like part of the furniture. Mum’s face is pure alarm. She sits down on the bench next to them and puts her head in her hands not hearing when two other people are trying to get her attention. It’s obvious to everyone that she’s absorbed in a face-palm moment over their conversation and it’s not helping the situation. I feel like I ought to do something so I sidle over to where Dad is as he’s picking up a drinking glass and starting to gesticulate emphatically, using this glass to illustrate some sort of analogy about time and space. I stand right there trying to make eye contact with him, I even try the textbook *cough, cough* trick. No success whatsoever.
Then we sit down for dinner and him and my uncle end up sitting right next to each other, and me next to them. Great. And my Uncle starts tactlessly grilling Dad on his own family, which is a very sensitive topic for him (more family fall-outs *eye roll*). Commence more loud discussions and me writing “You’re shouting please staahp” on the back of a Christmas cracker joke, trying to get Dad to notice it under the table. And when he finally notices it he reads it out loud and just laughs about it.
But all in all, it wasn’t too bad for anxiety. I successfully stayed very calm inside, appeared calm, and managed small talk. I was quiet (despite my intentions not to be) and this always has an alienating effect on my much more outgoing cousins. I had hoped to have more interesting conversations with them and finally break through the small talk barrier but I was unfortunate in this respect. But it’s not the end of the world, is it? I’m just glad that not once did I feel like a panicky anxious mess inside.