By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
I like to refer to myself as an extroverted introvert.
Today, the trend is to look like something you’re not and identify as somebody or something completely different.
People are complex and although I always wished to be more relaxed and self-confident in front of others, nothing could be further from the truth.
When I tell others about the (not-so) secret side of my personality that prefers staying home and will think of any excuse to do so, they often can’t believe it.
I understand why, because of what I do day to day. I’m literally a walking, talking infomercial for various brands, products, and establishments.
Nevertheless, there are two defining characteristics within me—the person who shies away from new experiences and the person who stumbles into them completely by accident and then reflects happily on them (often in print or on video) once they’re over.
It’s like taking a workout class where you literally have to force yourself out of the house, only to relish in the feel-good hormones an hour later that are a result of pushing yourself to do something you really didn’t want to do.
I won’t lie and tell you that I didn’t offer my son Gavi an out more than one time before Sunday rolled around. I kept hoping he might change his mind and decide that he wanted to opt out of the brunch and instead take a Sunday off to do something he’d like to do.
Try as I might, I couldn’t convince him to miss it, so I thought about which mothers I might know from his class and wondered how awkward it would be sitting there until I’d find someone to talk to.
As we walked into the auditorium and I settled on a table, I noticed the other mothers who walked in pairs or larger groups.
It occurred to me that even as adults, there are some behaviors we never outgrow.
As we worked on the project that the organizers of the brunch arranged, having each mother and son put together Shabbos bags for the people who have to spend time in the hospital, I noticed out of the corner of my eye as some of the mothers got to an empty table and placed items by each seat, thereby saving spots for their adult friends; to my amusement, it wasn’t an isolated incident.
As I quickly wrote a message to the only mother I knew in Gavi’s age group who would be at the event, I noticed her walking past me to one of those very tables, where friends of hers had saved her a seat with her son.
I could tell she felt bad and tried engaging us both, but instead of trying to figure out a way to converse with someone who was with her son and his friends and their mothers at another table, I turned back to the one I was sitting at.
As the room slowly filled up, and I saw the latecomers walk into the room, not immediately having a spot to sit in, it occurred to me that the women who sit with their friends might be missing out on an opportunity to meet someone new.
I thought about tables I’ve been placed at in the past at a simcha or the way we gravitate to what and who we know, gladly avoiding the potential initial awkwardness that comes along with being vulnerable and not arming yourself with the protection of a familiar sidekick.
I met some of the mothers of Gavi’s friends whom I didn’t know well, and we had the chance to actually sit and talk, instead of tossing each other a passing wave as we loaded kids in cars after a play date or in the carpool line.
We chatted and covered different topics ranging from basic joys of motherhood to the things no one tells you when you get married.
At some point during the brunch, I realized that I was actually enjoying myself and became grateful for Gavi not wanting to take a day off from school and instead forcing me to get outside my social comfort zone and have conversations with mothers I most likely wouldn’t have had the chance to speak with, if not for being there.
It provided me with insight on how highly protective we are in our circles—how we place camp requests for our kids so they have the buddies they know in the same bunk as them. How there are student requests in classes and what happens when someone doesn’t get placed where they want to. It’s understandable and natural to look out for those we know we like and to want to nurture existing friendships.
But sometimes, we box ourselves into rigid groups, in ways that aren’t conducive to taking chances, meeting new people, or developing good communication skills. As much as it challenges that more socially anxious part of me and the introverted side that would prefer to stay home, maybe I’ll try to start showing up to more events and even deliberately sit at a table full of newer faces. Because one of the many lessons I’ve learned over the last few years is that the joy of new human connection sometimes comes in the most unexpected ways, especially if we open ourselves up to the possibilities.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.