My parents think I don’t understand them (at least I think they think that). So today I’m making an effort to get into their brains. [Full disclosure: MY PARENTS ARE TOTALLY BORING. FEEL FREE TO SKIP TODAY’S POST.]
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After seven years of parenting, my mum and dad aren’t doing so well in the social department. While they were never so outgoing that they had to fend off friends, prior to this millennium they at least hung out with people, phoned people, and found themselves in mingling situations more than once every two years.
Parenthood changes the way you make friends—profoundly. No longer do you make connections casually, gradually, or naturally. The intense first year with a newborn, during which you get an immediate burst of attention and then withdraw into diapers and mush, effectively destroys whatever spontaneity you once had. At first friends call…barbecues, dinner parties, golf games, poker nights…but if the invitations don’t jive with naps, or feedings, or bedtime, you turn them down. Turn them down for long enough, and people don’t call any more. And you don’t call them, because you’re tired. You can’t hold a conversation without interruption any more. You can’t hold a coherent thought in your head. Pretty soon, nobody calls anybody, ever.
You realize you don’t know anybody. Moreover, you’re barely fit for human company. But that constant barrage of parenting advice that streams from the ether is commanding you to socialize your child.
So you find yourself at playgrounds, scoping out other families. Gone are the days when friendship sprouted organically. A newfound desperation to network finds you sizing up the kids…Are they the right age? Do they play nicely? Do they look like they have the occasional bath? Do they bite? Could they possibly be inbred?
Then, secondarily—and distantly so—do the parents look okay? Because the thing is, okay will do. If they seem nonviolent, moderately social, aren’t screeching profanities, and have kids that will play with yours, it’s now or never. You’re going to make it click. And so, like a speed-dater, you court them, aware that any second one of your respective spawns will start caterwauling and truncate any opportunity to network on their behalf.
A week later you’re sitting in a strange family’s living room wishing you’d had the foresight to medicate your allergies against their seven cats. You’re wondering why anyone needs 14 bibles and how these juxtapose with the Harlequin-romance-stuffed shelves. Casual conversation reveals your new friends don’t allow their boy-children to play with pink or purple toys for fear of homosexual contagion, further armor against which (you fear) might be offered by an improperly stored firearm somewhere in the house. Aphorisms chatter from copious wall plaques, and you glean from the family’s countless photo collages that the kids are busily engaged in cheerleading, apologetics camp, and—yes—beauty pageantry.
You realize that if and when you reciprocate with a playdate at your house—if it’s to be a repeat event (and aren’t your kids playing nicely together?)—you’ll need to hide half your books and at least one painting. You probably shouldn’t mention the alcoholic bear who lives with you and whose typing you do, nor should you heed random temptations to diss Mitt Romney or ask, “How about those freaks outside BC Women’s Hospital? Forty days, huh?” Already, in their house, the Third Rail is arcing electrically, taunting you to leap upon it…
But your kids LOVE each other.
You realize that, in your own way, you’re probably being more inwardly judgmental than your hosts ever would be toward you. You wonder…are you being a snob? Are your misgivings valid? Or should you just tamp them down for the sake of your kids, who don’t know or care about the politics or lifestyle mismatches you think are such an obstacle?
With your kid(s) at playdate age, the tail has been wagging the dog for a long time. Socially, you’ve disappeared down a rabbit hole. You probably go days on end without anyone calling you by your given name. It has not been about you for a very long time. And until grade school, when the little ones start making their own friends, awkward playdates are a fact of life.
Fact 1: The weirder the other parents are, the more your kids will attach to theirs.
Fact 2: The weirder the other parents are, the more inclined you’ll be to always be present for the playdates. Just because.
Fact 3: After years of uncomfortable playdates, you’ll have no idea how to make your own friends any more.
If you’re very lucky, by the time Kindergarten dawns, some of your playdates will have translated into genuine parental friendships. When naps and baby food are phases of the past, you might just be able to hang out with the adults while the kids play. Sure, they’ll have a fight every two minutes or so, but you’ll be able to complete a sentence here and there, and eventually get to know each other as adults, above and beyond your kids. And then you can be yourself and let it all hang out. And then you can allow the resident alcoholic bear onto the counter, where he can sample from everyone’s glass. And there won’t be a resultant awkward silence. You can explain that he’s your bear, not your kids’, and that he’s an alcoholic. And that since he’s beyond hope, everyone should just keep pouring for him.