Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Play Date

When Big was a cheeky ball of thighs and slobber, her social life started with Mommy Monday movies. Droves of exhausted mommies ventured out of their spit up stained dens to sit in dimly lit theaters and watch movies with the volume turned down (to protect all those virginal ears). It beat staying home in crusty sweatpants and watching The View or staring at the ever increasing laundry pile. It forced us to interact with other moms, even though that mostly consisted of mildly competitive small talk in the ticket line or the lending of a baby wipe or a shoulder to cry on in the filthy changing table-less bathroom.
Once the kids were a few months old, my movie buddy mom and I started to wonder if watching loud,violent action movies where Ewan MacGregor was trying to escape from the future might not be the kind of stimulation that all the baby books said our kids needed. Plus a lot of the other more seasoned moms just let their kids run wild. We grew weary of watching unattended toddlers eat mystery items off the movie theater floor or navigate flights of stairs in the dark. We transitioned to home or park visits, and life was post partum perfect. It was truly a sanity saver, if only for some semblance of adult conversation and maybe a five minute period where my teeny kid wasn't focusing on me and what I could be doing for her. The downside was the dating process that is New Motherhood.
Finding suitable play date material deserves its own Match Dot Com like website, with check boxes for the plethora of parenting choices out there:
Welcome to www.degreesofbatshitcrazy.com where we find suitable play date material for you AND your children! Just answer a few simple questions and soon you will be asking your child not to draw on the walls of someone else's cheerio strewn, bodily fluid stained, protective foam covered  family room to the sounds of The Wiggles blaring in the background! 
Let's get started:
1. Breast or bottle- and is the like/dislike of either option a deal breaker?  And when you eventually wean, will it be after the bare minimum of three months,  the recommended two years or will you wait until they go to middle school to stop?
2.Organic vs. Conventional- will your eyebrows go up if the other Mom opens a jar of Gerber's baby food instead of whipping out some hand mashed, locally grown, butternut squash puree that she made that morning right after she milked the family goat and scrambled some eggs still warm from the chicken coop?
3.Are you potty humor friendly? Are their legitimate naughty words in your vernacular or is there a cutsie euphemism for each that you prefer that my jaded child will eventually take issue with and give your child the correct terminology-"it isn't "oh fudge... it's..."
4. Do you use cloth or disposable diapers-and is the like/dislike of either option a deal breaker? Are you holding your three month old over the sink for hours a day to get a jump on things?Are you buying adult diapers in XS because your child and the potty can't seem to get along?
5. Is the use of salt water versus traditional pool a forty five minute conversation about the dangers of chlorine? How about sunscreen- is that a full blown lecture when someone pulls out the fertility compromising SPF 130 in a spray can or will you feel secretly relieved that such ignorant people are also conveniently preventing themselves from reproducing?
6. Are you current events friendly, and will you judge the other Mom when she doesn't know that Bombay has been called Mumbai since 1995?
7. Do you read anything with more than three words per page? Is it exclusively Nicholas Sparks novels?
8.Do you or your children watch TV-and if so, how much?
9 Do you have a clue-and if so, how much?
10. Is your child kind and relatively non-violent? If not, will you step in when he/she starts pummeling the other child or will it become a Jerry Springer like spectacle when she politely requests that your child not play Five Finger Fillet with your child's fingers?
11. Will you insist that your six month old's blabbering is really them saying "Beethoven" because of all the classical music they listened to in utero?
12. Will you brag about how little Hedgefund has slept through the night from the day he was born or will you fess up to the reality that your night nurse was there and it was YOU who has been sleeping through the night all this time-hence your impeccable grooming and accessorizing? 

The list goes on, but there is a lot to discover about other people once you are already at the play date, like they have dogs and everything that hits the floor will become immediately caked with fur. A LOT of fur. Or that they leave the TV on all day long and let their kids have unlimited amounts of diet soda and Cool Whip, the fat free kind of course, "because it's healthier". Or they will freeze like a deer on the highway when you put something in the microwave that their child is about to eat.  Or they will let you go on and on about a notoriously bizarre mom with outrageous behavior, only to tell you right before they leave that she is their best friend. Or they will text with another friend the entire time, or their spouse will call five times in the hour that you perch on their couch, making you wonder if they are unhealthily codependent or maybe just bored, or both. Or their collection of rare Japanese Samurai swords is at toddler height, waiting to decapitate someone.
So many reasons to simply stay home, alone, and stare at your kid.
Don't get me wrong- I am certainly not suggesting that I am better than other parents.  I microwave a lot. I have a terrible temper and a worse potty mouth. My children have been playing with separate Ipads for the last two and a half hours while I write, internet surf for a pair of gold loafers that I will never wear and make lists of things that I will never accomplish. They have been interrupted only by bodily functions and an almost entirely microwaved dinner- and yes, I do know about the dangers of microwaving. I wrote an entire post about it awhile back. And, no, I don't practice what I preach.
It has been a long haul, these seven years, and sometimes I just need to say goodbye to "hands on" and hello to technology.
However, while  I am as lazy and feckless as they come, I have the good sense not to show this side of myself to other people when they come to my house.  I try and put up a decent facade, be generally polite, and strive to keep my life free of people who need more than I can give them. I have three immediate people who already need be a whole lot, pretty much non stop, especially when we are all together. Not a five minute period goes by, unless a TV is on or a grandparent is in the room, where a kid/spouse isn't asking for/about something/help/their shoes. It is really quite spectacular some days, and I often count the intervals just to torture myself. I can't be the only woman in America with this issue, but perhaps a mommy flask and pair of earplugs is the solution because no amount of explaining, describing or flat out yelling seems to deter them from checking in every ninety seconds or so:

Kid: (from the next room)"MOM??? HOW DO YOU SPELL ISLAND?"
Me: " I_S_L_A_N_D"....
Me: (deep breath) "I.........S........L......-"
Kid( interrupting): " "WHICH WAY DOES THE CAPITAL "L" GO AGAIN?"
Me: " TO THE RIGHT......"
ME: ( recapping)"I-S-L.........A.........N........D.........."
Kid(big pause): " MOM!!!!THIS SPELLS ISISLAND???!!!! I ASKED FOR ISLAND!!!" (sound of paper crumpling, kid stomps all the way down the hall, passing the many garbage cans within range, just to throw balled up paper in trash can below my desk).
Other kid: " I'M DONE!!!!!"( code for  "come wipe my ass")
Other Kid:" I SAID I'M DONE!!!'"
Husband: "Do you know where the walkman is?........."

At this point, I have done my Edith Bunker routine and am ready for a primal scream and a stiff drink.
I know, I chose this, but it reinforces my acute understanding that I can also choose to have play dates with people who aren't high maintenance. I choose not to be around people who are trying to figure out ways to put me to work. The mom who asked me to fetch her a plate of food at my kid's chaotic, crowded birthday party-for no apparent reason other than she didn't feel like walking the ten feet to the incredibly well thought out, readily accessible serve yourself buffet and get it herself-was crossed off the list. Another mom pretty much insisted that my kid give up the pretty flowered tea cup (after she had been heartily encouraged to pick the teacup of her choice) so her kid wouldn't throw a fit ("yeah, that's her favorite one..."), even though the whole play date was supposed to be a surprise birthday celebration for my kid that they had both made quite a fuss about. I will never forget the look of confusion on my kid's face as she slid the flowered tea cup across the table and took a plain blue one instead, but she made me proud, or was it my suggestive squinting she responded to?The same mom let her child play video games while my kid explored her room and was told to not touch anything. This mom was clearly terrified of her five year old and seemed to be waiting for her child to come in and raise hell because she'd let my child touch her stuff. I just ran out of energy trying to keep the conversation alive while trying to explain to my kid why she couldn't touch anything in her friend's room.
Another mom, with whom I'd had two perfectly acceptable casual play dates, called my cell phone at five thirty one evening and said,"We are driving by your house- are you home?". Let me just say that I was not a drop by kind of gal when I was  young and single and am even less so now, especially at dinner time with two cranky hungry kids making whining noises that science has proven to be the  most irritating sound known to human ears. I hemmed and hawed and told her we were going out to dinner any minute and actually got in the car with both kids and drove away, just in case she was lurking about.  The desperation in her voice was palpable, but I am no Stay at Home Mother Teresa. I just didn't have it in me that day, or ever, really, to be the rock for someone I barely knew and understood even less. Besides, she had one kid to deal with for a few more excruciating hours, and I had two.
Another mom let her kid DESTROY an entire area of our play space, I mean TOTALLY DISMANTLE, then walked out without picking up a single thing. Her kid actually eyeballed the mess, tripping over a pile of books as she exited, and let me know as the door was closing that she wasn't going to help clean it up, either.
Another Mom, who I call the Play Date Bully, just wouldn't take no for an answer. I didn't want her or son coming over to our house and was even less inclined to leave my child at the mercy of her ancient nanny at their house. She broached the subject every so often when I had occasion to see her, and emailed me infrequently over the course of several months. I managed to dodge and weave but the correspondence became increasingly hostile, pointed and vaguely threatening. I used every excuse possible for as long as I could and finally had to give in or just tell her the truth. Naturally, I gave in but mostly to avoid coming home and finding our figurative pet rabbit boiling on the stove. As the date neared-my body filled with dread-a miracle occurred(they cancelled)and our scheduled enforced play date was postponed indefinitely. But like jury duty, it never goes away, and I fully expect a passive aggressive email to arrive any day now with the heading "let's try this again, shall we?"

You might ask, okay, Mrs. Judgeypants MacPerfect, how would YOU have handled these situations had the shoe been on the other foot?
Well, I'd be delighted to tell you:
I'd never ask anyone to get me anything unless it was a bandaid for a cut or an extra pair of undies because someone had an accident.
I'd have had the conversation about the teacups way ahead of time and told my kid that the birthday girl was getting whatever cup she wanted, because we were celebrating her. I'd have told my video game player to put the game away or  the play date would be over.
I have yet to call another mom at dinner time and say "right outside your house, whatchadoing?", but I suppose I will never say never.
If I'd been so clueless as to leave a big fat mess for another mom to clean up, and my kid brought it to my attention, I'd have stopped in my tracks and made her clean it up, just so she never embarrassed me like that again.
As for the persistence- I get it. We all want to connect, make friends, have something for our kid to do from three to five thirty( affectionately referred to as "the witching hours" by my Mother in Law), but if I reach out to someone and get zero traction, I will give up before I have the urge to write mafiosa tinged emails to a mom who clearly doesn't have any interest in me or my child.  Perhaps there is room for a self help book entitled "That Mom is just not that into You" with a description like this: "Straightforward and sensible, "That Mom is Just Not That Into You" educates otherwise smart women on how to tell when another Mom just doesn’t like them enough, so they can stop wasting time making excuses for a dead-end relationship".
And then there are those rare times that everyone gets along- where there is pure glorious chemistry at work-the kids, the moms-the whole thing is like a perfect moment, and I feel like busting out into the theme from The Golden Girls because it is such a relief. To those women, I say thank you, and let's do it again really soon.