A Startling Development

Something strange keeps happening around here. On multiple occasions lately, my husband and I notice ourselves having fun. Actual fun WITH OUR KIDS! Not, “oh it’s fun to watch my toddler feed a goat” fun, I mean genuine fun. The kind we generally only have without our kids.

This is incredible news, people!

We like our children!

I think that the ratio of Needy Little Buggers to Funny Little People is starting to tip in favor of the latter. And thank God for it!

We just returned from a mini beach vacation. The water was a balmy 58 degrees, so I can’t attribute our good time to the restorative nature of warm salt water. I guess it could be the restorative nature of cold salt water, but I’m going to take a leap and give credit to the kids. They are becoming less and less unpleasant.

Occasionally anyway. I wouldn’t want them to be perfect. If they were, I never could take pictures like this:

time out with a view

We enjoyed catching crabs, finding starfish, flying kites, building sandcastles, and jumping in the freezing waves together. We had full 20-minute stretches where my husband and I could talk to each other while watching our kids play adorably together! We could fit all this in between snacks and sunscreen reapplications thanks to our growing kids’ larger stomachs and willingness to wear sun hats.

Sure, we had a couple of meltdowns and a few instances of sibling assholery, but the good outweighed the bad, by far, despite overly long car rides, less than ideal sleep situations, and that special brand of exhaustion born from full summer days spent outside.

I didn’t know if I’d ever get to this point. Our baby and toddler years felt long and punishing. Gone are cute pudgy legs and wet baby kisses, diapers and colic, and inflexible toddlers made more impossible when naps are disturbed. I feel the heart-squeeze of nostalgia, but mostly I feel lightened by relief. Here are my long-limbed, capable, humorous, adventuring huge personalities, who can almost wait five minutes until dinner. Hallelujah!

Sorry, Gotta Go!

We’re always the first to leave. I cut short outings and parties and gather my troops while we’re all still having a great time. See, I pre-empt misbehavior and meltdowns. I’ve dragged my kids kicking and screaming out of too many parks, parties, and pools, and I’d like nothing more than to never have to do it again.

My kids get hungry, tired, overwhelmed, and overstimulated. While your kids happily play together for the 5th consecutive hour, not noticing that it’s already 7:30 and dinner hasn’t been served, I can see the wild look developing in my kids’ eyes by hour 3. I know what’s coming and it’s not pretty. Regrettable things will be said. Repeatedly and loudly. I’d rather you not witness that. I’d rather you not see me have to physically restrain my unrestrainable boychild. I’d rather you not see me roll my eyes at the pitiable tears of my girlchild.

If possible, I’d like you to think that we’re a nice family. I’d like you believe that my daughter isn’t almost always crying over something or other, and that my son isn’t always a hair-trigger away from a meltdown so staggering in its suddenness and violence that it can only be compared to a tornado.

If I stay too long, you’d see my daughter stub her toe or bump her head. You see her cry her big tears and frown her perfect big frown. And then you see me barely care about it and assume that I’m a colossal jerk. And I might be. But what you don’t know is that my daughter stubs and bumps something so often that if I stopped to genuinely care about it every time, my entire family might starve to death and would certainly never have a clean shirt to wear. Her tears are a constant companion. At some point, eyes must be rolled. Call me when there’s blood.

If I stay too long, you’d see my son talk back to me and say things that are stunningly obnoxious and rude. You’d hear my teeth-clenched, low-voiced warnings – much like a snarling cat. (I’d save any yelling until we’re safely in the car.) You’d think that he’s out of control. You’d think that his parents are deficient in some, or many, ways to have a child act that way. And we might be. But unless you have a child who falls far on the spirited end of the temperament spectrum, you just don’t understand. I lead our lives with one wary eye on him at all times. I can tell when it’s coming and I’ve gotten pretty good at heading him off. I can corral and get us out of there before there’s a full volcanic eruption, just a few ashes burped up into the atmosphere. Let me leave you thinking that’s as bad as it gets.

When I do a good job, our party companions don’t even know that the tides have turned for my family, just that suddenly we’re departing. They might catch some attitude coming from the kids, but they’d never guess at what would happen if I don’t get us out of there immediately.

Ironically, it’s my kids’ inability to behave as well as your kids that make us great dinner guests. Go ahead and invite us over! I promise that we’ll never be the guests who overstay our welcome.

Mommy Dating

This is an updated version of a post originally published in May 2010.

We moved to a new town the spring my son was 15-months-old. So began my adventures in mommy-dating. I hated mommy-dating, but without a job to go to I had no other way of meeting new people. If you’ve never had to mommy-date, consider yourself lucky.

Mommy-dating is just like real-dating, except the scene unfolds at the playground, (or supermarket, library, museum, etc,) instead of a bar. I paid a little more attention to my appearance, and Luke’s, making sure we were both at least mostly clean. Ever on the hunt, I’d scan my surroundings for “attractive” moms.

What makes a potential mom-friend attractive? First, her kid’s age – no matter how cool a mom of a 6-month-old seems, there’s no way she wants to hang out with my wild toddler. Next, she needs to look kind of like me (effort-wise) – I’m not going to be bffs with a fancy mom. Finally, the hover test – if she lets her child roam more than two steps away from her, game on. So, with my sights set on new mom friends, I hit the “singles” scene.

Just like real-dating, I had to put myself out there: I made eye contact; I was approachable; I was friendly; I visited the same places again and again, so I could see the same moms again and again; I made idle conversation with everyone; I introduced myself; I asked for phone numbers. All of this was entirely against my inherently unfriendly nature and I found it exhausting. Worst part: I had an unreliable wing-man. Luke could be completely disarming, or he could throw sand in your kid’s eyes. I never knew which Luke I’d get until it was too late.

In many ways, I think real-dating is less awkward than mommy-dating. With real-dating, the whole pick-up process is expected and normal. Between moms at the playground it’s odd. It’s weird to go from chatting idly about the kids in the sandbox to, “Sooo, maybe I can get your number and we can do this again sometime…?” Truly awful. I’d come home from the park depressed because I hadn’t plucked up the courage to get cool mom’s number, and she hadn’t ask for mine. I’d go weeks hoping to run into her again.

That first summer I was able to set up a number of second dates. You know, a time to see if there is any real chemistry. I was unsure how to navigate these second dates, and several of them were pretty uncomfortable. At what point in a potential new relationship do you show your real self, not the charming version who picked-up this mom? How do you release your real personality? All at once? Or slowly, over time?

I decided to ease it out. I quickly found that these new moms fell into one of two camps: those who thought I was funny, and those who thought I was horrible.

Through this process of dating and personality slow release, I was able to build a new circle of friends. My mom friends. And then I moved. Now with two kids, aged 7 and 4, I find myself in the lonely trenches as a “single mom” once again. Dating as an older mom is completely different from back when I had just one toddler in tow.

Gone are days filled with library story times and baby swings. Instead, my potential mom friends and I have busy schedules filled with school commitments, sports, and homework. The kids of my potential friends have friends of their own, whose moms I imagine always hanging out together. Before, I worried that a new friend’s child matched mine developmentally, so she wouldn’t be shocked by my kid’s 2-ishness. But now the kids have to actually connect and like one another. I have to date the entire family!

It’s a slow process, made slower by the fact that I’m not nearly as desperate as I was a few years ago as a lonely mom of a toddler. I don’t cruise the pick-up scene like I used to. I wouldn’t even know where to find it. But, if I meet you and like you, and your kids are of approximate age and sex as my kids, and our kids show any interest in playing together, you’d better believe that I’ll be asking for your digits and that I’ll be overly excited next time I run into you at Target!

Mommy Dating