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?



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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

A letter to my son on his 7th birthday

Every year I write a letter to my kids on their birthday. I hope to one day give each kid a book of these letters – as way of apology and explanation. 

Dear Luke,

You turn seven today. SEVEN! This seems impossible, nearly as impossible as reconciling that the boy in front of me is the same as the baby I took home from the hospital. You are a million things that I never could have imagined on that day seven years ago when I tried, and failed, to button you into the too-small outfit that I thought to take you home in.

My baby is 7

The most astonishing thing about parenthood is the fact that my children are actual people- people who are different from me and have their own minds. You, my boy, are a person I’m so happy to know; a person unlike any other I’ve ever known; a person who is nothing like I ever expected.

I might have imagined tall towers of blocks. But they’re not you. You are the impetus, the intensity, and the energy it takes to build them. I might have imagined scraped knees and wet sneakers. But they’re not you. You are the racket, the commotion, and the spirit that it takes to fall a thousand and one times, get back up, and run into the wet with your shoes on. (Who am I kidding? You never wear your shoes. You are the boy who is barefoot no matter what.)

My words fall short of painting a full picture of all that you are. You are the chaotic blur between my organized thought and vocabulary.

You are the blur

This special thing you are- it is a plum I hold in my hands. Tender, impossibly sweet, and a complete mess. My job is to usher this plum through childhood unbruised. If you can retain all of your plumminess into adulthood, you will truly be one of the world’s most special people.

Your exceptionally strong will and unwavering moral code will serve you well in life. You stand up to any perceived injustice, especially if done against you or your little sister. I love this about you and I hope that sense of right stays with you and speaks louder than your peers do as you continue down the sometimes perilous course of childhood. The people you care about along the way will be lucky to have you in their corner.

Your innate feeling of protection over your sister is incredible. You will protect her from me, even when I’m coming down on her for something terrible she did to you. Please continue to do this. All evidence points to you being a pretty big guy as you grow up, and, right or wrong, I’d like you to intimidate the heck out of all boys who look at your sister.

Speaking of big guys, I can’t pick you up anymore. At all. This means that I’m left with only verbal options and facial expressions when I want to convince you to do something you might not want to do. The transition from me being able to physically “encourage” you, to you needing to listen to me based on your opinion of my authority has been bumpy at times. What might be defiance in a seven-year-old is something altogether different in a man. My job is to somehow curb the contrariness without crushing the chutzpah. That’s a tricky one- one of the many tricky things I’m charged with as your mother.

So much about you is surprising and special to me, but nothing more so than your capacity to love. Your love is huge and boundless. Staggering. As an object of this affection, it can certainly be overwhelming. How can I teach you to keep some of it to yourself without teaching you that so much love is wrong? Who can endure the number of hugs you want to give? Who can reciprocate with as much enthusiasm? I hope that one day you find someone who can. That’s what I want for you most of all.

Love

Oh, enthusiasm! Wow. I never knew that a person could have so much of it. Whether you are enthusiastically joyful or enthusiastically angry, you are most definitely committed and passionate. More so than anyone I have ever met. I love this about you so incredibly much. As a life-long cynic, I have a lot to learn from your unabashed zeal for life.

Jump in

Happy birthday, my astonishing boy. I love you so much and can’t wait to see what the future holds. So bring it, seven, bring it on!

Love,

Mom

You can see more birthday letters to my kids here.



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It’s not my fault – my teacher was a baby

It’s entirely possible that I’ve learned more from my children than they’ve learned from me. This is worrying because my children know next to nothing. Thankfully, they’re not responsible for teaching me any facts, of which they know none, or any language skills, or else I’d be difficult to understand, or any manners or social graces, or else I’d be a pariah. What they have taught me is how to parent.

I think all parents learn how to do this parenting schtick from their children. Get one of those happy, sleepy babies and you learn that parenting isn’t so tough so long as the child’s needs are met. Get a pliant, eager to please child and you learn that patient guidance and consistency are key. What kind of child you have, and thus what kind of parent you learn to be, becomes the lens through which you judge all other parents.

Our firstborn children really mold us. Any subsequent children come as a surprise and we need to relearn all that we thought we knew. Many parents take this opportunity to humbly regret all the judgement they might have passed on others because they finally got the difficult child the rest of us wished upon them.

My sequence is opposite. Luke has been a challenge since the day he was born – at 10 lbs 3 oz. My c-section was my first hint that nothing for the rest of my parenting days would ever go according to my plan. I wanted to be the baby wearing mom, whose baby smiled and cooed and slept peacefully in his sling while I went about my business. This was not to be. None of it. Luke hated being in a sling, Ergo, Bjorn, or any other device that I tried. When front-facing he’d mash his face against me, screaming, scraping off his own skin against my shirt with the vigor of his face-mashing. When he was a bit older he could tolerate facing forward in the Bjorn, but I could no longer carry him in one because he weighed too much. The Ergo was a no-go as he then still refused to face forward and I never figured out how to get the kid onto my back.

I learned that parenting is hard. That I basically couldn’t go anywhere or do anything unless I was willing to endure Luke’s screaming, baleful looks from sympathetic moms, uninvited advice from everyone, and judging eyes from all non-parents or parents of easier babies.

As Luke grew up he became many things, but easy was never one of them. (Still holding out hope on this one!) He did, however, become fastidious about wiping his face on his sleeve after every bite of food. This is pretty gross and untidy and I throw napkins at him constantly, but he is always clean.

Sally was an entirely different baby. Ever since she grew out of her colic, which I’m still surprised I survived, she has been easy going, happy, pliant, and eager for approval. I had to learn how to parent this much simpler* child, and I’m still learning. One thing I have not learned yet, is to wipe her face after eating as she does not fastidiously self-clean on her sleeve.

I never notice her crusty face until I’m out in public. Then I notice that she is the only child with a full milk-crust goatee and jelly stripes up to her ears. And again, even with my easy child, I find myself looking like a careless mother. “But my older kid is a sleeve wiper,” seems like a lame thing to say. And anyway, that doesn’t speak so well for my parenting either.

Oh well. I have mostly come to terms with the fact that I either am or appear to be a lousy mom no matter what combination of kids I’m out in public with.

*Don’t get mad, I don’t mean stupid.