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

I love me some YMCA

It seems that winter might actually give way to spring one of these days. We made it! There were times I wasn’t so sure we would. This winter has been a rough one around here. My kids watched a gazillion hours of TV; my house suffered messes so extraordinary that arson seemed like the only way out; we all ate mountains of carbohydrates; and they drank buckets of hot chocolate to my buckets of red wine. In all of this indoor festering, we had one saving grace: the pool at the YMCA.

Had it not been for the pool, my children’s little bodies would have fused to the couch. Instead, they had a healthy activity to keep them just on this side of ‘persistent vegetative state.’

I spent hours in the muggy heat, breathing in the steaming vapor and watching my kids bob around in the warm kid-broth. We were not the only people with this outlet. Some days, the pool was so crowded that it was difficult to locate which heads belonged to me as they swarmed in a noisy, watery mosh pit of other heads, pigtails, snot, and pee.

I had to tread a careful line all winter. My kids needed to know that the pool was a bastion of unblemished awesome, but at the same time they needed to know that under no circumstances would I be joining them in the bio-brew. Sure, I could have gone into the pool, like those good parents. I know that the high chlorine levels obliterate any organic matter smaller than a child within nanoseconds. The problem was just that I really, really, really, really didn’t want to go in. I’m not interested in marinating in recently obliterated bio-matter the temperature of Baby Bear’s porridge.

Also, there’s the matter of expectations.

My job is largely about managing expectations, and it’s a delicate balance. I want my kids to have fun, and I want to have fun with them, but most of the time I want them to have fun without my involvement. Join in once, and it will be that much harder to bow out the next time. I am not the mother on the play structures in the park. (Except in cases of necessary rescue.) I am not the mother joining in impromptu soccer games. (Are those mothers always wearing sports bras just in case the impulse to run around strikes? That impulse never strikes me. Never ever.) I am not the mother in bounce houses or on trampolines. (See note about sports bras.)

I am the mother fostering their independence while protecting my inclination to really, really, really, really not want to.

As the sun finally starts to melt the 400 feet of snow outside, I look forward to outdoor pools, to lakes, to rivers and the ocean. These I’ll go into with my kids. (When not freezing.) But until that time, thank you, YMCA, for your chlorinated feculent pools of awesome.

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.