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

At Least One of my Children is Mine

Our children take after us in so many ways. Your nose, his ears, grandma’s slender feet. Their personalities do this Frankenstein match-up as well. His sense of humor, your temper, grandpa’s love of music. My kids didn’t use Frankenstein as a model. They just came out like Tim. Luke is a carbon copy. The only thing he may have inherited from me is his temper and total disregard for rules and authority. (Lucky me.) Sally came out looking exactly like Luke. Clearly, I was merely a vessel to create little Tims. I had no genetic input.

Luke’s Timness isn’t limited to his looks. He is incredibly physically adroit. This body awareness, athleticism, and stamina certainly don’t come from me or my side. It’s all Tim. Lately we’ve had the two of them diving into the pool side by side. Not only is Luke crazy good at diving for a 6-year-old, but he does it exactly like his father. The run up, arm swing, timing of the chin tuck, angle they hit the water – it’s uncanny. I dove beside him to see if it was just a matter of two people diving together, and it’s not. Our bodies took different shapes as we ran up, sprung into the air and hit the water.

Luke’s mind works as differently from mine as his body does. This morning he was playing with his Skip It toy and kept tripping himself up. I suggested he try to say the alphabet while doing it. Having his mind on something else, his feet easily maneuvered the toy, spinning and hopping to the rhythm of the ABCs. Next I asked him to sing Twinkle, Twinkle.

“OK! Twinkle, twinkle ….” He tripped. “Um, twinkle, twinkle…” Tripped again. “How does it go?”

“You don’t remember the words to Twinkle, Twinkle?”

“No. I really don’t.”

“Twinkle, twinkle little star…”

“Oh yeah!” He begins skipping again. “Twinkle, twinkle little star…” He stops. “What’s next?”

We sang the entire song this way. My son doesn’t remember the words to Twinkle, Twinkle, a song he’s heard a bajillion times! I asked if he could sing Happy Birthday. He couldn’t. I’m not kidding. WTF? The kid is just like his father.

While Tim probably does know Happy Birthday, (I’ll have to ask him,) he can’t remember Twinkle, Twinkle. Or Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or Baa, Baa Black Sheep, or ANY other song in the universe. This is insane to me. I can hear a song and remember it. (Especially a children’s song full of repetition, rhyme, and glaring obviousness.) Words are my thing. It’s hard for me to understand not being able to remember the words. They both can’t even repeat a line of a song back to you the instant after you sing it to them.

As Luke learns to read, we practice the same simple books over and over. Each time he reads a book, he has to really read it. He doesn’t have the books memorized, or even remembered well enough to guess and predict. It surprises me that he needs to sound out the same word with every reading. Doesn’t he remember? Can’t he see the picture of the goat? It’s a GOAT for goodness’ sake! He finds reading extremely frustrating, and I don’t blame him. I find his reading extremely frustrating too. But there’s something that’s making it worse: Sally memorizes the books after one reading. Turns out words are Sally’s thing too.

She can speed “read” all of his books. While he’s stumbling, slowly pronouncing the letters, she’s filling in the blanks. Even in books she’s never read before she correctly guesses the words before he struggles to read them. She uses the pictures and rhymes (and basic common sense) as clues to finish the sentences. When she “reads” a book it’s easy to follow the story because she speaks fluently with regular intonations. When Luke reads a book it’s impossible to follow because he reads it in stops and starts, robotically, ignoring normal pauses and intonations. The disparity between them is not lost on him.

I feel for Luke and worry that he will be forever turned off of reading, falling behind his peers, causing lifelong scholastic under-achievement and misconceptions about his own abilities. I mean, if he can’t freaking guess “house” after reading “mouse” in text that is immediately beneath a picture of a mouse and a house, how can he not get frustrated and want to quit? Especially with his baby sister shouting out “house! house!”

I’m a reader, always have been. Tim reads just about never. I can count on one hand the number of books he’s read since we met fourteen years ago. He read each of those books at my prodding. I know I can’t change Tim’s reading, but it saddens me to think of Luke not loving books.

When Luke was born I read him Goodnight, Moon every night. Every night for about two years. He never once sat down to listen. Had I juggled or bounced a soccer ball on my knees instead, he would have sat there, mesmerized, learning. Of course I can’t do either thing to save my life, and they’re not important to me. But reading?

Turns out I can’t control anything about my kids. (Surprise!) Luke will probably be a just fine person, who happens to not love books or reading. Afterall, I think Tim is a just fine person despite this horrible character flaw. Likewise, he thinks I’m just fine even though my soccer skills allowed our child to outplay me when he was just four. To him, this trite inability might seem important. Even though that’s silly.

But while I worry for Luke, I am so proud of Sally. Finally, a child that takes after me in some way! She remembers songs and sings along. I remember songs and sing along! She stays up at night in her room “reading” books. I stay up at night reading books! She plays back her arguments with Luke accurately, despite Luke’s protests and completely wrong versions. I play back my arguments with Tim accurately, despite his protests and completely wrong versions! She’s a mini me! At last, a child I can understand.

While I’m determined to teach Luke to work through his frustrations with reading, and I hope to keep him on par with is peers, I need to accept that he might always struggle with wordy things. I write. Tim doesn’t. If a letter needs composing I do it. (If a lawn needs mowing he does it.) If Luke struggles with writing the way he does with reading it might break my heart, but I should prepare myself. We already know he can’t make up a story to save his life.

Recently, Sally told this story:

Did you know the microwave is running away? It’s true. It’s going to Target to meet a girl microwave. They’re going to get married and have babies. Their babies will be toasters. Then he’ll come back so we can still cook in it. Is that a good story?

Impressed and not wanting to be outdone, Luke told a story of his own:

The, um, refrigerator and, uh, the microwave, no not microwave, the oven are getting married and they’ll have baby, uh, um, blenders!

His is lacking a certain something, no?

Oh well. At least I know one of them is mine.

Parenting or Biological Warfare?

Few things are as terrifying and foreboding as the ever-growing threat of widespread antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I mean, antibiotics are all we’ve got. It’s our arsenal. And the bacteria are going to resist it? Yikes!

The antibiotics of parenting (bear with me) are discipline, rewards, consequences, etc. It’s our arsenal as parents as we face the confounding daily task of transforming wild, selfish, horrible little creatures into thoughtful, considerate, non-criminal, socially functional adults. Like the scary bacteria, Luke resists my arsenal. Yikes!

I’ve tried it all. My current method is a mix of panic, anger, rash decisions, overreactions, and merit points. Let’s focus on the points, as a post about Parenting by Rash Decisions sounds, well, actually that sounds funny. Makes note for future post.

It’s quite simple. The behavior we’re working on is ‘minding.’ If he follows a direction the first time he’s asked, calmly, then he gets a point. Points aren’t taken away or flaunted. If I ask him to get his shoes on and he throws a fit about it I don’t get to say, “Well I guess you don’t want any points, Motherfucker!” no matter how much I might want to. However, if I ask him to get his shoes on and he just complies I get all happy and pull out the chart and give him a point and talk about how freaking wonderful he is for getting his stupid shoes on without making a federal case over it.

It’s all about focusing on positive behaviors, while praying that our focus means a damn thing and hoping that those positive behaviors will begin to multiply like compliant rabbits.

Points are a currency that can be used to “buy” pre-selected items from a list titled Things Luke Loves. A piece of gum: 5 points. Computer time: 7 points. Going out to a movie: 15 points. Points are easily accrued since it’s really simple to comply with a directive. “Time to go. Let’s get in the car.” Luke gets in the car. Bam. A point. He gets points all day. The kid is rolling in points. He’s filthy with them. So it’s working?

No. He is bacterially minded – behavior-modification-resistant – remember? Just like I have to come up with new and creative ways to shape his behavior, he has to come up with new and creative ways to make all my efforts for naught. This time it turns out that he’s a miserly bastard. He will not spend a point. He wants to. He really really really really really wants gum, chips, ice cream, to play cards with me, etc. But he can’t part with the damn currency.

In other words, he takes after his father. (Rim shot)

Accruing points was exciting at first. It held promises of great rewards. He could cash in at any time for anything on the list (for that week). The possibilities! But they’ve lost their luster. After all, it’s not the piles of cash that are exciting about piles of cash. It’s all we can get with it, right? We might be excited by the piles themselves for a while, but eventually we’d realize that a vacation or a jet boat are more fun than staring at piles. We’d realize that because we are not annoying, frustrating, impossible people. But Luke is. Luke will not spend his points. He hoards them. And his piles of points aren’t fun anymore.

So, two weeks ago might have gone like this:

me: Luke, please go wash your hands; it’s time for lunch.

Luke: OK, Mom!

me: Wow! That was awesome! Great job! You did just what I asked the very first time I asked! Thank you! What a pleasure it is to have you around! Let’s get the chart! WOW! You’ve already gotten 12 points today! Add that to yesterday’s points and you can get a new Mercedes! Wow! Way to go!

Luke: Gee, Mom, I feel really good about myself and I am learning that simply by not being a colossal jerk all the time we all get along and good things happen to me. This is great! You’re a very good parent.*

*What?

Now it goes more like this:

me: Luke, please go wash your hands; it’s time for lunch.

Luke: No! I don’t have to. I don’t even have to listen to you. I have so many points I can have ice cream whenever I want and you can’t do anything. So HA!

me: Luke, I’ve simply asked you to wash your hands for lunch. Let’s try this again. Please go wash your hands.

Luke: You really need to take a good hard look at yourself and your failings. If you were a better mother I wouldn’t be saying any of this. Children of good mothers have clean hands anyway. So, how d’you feel now, Mom? Good? Gimme some freaking ice cream. Nevermind. I can’t spend the points!**

**This is what I hear, so it must be what he’s saying.

Parenting “Experts”: 0

Luke: All the Points. In the world. Ever.