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.