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April 27, 2010

Performing the Parent

The hardest part, for me, about parenting has not been taking care of the child (feeding, clothing, sleeping, teaching, wrangling), or even mentally and emotionally adjusting to my role as someone's mother, but dealing with all the parenting stuff that a person in charge of a child must deal with whether s/he likes it or not. It's the doctor's appointments (he's four months overdue for the second half of his 12-month immunizations), it's the babysitter/daycare/preschool dilemma (how, may I presume, are we going to pay for that?), it's the acknowledgment that although I may be clueless about a lot of things, I am at least enlightened enough to know that Wombat needs to be socialized (like healthcare!) and I need to sack up and get him out of the house to interact with other kids every so often in order to avoid raising a loner/misfit/sociopath. (Not that there's anything wrong with two of the three. I poked fun at him here for being the only kid not gathered around the pinata at the promise of candy, but just look at who was even farther away from the action with a camera in front of her face.) (And then, he ended up not taking any candy anyway, instead scoring two plastic medals that each had a star on one side and "Winner" on the other. Here's hoping he's always so easily rewarded.)

So far, one of the hardest parts about being a parent has been acting like a parent in front of other parents. Case in point, the thought of conversing with other moms and dads (and nannies) at the park is a big part of why I never take Wombat to the park alone in the first place. Also why I walk softly and carry a big camera. With Simon? No problem; all things are possible. I can go anywhere and do anything. He is my security blanket and social lubricant. (Linus van Pelt on the hooch?) But when Simon eventually goes back to work (and he will hopefully go back to work soon), it will also hopefully be full-time, which means no more Daddy Daycare featuring regular field trips to the park and the record store and the Berkeley campus and the marina and the aquarium and the library--all of it as much to stimulate the developing brain of our spawn as much as it is to fill up the time Simon doesn't want to spend languishing at home reading reading reading the same books books books over and over and over. (Something I, in contrast, am happy to do, perhaps because I'm a trained Read and Re-Read and Re-Read professional.)

Back in the good old days, when we were both working part-time and parenting part-time, it was the perfect balance. They went out, we stayed in. They extroverted, we introverted. They drove over the bridge, we dove under a blanket. I didn't feel guilty or jealous that I was a stay-at-home mom in the most literal sense of the term (okay, yes I did), and although I knew those days wouldn't last forever, and that I'd have to start parenting outside the box house sooner or later, I maybe kind of figured if I just ignored that whole thing it would go away. (See also: four months behind on his 12-month immunizations.)

So now here we are, with Simon looking for full-time work (he's scheduling an interview at a great company!), and I'm less worried about the fact that we have absolutely no childcare plan in place (to cover the days I'll be working part-time) than I am knowing I HAVE to get over my stupid social awkwardness and take the kid out into the world now and again, even if it means throwing myself into situations in which I'll be forced to interact with other parents. (Who's the loner/misfit/sociopath now?) I like to think it will only get easier now that Wombat is a big boy who has a mind of his own and can walk around on his own power (he's so fond of walking around on his own power that we...*cough*...bought him a leash), but I also like to think that deluding myself into scenarios like these will make them come true, how ever unlikely, so take that as you will (e.g., mark my words, he will be a holy terror any time I try to take him anywhere from now on).

(I'd like to clarify here that I'm not a sociophobe in the way that will literally drive me to the corner behind a potted plant during, say, a baby shower full of strangers. I'm very good at acting normal and pretending everything's just fine, yet what you don't see while I'm smiling and nodding and twirling my carrot sticks in the dip is that I'm mostly just hoping there's some truth to the tune that when I fool the people I fear, I'll fool myself as well. Into thinking I'm not afraid, that is. Which I am. But of what, exactly, I'm not sure. Saying the wrong thing? Saying a stupid thing? Running out of things to say? (And of course in an effort to skirt the last of these, I end up running headlong into the first two. OF COURSE.) Anyway, what usually happens is that I sit with my hands folded neatly in my lap (or twirling a carrot stick) and I either make very short, awkward conversation or I say nothing at all, thereby ensuring everyone thinks I'm (a) vapid or (2) a giant holier-than-thou snobby snob snob. But I'm not! I'm just shy! Selectively shy!)

Anyway, parents at the park totally freak me out with all their chitty-chatty "do you come here often" networky speak. (How old? What preschool? Breastfeeding? Words? Spanking? Ferber? Playdate? Calling card?) And then last weekend two parents got into a screaming match at Totland (it's called Totland, for pete's sake! there's no screaming at Totland!), although it was actually just one parent screaming at another parent I couldn't see but I imagine was cowering under the slide because Screaming Parent happened to be a big strong-looking dude. Speaking of whom, guess who didn't make any new parent friends at the park that day? (And sadly, his kid didn't make any new kid friends either.) The hubbub was started when both kids wanted the same toy, and the Screamer decided there was unfairness afoot and told the Cowerer to "CONTROL YOUR CHILD!!!" and "TEACH HIM SOME MANNERS!!!" Quoth the man on a rampage, giving everyone within a two-block radius a performance of the verbal version of the parent who smacks his kid because the kid won't stop hitting his sister. DING DONG DUMBASS.

Okay, so obviously this isn't how most parents interact at the park, and so I need to take Fear of a Smackdown off my list of excuses to avoid the outside world. And then I need to put Learn Small Talk on my list of things to work on. You want to talk about personal issues? Medical history, emotional problems? Yes, let's! Do you want to show me the really cool trick you can do with your colostomy bag? Okay! Want to chitchat about the weather and vaguely commiserate about child-induced sleep deprivation? Oh, then I'm paralyzed.

But then at the park I overheard a woman talking to another parent about her two-year-old son having been recently diagnosed with something that was possibly shaping up to be SPD. I was a little skeptical, as while she was explaining that her son gets really overwhelmed by normal stimulation, the kid was running around the loudest, busiest park in all creation and was right then hands down in a puddle of sandy water, but more importantly I was impressed because here was someone talking about the kinds of things most people don't share with strangers...except on the internet.

I took at look around, then, at all the other parents looking so...old and...parent-like, and thereby wholly unrelatable. Granted, most of them are older because they (1) have older children and (b) live in Berkeley, nexus of the over-40 first-time-parent population, but I'm also in denial about my own age (I turn thirty-one on Saturday--eep!) and still find it hard to believe on most days that I'm someone's mom, like, for reals, and so the actual problem is my own skewed perspective. Because I am someone's mom and, dammit, I'm no spring chicken, and these other parents? The lady with the two-year-old with SPD, the hot young thing with two under two, the parents who clearly let their kids dress themselves and to comic effect, the dad who lost his temper, the couple laying out a buffet of unhealthy choking hazards (a one-year-old eating hot dogs cut into discs!), and the mom hovering like a Huey ready to medievac her preschooler at the hint of a skinned knee? The older parents, the younger parents, the single parents, the same-sex parents, the adoptive parents, the accidental parents, the sick parents, the parents of sick children? They're all just you guys. They may not have blogs (and maybe they do), but they still have stories, and realizing that makes a difference.

They may not want to share their stories with a stranger at the park, or with anyone for that matter, but somehow just knowing that their stories are there--and that their stories are being told, if not by them than by you--goes a long way to making them feel less like alien life forms and more like peers, more like friends. More like me.


I think this is my most favorite part of socializing -- throwing parties, hosting play dates, making friends in Target, what have you -- the part where you get to hear new stories.

Not to say that I'm not totally socially awkward. Because, whoa, I am. But in the right setting, meeting new people is one of my favorite things.

Which is why I wish I could leave somewhere near you and have a normal, new friend dinner.

*live, not leave

I feel the same way. It is so intimidating when it's my turn to take our 4yo to a play date, birthday party, or whatever. My husband is a natural. Loves giving and getting attention.

I freeze when it's my turn. It's the chit chat for me too. What do I say? Do I sound stupid? Do they think I'm stupid? Do they wonder how my husband could be with someone like me who is obviously the opposite of him?

I know I shouldn't think that way either, and that many of those parents probably feel the same way too. It's so tough. I'm trying to learn how to relax and just talk with people like I do here. Maybe it would help them open up too. I don't know. Thank you for writing this. It helps me know that I'm not alone.

It is true that the taking care of the kid in the literal sense is the easy part and the social aspect is much tougher. It gets easier, you learn the game, the dance, how to fake it till you make it. Finding those connections yourself will help the kid find the connections too.

I'm struggling with the same thing. We're trying to work out a way for me to stay with the baby by the end of the year, but I'm so worried that we'll spend all day every day lounging around in our jammies and reading books. Not that I would have a problem with that, but... it's probably not the best environment to raise a well-rounded kid in. But the idea of going out and interacting with Parents--capital P Parents when I'm clearly just a girl who happens to have a cute baby--is terrifying.
That horrible small talk getting-to-know-you stage with new people is just too exhausting and awkward. I'm still hoping one day I come across some magic words to let us skip that part and jump straight to the part where we're giggling over stories and telling each other secrets.

I'm a total sociophobe. Nay, I just don't like being around people much and have a very, very low tolerance for socializing. And I just don't worry about it. Nugget & I do just fine on our own (granted, he's only 5 months, but I imagine he'll continue to be just fine.) My mom didn't really socialize me much, other than preschool once I was older and I'm fine. Well, I don't like people much, but I don't see that as a problem and probably an effect of being an only child. (Though, my husband is also an only child and he's VERY social.)

I figure it's better for him to see me happy & independent, versus trying to squeeze my round peg-ness into a square hole. I've never fit in, I'm the black sheep of my family, and I REALLY don't fit in with 99% of other mothers. I wear boots with flames on them, covered in tattoos, and my kid has yet to year a "baby" lullaby or song. He listens to Japanese trip-hop.

Every time I briefly contemplate going out to one of the "stay at home mom" meetups, I go to the park with Nugget & see other groups of moms who look so NOT like people I'd want to spend time with, I just forget the whole idea.

I have nothing to say to strangers in the normal course of events, but at the playground I'm happy to hide behind my child (literally or metaphorically). I find it easier to say "Hi" to someone else's kid and from there ask the parent how old they are, comment on their cute shoes or impressive vocabulary or whatever. You can always run away to "help" them on the slide if you run out of words.

Also, leash. Excellent thing. For every (one or two) comment I've ever got about treating the child like a dog (to which I say: exactly!), I get five people asking where I got it and saying how sensible it is and how they need to get one for their son/grandson/rabbit. (Okay, maybe not rabbit.) And somehow kids who hate holding your hand as you cross a road love being on a leash. (My four-year-old still asks to wear it and calls it his monkey costume, because it has a tail...)

By "they" in that first paragraph, I meant the kid, not the parent. Sigh. Should always preview.

I have no great words of wisdom but I just wanted to say that this made me feel better about my own woeful social inadequacies.
Also Eli was super shy for ages and I know everyone thought it was my fault because I hate the park and don't really do play dates, but then one day he just seemed to snap out of it and now he's just as social as the next kid. So that makes me think maybe it's not me after all!

Des--You hit the nail on the head: Those other people are captial-P Parents, and "I'm clearly just a girl who happens to have a cute baby." That's EXACTLY how I feel! I'm just a girl! With a kid!

And that's part of why I love being part of this blogging community because most of the parents I know online are people I've known since they were "just girls" too. And in a lot of ways they're still "just girls." Now that I think about it, I wonder how much of my parent-phobia has to do with making new friends who will know me as Wombat's Mom first and as Leah, A Girl second? Hmmmm...

Also, Des, since you live a couple of miles from me, we should totally schedule a playdate during which we just sit on opposite sides of the park and fear each other. :)

I'm struggling with the getting out and doing something lately. I'm not in the mood to deal with anyone else's kids, bad moods or bad manners and rather sit inside play Dora Memory all day.

I don't like talking much when I go to the park either. I wouldn't say I'm a shy person, just more of a "I prefer not to make the effort to make awkward chit chat when I know I will probably never see you again, it feels weird and fake" person. Which can be rude but, I mean, if I'm taking my kid to the park a few times a week that's a lot of awkward small talk.

Also, I am one of those parents that absolutely refuses to ever step in or get involved with other kids (unless there are safety implications, obviously) which doesn't always work so well at the park. Some of the other parents are definitely more of the "it takes a village" mindset but I am mortified at the idea of addressing a stranger's kid with a big or small issue "you need to share, wait your turn for the slide, please stop kicking my daughter in the head" I usually prefer to let the kids work it out and if I need to step in I will usually just do it in a way that I am only talking to my daughter ("if he won't stop throwing sand in your face maybe you just need to move to the other side of the sandbox") I don't know why I have a thing about this but I do which can sometimes create uncomfortable situations.

When my oldest turned two, I quit work to stay home full-time. And after about 6 months when the novelty was starting to wear off and the isolation was starting to set in, I decided I needed to make some mom friends stat or I was going to go back to work. So, I joined a local mom's group on meetup.com. And then took another few months to work up the courage to go to a playdate. But now, I've made friends through that group that I actually hang out with socially and the others I only see at playdates and that's fine. But its nice to not always be going places by myself and nice to not always have to think of new things to do. I just get an email about the next activity and then show up if I want. Maybe something like that would work since I think this idea of meeting other moms at the park and organically becoming great friends and meeting up for coffee playdates and mom's night out is a myth. Once again the internet saves the day! :)

Sounds like a good idea...maybe eventually we could work up the courage to talk to each other about the weather. :)

I was pretty sure I was the only person who felt EXACTLY THIS WAY. Until now. And now I realize there is a super easy fix to this problem! Two words, no wait, multiple words: time travel/sit in a bubble that transports you cross country/continent in seconds to make playdates with people you want to playdate with easy (and also makes for a fast exit should playdate go awry). Let's get working.

My kids are both pretty shy. They are also really laid back, so I always worried about them constantly being last. If my girls were near the front of the line, 3 or 4 kids would cut in front of them and they would barely notice because they were watching a bug or a bird or a leaf. When they finally started to notice, I did step up and tell the other kids, No, you have to go the the end of the line. It didn't take long for my girls to learn to stand up for themselves. They're still laid back, but they don't always let the others take advantage of them any more.

"Saying the wrong thing? Saying a stupid thing? Running out of things to say? (And of course in an effort to skirt the last of these, I end up running headlong into the first two. OF COURSE.)"

This hits home with me in so many ways!!

I grew up with 4 sisters and was considered the shy one for the longest time. Now, I have learned to fake it so well that I am no longer as uncomfortable as I used to be.

I constantly stick my foot in my mouth by saying the wrong/stupid thing. I have just gotten to the point that I don't care anymore. I can't MAKE somebody like me. I can be just as happy sitting there reading a book while keeping an eye on my kid. I have tried my hardest too many times and not made friends. When I finally let go and just acted like myself, I made friends.

"Saying the wrong thing? Saying a stupid thing? Running out of things to say? (And of course in an effort to skirt the last of these, I end up running headlong into the first two. OF COURSE.)"

This hits home with me in so many ways!!

I grew up with 4 sisters and was considered the shy one for the longest time. Now, I have learned to fake it so well that I am no longer as uncomfortable as I used to be.

I constantly stick my foot in my mouth by saying the wrong/stupid thing. I have just gotten to the point that I don't care anymore. I can't MAKE somebody like me. I can be just as happy sitting there reading a book while keeping an eye on my kid. I have tried my hardest too many times and not made friends. When I finally let go and just acted like myself, I made friends.

For the few of you who have commented about my park-averseness being in opposition to my wanting to making mom friends--see, I don't really want to go to the park to make friends. I want to go to the park so my KID can make friends, and actually, not even that "make friends" so much as just learn how to interact with random people so he knows how to share and take turns and things like that. I already have friends I love and feel completely comfortable around (some of whom are mothers and fathers but many of whom are not), and so I really just wish going to the park didn't always feel like such a parenting meat market/networking event, where everyone's out to hook up with everyone else. Just leave me to my bench and my thoughts! Maybe the solution is to just pretend I don't speak English. :)

Oh my, I feel as though I could have written this post, as I feel completely awkward in social situations and the mere act of sitting across from another mom with a small child at the car wash had me wringing my hands in anxiety ("what if she wants to CHAT? SHOULD we be chatting, as we both have wee boys? what happens when the stroller conversation wanes and we're still sitting here?").

That said, I would love to make some new mom-friends as I don't have any in this town, but I fear my social anxiety and awkwardness will keep me from doing that. Three times I've skipped out on "Book Babies" at the local library because I just can't bear it.

I don't really want to go to the park to make friends

Yes, this. This was the hardest part about being at the park/aquarium/zoo/what have you. I don't have an aversion to making new friends, necessarily, but I am choosy about with whom I am friending. That sounds snobby, but it's not! I was never desperate for adult interaction. Plus, my boy was Challenging and when you have the Challenging child at the park/aquarium/zoo/what have you, other parents don't really want to talk to you anyway. Now, when I went out with just the girl-child, things were different.

But yeah, I wasn't there to make friends. I was friendly but I wasn't passing out calling cards.

You didn't seem shy when I stalked you at BlogHer then went over and attacked you. That's a good sign.

And as outgoing as I am in situations like that, I too clam up at playgrounds. I don't feel like I fit in either. My favorite playgrounds are empty playgrounds, I'll be honest.

I'm a bay area native raising a kid in Rural America (where we moved quite recently from someplaceelse, blah blah). The park 'scene' doesn't have the same feel here AT ALL that it does in Berkeley / san mateo / the mission, all of which we frequent on vacay. There's no scene at all, really. It seriously feels a lot like going to the grocery store. There's other people there and you might chat with them and they might know each other and you might click and you're probably quite different from them (a family of Arabic speakers who were clearly new refugees--kids spoke no english-- was my last interaction) but there's just no... comparison / expectation / competition / whatever you call it vibe. Its kind of great to be outside of the snide belt.

Now, if we just had decent food...

1899: A patent is acquired by a button to activate the repeater.

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