You didn't have me at hello or any other time
Mingling at the playground is worse than any cocktail party I’ve ever been to. For one thing there are no cocktails. And nobody I’ve talked to there has been amused by the idea of bringing them (in the afternoon people). This is yet another limitation of raising kids in the city. If we were at each other’s houses with porches and yards, standing around drinking wine while the kids played would not seem that outrageous, would it? (I wonder if putting this post back-to-back with can-you-drink-while-breastfeeding is going to give the wrong impression.)
As I mentioned in Before They Were Moms, while in the playground I can’t get any discussion going about life outside of diaper changes and dwindling naptimes. And I myself am interested in hashing out those topics. But once we’ve gotten through “He still falls asleep in the stroller sometimes” or “She’s started to prefer the shower” one toddler or another is reaching for somebody else’s Pirate Booty and we’re off to stop the would-be plunderer.
I sometimes feel like a kid who transferred schools midway through the year because I really only became a stay-at-home-mom a few months ago. For the first year of Wally’s life I worked full time and Alex was home. He went to museums and parties and the recording studio with Wally in a sling, but he never did the baby scene. I got home at 6 and Wally went to bed at 7. I didn't know Wally that well (except during the night, when I would have preferred not to know him as well as I did).
When I got laid off last summer, Alex and I overlapped for seven months at home, but we didn't have clear roles day to day or even hour to hour. It was always – okay you take him out, I have to finish this project. Or, I have a client tomorrow at 10, are you free? We did fun things the three of us. We took little weekend trips. I did jury duty. Therapy. Wrote a young adult novel. We got a jogging stroller and trained for a 10K. We even had a live-in part-time nanny for six weeks in the fall. Alex and I were both vaguely looking for work, working, taking care of Wally, tripping over ourselves to get used to the astronomical number of agreements required for both of us to freelance at home and share responsibilities for taking care of a high-energy child without a primary caretaker, a weekly schedule, a daily routine, or one of us designated as “in charge” of the baby. Even as parents, we were babysitters. “Yeah, I’ll watch him tonight for you, no problem.”
Until Alex got a job doing IT at a school in Chinatown. When he started there March 1st, I made my entrance into Pinwheel Park on that first day as “a mom” (complete with ill-fitting jeans and unflattering running shoes). It was a huge relief to take on that role, to know that whatever freelance work came my way I would now squeeze into nap times and evenings. Much less anxiety knowing I was in charge of doctor's visits and Wally's therapies and anything else that came up. That I wouldn't get an angry voicemail about an appointment Alex had "penciled in" to his imaginary schedule. So even though I couldn't take five hours to go to a coffee shop and work on my writing, or meet friends for lunch, or easily entertain visitors, life got much easier. I got to know Wally. Got to understand his rhythms, anticipate breaking points, cheer him up in simple ways.
And I finally got to the point where I could do more outside than say, "Excuse me" as I jumped over two girls having a tea party to get to Wally before he walked down a slide. He started sitting to go down slides and I started approaching other moms with "Have you ever noticed...?" type riffs. But they hadn't. (How on earth did you not notice that? I want to say. Do you have a tear in your cornea? Did you just get out of solitary confinement?) They are full of zen statements about how "That never bothers me" or "He's over that phase" or "We try not to stress about that." It's hard to relate while being so positive. Much easier to connect over irritations and frustrations. I don’t know if small talk could get any smaller than the prototypical “How old is he?” “How old is she?” (in months, remember, in case your eyes aren’t all the way glazed over yet). But maybe this is yet another case of me not accepting my role, on the playground, as a mother primarily, not a friend. Maybe the conversations with other adults should be kept small so the steps for Wally can be big. I'll have to think about this. But in the meantime I'll keep holding out for that moment when a new mom turns around and looks me right in the eye and says, "Yes, I know exactly what you mean."