In my piece on being a latch-key kid, I suggested that perhaps spending hours upon hours alone as a child, watching TV and ruling my elaborate, closet paper doll kingdom with an iron fist may have contributed to the slightly anti-social–alright, downright misanthropic–aspect of my adult character.
Fortunately, the story had a happy ending. I met a fellow TV watching misanthrope, and we lived happily ever after. (Or at least, 15 years and counting.)
Though we weren’t alone for long. Soon, we had a bouncing, baby misanthrope of our own. Like Mom and Dad, my oldest son could sit for hours, drawing, looking at books, living in his own head. At the playground, he’d sway dreamily on a swing, or repeatedly meander down the slide, as if the other children weren’t even there. In school, he made one close friend, and he was perfectly happy with that, even though every single conference we went to, his teachers urged us to urge him to expand his social horizons. (Which would have been a true case of “Do as I say, not as I do.”)
And then, we had our second son. The one who, after five minutes on a playground, would suddenly develop an entire crowd around him, all wanting to do what he was doing. Kids listened to him. Kids followed him. And kids wanted to play with him. During school, after-school, on weekends. I soon needed a separate calendar just to keep his personal, social schedule.
And then we had our daughter. Also a social butterfly. But, in a different way. In preschool, she developed her small clique of girls. More than my older son, less than my middle one. But, the difference was, while my middle child was pretty much happy to play with anyone, my daughter fashioned a very select group. And she preferred they do everything together. She also soon required her own social calendar.
And one more thing: An escort.
Both my son and my daughter, when they were too young to be dropped off for play-dates and then picked up an hour later (followed by a half-hour of whining, “Do we have to go home noooooow? But, we’re having soooooo muuuuuch fuuuuuun!”), required an escort.
Which meant that Misanthropic Me was obliged to stick around and make small talk with the other moms for the duration of said play date.
Recently, several of my fellow Kveller posters have written about their desire to make mommy friends and the difficulties of doing so.
I harbored no such desire. Ever since I had kids, I found it tough enough keeping up with the friends I already had. (Yes, I did have some; I’m a misanthrope, not a hermit. Most of them from my working days, and none of them with kids of their own.) The idea of making more friends I would have to make more time to keep up with didn’t seem particularly appealing.
Besides, my old friends already knew all about my multiple peculiarities–from my various food aversions to my non-traditional political views. The idea of explaining myself to someone new or, more likely, just keeping all my… unconventional thoughts to myself, wasn’t all that appealing, either.
The obvious solution to my dilemma would have been to call a moratorium on play dates. But, to tell the truth, the misanthrope in me was so gob-smacked by the idea of having produced children who actually know how to make friends, that I didn’t have the heart. (And probably was living somewhat vicariously through them, to boot. It’s not like I was popular at their age and chose to keep to myself. I was full of off-putting peculiarities even then. I started school in the middle of second grade while speaking no English. I was a magnet for bullying and teasing. And my overall obnoxiousness even after I learned English didn’t help matters.)
So off I went for play dates and small talk. And biting my tongue and smiling politely as one mother lectured me for sending my oldest son to private school, which was so elitist and non-diverse and damaging to NYC’s underprivileged population, while registering her own child in a selective public school program that had even less minority students–but who’s counting?–among a variety of other social and political topics.
I told myself I was doing it for my kids. That, as long as they were happy and learning vital, lifelong social skills, I could swallow my bile for a few hours a week. (Though my poor husband bore the brunt of it as I’d come home and virtually explode, letting loose all the retorts I’d kept myself from making earlier.)
But, then, a strange thing happened. At some point, instead of dreading play dates, I found myself looking forward to them. Even initiating them. And not at my children’s urging, either.
Somehow, without my noticing it, I’d managed to find moms that I actually enjoyed hanging out with. Ones that I took pleasure in talking to. Ones that I actually liked.
How the hell did that happen?
Could it be that, after having been dragged into the light by the sheer force of my children’s nagging, I’d possibly learned something? Stopped making assumptions about others and begun listening? Opened myself up to new views and new experiences? Quit being so judgmental?
Nah, that couldn’t be it.
I still do my best to keep up with my pre-Mom friends, and we still talk about non-kid things (a vital step in retaining one’s semblance of sanity), such as work (and recent lack thereof) and current events and that evil, ex-boss who has finally been fired!
But, with my mom friends, I can talk about how I’ve been ripping out my hair stressing about first kindergarten and now high-school admissions, about juggling three kids with three different sets of extracurricular activities and trying to get my work done at the same time, about how to sneak vegetables into a variety of recipes, then look confused regarding how they could have possibly gotten there.
And they’re cool with it. Just like I’m okay with listening to tales of marital woe, and constantly traveling spouses, and potty training and stomach flus that always, always, always happen in the middle of the night and right before a major presentation at work. (The latter two occurrences, childless people really don’t want to hear about.)
I realize that this is old hat to pretty much everyone else. Most people are smart enough to understand they need such a support group before the pregnancy stick even turns blue, and they actively seek one. But, I’ve been in the habit of going it alone pretty much from childhood. I took pride in how well I managed all by myself (latch-key kid, remember?). So the whole friend thing was kind of an eye-opener.
Thanks to my kids.