Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Breaking into the Playdating Scene

Apparently, children need to be socialized, just like dogs. This is what I keep hearing.  The most overt expression of this sentiment came from one of the women who cleans our house.  (Yes--we have our house cleaned every other Wednesday for about the price of dinner for two with a carafe of the house red at Olive Garden.  Don't get all judgey.)  When "the ladies," as we call them, arrive anywhere between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m., they demand to know where the babies are.  I reveal their location in my broken Spanish, and the ladies shove me aside and swarm the girls, cooing, chattering, and squeezing.  The girls, not knowing about Wednesdays, or cleaning, or people who don't live in our house, are understandably scared shitless by this home invasion.  The last time the ladies were here,  they were able to hold the babies for about four seconds before the wailing started, at which point the babies were unloaded on me.  One of the ladies said, with thinly veiled disapproval, "They don't see no one during the day?"

I stammered, bouncing the girls as they sniffed and shuddered, "We go to the park a lot, and...and...they see you every two weeks." She shook her head and clucked almost imperceptibly.  I got the message.

So they have a little stranger anxiety.  I can relate, having quite a bit of stranger anxiety myself.  The American Academy of Pediatrics says this is very common at their age.  While my anxiety is easily mitigated by the administration of several cocktails, AAP does not recommend this for infants.  So I'm tackling this challenge head-on and probably mostly sober.  I am shopping for playgroups.

Historically, I have not been much of a joiner.  I was going to blame this, like many of my faults, on having lived abroad as a kid and then come back to the States to find that all of the cliques had already closed out their membership, to which I reacted by declaring that I didn't want to be a part of any stupid groups or teams anyway.

But then I remembered an even earlier trauma: Little League.

From the ages of six to ten, I lived on one of the smallest and most beautiful Army bases in Germany, in a town called  Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  Surrounded by the Alps, perfectly manicured forests, mad King Ludwig's fantastic castles, Nazi bunkers, and craters full of artillery shells, abandoned appliances, and dog skeletons, it was a kid's paradise.  But the U.S. military, in order, I guess, to make sure we didn't go native, tried to recreate the trappings of American culture wherever possible.  This included Little League baseball.

There were only three teams in our league since there weren't many Army bases way down there in Bavaria.  Our base was the smallest, so there was a dearth of eligible players.  Therefore, despite not meeting the minimum age requirement, and not having enough mass to fill the smallest uniform more than about halfway, I got drafted.

I soon realized that our team sucked.  Bad.  We lost every single game we played.  Of course we were mocked by the other teams.  And since I was the smallest, most useless player, my comrades would take out their frustrations on me during the long busride home.  So yeah--good times.  On the mornings of away games, the bus would stop by my house to pick me up, and someone would be dispatched to find me, hunkered down in the woods, trying to camouflage my white uniform with pine boughs.  When I tried to quit and my mom told my dad to give me the pep talk about toughing it out and building character, my dad said something like, "Why?  It doesn't sound like any fun to me.  I wouldn't play."  Maybe it's genetic.

But through years of practice, I have overcome my aversion to joining.  Mostly.  So I have decided to try out a number of playgroups in the area, hoping to find one that will encourage the girls to interact with people from outside of the cloister and not make me want to hide in the woods.

I started searching online for dads' groups, and found that there are fewer than I would have expected.  Once I ruled out the groups that were located too far away, and the groups whose websites say "dad's" when they really mean "dads," I was left with three possibilities.  I sent an email to one daddy group, quickly got a reply, and am currently in negotiations about a playdate.

Unlike the slim pickings in the daddy play groups, the range of options for mommy play groups is quite broad.  I  browsed through a number of these groups on Facebook and Meetup.com, pausing on one called "Asian Mommies" just long enough to think, isn't that interesting?  Then I got distracted by something else--parenting maybe--and forgot about the mommy groups.

Sometime during the afternoon, it occurred to me that "Asian Mommies" would be perfect for Butterbean and Cobra.  We don't have many Asian friends here, and the girls don't see my wife's family all that much.  It would be great if they could be around other Asian folks and be exposed to "Asian culture" as the group's website promises (I don't know if they sub-divide the group by nationality and attend more specific cultural events, or if everybody just goes to P.F. Chang's). Since I had navigated away from the Meetup.com page earlier, I instinctively googled "Asian Mommies," hoping to find a quick link to the group.  Instead, I found a lot of other websites with the same or similar names, most of which would not be safe to open at work.  Of course, I haven't really been "at work" for a long time.

Finally, I found my way back to the Asian Mommy group I had started with, and went ahead and joined, sending the moderator a message explaining that I'm neither Asian nor mommy, but my wife is both, blah blah blah, Stay-At-Home Dad, blah blah blah.  I quickly (like within seconds) received a cordial reply and welcome to the group.  It turns out there is already another SAHD in the group, so, you know, no worries about being the only one who can't breastfeed.

So the wheels are in motion.  I have joined two groups in one day, and laid the groundwork for the twins' new social life, and maybe mine too.  I'm pretty stoked about it at the moment, and fully intend to go into this without any preconceived notions or ancient social anxieties.

Stay tuned for the next episode: "Preconceptions and Social Anxiety"         

3 comments:

  1. Three things in particular I love about this post:
    1) "The Ladies". We had some of our own while I was pregnant and the house was on the market. I'm pretty sure they're the same ladies. I miss them. As soon as our debt is paid off and we have a little disposable income, theirs is the first number I'm calling.
    2) Your exclusion of playgroups based on improper punctuation.
    3) Your dad.

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  2. I'm so happy for you! I wish I had some babies through which I could create instant social alliances. Maybe there are some chihuahua groups like that. Chihuahuas need to be socialized too.

    I can relate on the aversion to joining. I always hated feeling "liked" on the basis of membership rather than on the basis of my individuality, which is supposed to attract like-minded people (friend soul mates) without the aid of a superficial social apparatus.

    However, having grumpily avoided or left campus groups for most of my college career, I was hit by a regret some time ago for not having conceded to a more flexible and positive public identity. Especially given the occasional weight of my mode of thinking, it occurred to me that some groupthink could actually be a relief, and that anyway some people are really nice and maybe the fact that we all share a common interest in company, doing stuff, and being liked is enough of a basis for a bond.

    So yeah, I think I'll wait on the mommy groups, but when I get back to Berkeley I plan to be more open-minded about organized socializing.

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  3. My parents forced me into a bowling little league when I was younger. I haven't been inside a bowling alley since. Kudos for having the guts to join a mommies group.

    ReplyDelete

Don't hold back.

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