In this excerpt from When You Find Out the World is Against You, Kelly tackles the dreaded playdate.
I have Aiden, Henry’s preschool classmate, at my house. The only reason this is happening is because his mother took the initiative and had Henry over to their house first, so obviously I owe her. I would never have taken the initiative. I rarely speak to other parents at the school; other parents are strangers. I barely have time for the friends I already have and love, I don’t need the pressure of new friends. No new friends. I’m sorry, I know you’re amazing, it’s me—I’m weird. Thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, children need friends.
I mean, so I have been told.
By my children.
“Playdates” are basically two parents agreeing to be the village.
Ideally, it goes something like this:
TOM’S MOM: “Hi, Joe’s mom. My son Tom asked if your son Joe could come over after school and stay through dinner, would that be okay with you? Does he eat gluten?”
TRANSLATION: “Crap, I forgot your name. Look, I’d hoped you’d invite Tom over first, but since you haven’t, I’m going to have your kid over first to get this ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ shit rolling, then you owe me. Does he eat gluten?”
JOE’S MOM HEARS: “Hi, I don’t know your name. Would you like to drop your son Joe off at school at 8 a.m. and not have to deal with him again until 6:30 p.m.? Of course, this means that at some point Tom has to hang out with you at your place for the same amount of time and maybe do a sleepover. Also, does he eat gluten?”
Unless the inviting family is suspicious, there is a previous appointment, or a high-level threat of terrorism is expected that day, the answer to a playdate invite will always be “Yes.” And so, with the anticipation of ridding yourself of your child for a few hours where he or she will have “wayyyyyyy more fun than we ever have at our house!” the deal is sealed.
“Hey, Aiden, want to go in the backyard?” Henry yells this question in Aiden’s general direction as he pulls packets of string cheese from the fridge with the perpetually sweaty, dirt-layered hands every five-year-old seems to possess.
Henry yells everything he wants to communicate. Because of this, we had his hearing checked earlier that year, and it turned out he wasn’t hard of hearing, he’s just a bit of an asshole. I help the boys into their toques (America: A toque is a woolen hat) and open their string cheese. They drop the plastic wrappers on the floor and sprint for the backyard. This simple act of assholery makes me long for childhood again. Being a child is a magical time, where you can drop your garbage on the floor and it magically vanishes. “Hey, Henry!” I yell to Henry. “One day you’ll be twenty-three, you’re going to stick an apple sticker to the side of the sink, look at it, and realize, you’re gonna have to peel that off and put it in the garbage yourself.”
Henry stops, looks at me, and rubs his nose.
“OH, NEVER MIND!”
I monitor the boys from where I sit on my butt on the carpet beside the sliding doors that lead to the yard, listening through the window to them talking.
“She’s over here. We had her for two years. She bit through my finger one time when she thought it was a corn kernel. Then we put her in the ground.”
All true. I feel a warm sense of pride, listening to Henry tell his friend Aiden the high highs and low lows of having a pet hamster.
We recently found her body stiff in the cage, in the furnace room where we kept her at night because she was so fucking loud. I didn’t realize they were nocturnal. God bless any child who sleeps with a hamster in their room, they must have terrible rodent sound–fueled nightmares.
We held a little funeral ceremony for Penelope, our hamster. Some maudlin Sarah McLachlan playing, and Penelope’s body stuffed into a toilet paper roll casket.
“She’s under that giant rock!” Henry stated emphatically. He was pointing at the wrong rock, but Christopher Columbus mistook America for India, and America still gave him his own holiday, so I let him be.
Henry runs to the rock. “Come on!” he yells to Aiden, who jogs up to Henry. They both stand over the rock for a moment, their foggy breath coming out in panted puffs of cloud. Henry grabs the rock and begins to pull it over.
“No!” Aiden cries, suddenly coming to a realization.
“Don’t pull the rock off! I don’t want to see a dead hamster. I DON’T WANT TO SEE YOUR DEAD HAMSTER!”
I can see the sudden terror enter Henry’s eyes. Both boys quickly switch to the other side of the rock, trying to hold it upright. “Pull, pull!” they yell as they try to get the rock back up, trying to keep it from uncovering the dead hamster. They scream in their shrill little-girl voices. It isn’t even a sound that comes from their throats; it’s more like the highest pitch a human can make. Aiden’s mouth is open as wide as it can open, his eyes clenched shut as he holds on to that rock like he’s in a barrel going over Niagara Falls.
I then remember I’m the only adult present, throw my boots on, open the sliding glass doors, and run over to them in the garden. I put my hand on the top of the dead hamster rock. “Guys, stop! Stop yelling! This isn’t even the right rock, the dead hamster rock is that one over there.”
“Dead hamsters are scary!” Aiden shrieks.
“Why did we put her inside of a toilet roll?!” Henry squeals.
“Because she fit in there!” It made sense at the time.
I needed to switch gears; the last thing I needed was for Aiden to ask to call his mom and for me to be labeled the “mom who allowed her son to dig up a pet cemetery on a playdate” for the next six school years. “Does anyone here want lunch?”
“ME!!!” Both boys turn and face each other, smiling, their eyes locked, and hands in the air. They are just at the age where they understand social cues, and their egos can’t handle how delighted they are with themselves over it. A few months ago they barely noticed a friend was in the room, and now, the act of simultaneously raising their hands in the air and shouting “ME!!!” makes them feel like geniuses. Like two billionaires, sneaking glances as they do some insider trading, these boys think they’re really the shit.
“Great! Let’s have macaroni and cheese,” I suggest.
“Ewwwwww!” Henry yells. “I hate macaroni and cheese, it smells like barf.”
Some moments in parenthood become so paralyzing and tedious that no matter how brief they are, no matter how much you love your child, the repetition wears you out. This repetition doesn’t last days, or weeks, it lasts years.
Seven weeks after your first child is born, is around the time when you’re sitting alone with your almost-two month-old newborn, changing his diaper for possibly the one thousandth time already, and your hand stops moving as you stick the tab to the front of the diaper because it has hit you, “Oh . . . so, this isn’t going to stop.”
Because—believe it or not, no matter how prepared or smart you are as a human being—for a while, after you have your first baby, you’re thinking,
“Okay, I’m just going to get through this rough part. Things definitely have to change for a while, man, I’m working really hard, but I’m getting through it! I’m doing it! I’m really great at all of this stuff.”
And then, somewhere around week seven or eight, you realize this is your new life.
This level of work isn’t going to change, you are now a parent and this is just the way things are going to be. This feeling of responsibility, this “putting someone ahead of your own needs” situation is just not going to go away. And it truly is that repetition, day in and day out, that wears you down. And so a moment, a moment as tiny as your macaroni and cheese-eating son suddenly deciding he thinks mac and cheese tastes like barf? Thus throwing the entire lunch feeding dynamic you have created totally out of whack and necessitating a new strategy? That sets you back, that gives you gray hairs. What on earth will possibly replace mac and cheese? God damn it, Rome is crumbling before you when suddenly, a tiny voice pipes up, “Henry’s mom? Can we go to McDonald’s? My mom lets me eat there!”
My shoulders drop a full two inches and I’m thankful there isn’t an adult there to register how much the mention of McDonald’s relaxes me. “Yes, we can. And call me Kelly. Come over anytime. You’re my favorite friend.”
From When You Find Out the World is Against You by Kelly Oxford ©2017, on sale April 18, 2017. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.