Friday, July 9, 2010

More Awkwardness

I'm not sure how to write about this now. I think I've been looking at things from the wrong direction. I've thought of play groups as something good for Thumper, something that helps him learn how to interact with other people, and maybe get some potty training motivation from seeing other kids pause the action while they go pee. I have also thought of it as something good for me, as ideas for destinations and activities when I run out, as pleasant conversation. I had several expectations for the dads' group when I first joined, with almost none of them actually approaching reality. I thought I would find ideas for ways to supplement Aerie's income; I did not. I thought I would find conversations and message board posts about approaches to solving difficulties I was having. But dads don't talk much. They sit in companionable silence. They talk about possible solutions to inexplicable noises coming from rear brake drums. And fishing. And sports. And they tell dirty jokes.

Don't get me wrong; there are a few great guys in the dads group whose company I enjoy and whose parenting I admire. I've had pleasant times and even great times over the past few years. But I haven't made fast friends, and I haven't found the regular, core group of kids that Thumper can play with again and again, learning how to navigate personality conflicts when everyone's not on their best behavior because they've just met. One obstacle is the large size of the group and the large size of the geographical area over which they're spread. The bigger obstacle is the apathy the dads have towards getting their kids together to play.

So I joined the couple of moms' groups thinking I'd have better luck finding friends for Thumper, but not really expecting to find friends for me. I have never minded being the only man on the playground. Moms have always been surprisingly friendly and accepting of me, especially with Thumper's outgoing nature. But I didn't anticipate, when I joined the moms' groups, the frequency of the in-home play date versus the playground/pool/sprinkler park play date. I tried twice to host in-home play dates for the dads' group. When Thumper was almost 6 months old, I hosted. I was apparently a little nervous. It went well, but it didn't turn into a relationship, either for me or for Thumper, and it would be another 2 years before I hosted another. Again, it attracted only one dad and one kid. The kids had fun; I had fun. But I haven't seen the dad, or the kid, since, at playgrounds or elsewhere.

Since joining the two moms' groups, though, we've been to 3 in-home play dates, a birthday party, and a baby shower, on top of many playground, pool, and sprinkler park dates. That's five times in a couple of months that we've gone to other people's homes, along with sometimes large and sometimes small groups of other kids and parents. Thumper loves these play date so much that he has not yet managed to leave one without having a screaming, hysterical fit. It is a cruel injustice that so much fun ever has to end.

For me, though, the in-home play dates add another layer of social awkwardness. Not just with the unselfconscious breastfeeding, but with all sorts of aspects that don't generally come up at the playground. I want to make sure my kid doesn't make a mess and shares and has good manners and covers when he coughs and doesn't club any babies or big-screen TVs with a baseball bat, lest my male parenting style be judged inferior. I want to make sure I participate in food prep or cleanup to the degree that's appropriate, not too much to be overbearing or annoying but not too little, either.

And conversation, especially at the baby shower, just takes turns that seem to leave me behind. When one mom asks the showeree how much weight she's gained, and the showeree says, "Oh sure, bring that up in front of everybody..." I feel like maybe I'm overhearing something I shouldn't, or that I'm the particular everybody it shouldn't have been brought up in front of. When birth stories were shared, with so many hours spent to reach so many centimeters dilation, I just never felt the natural opening in the conversation to talk about Thumper's birth, and transverse breach and c-section. It felt like I'd be intruding.

And then Bingo was played, and I was invited, and I played. I misheard the prize, though, thinking that the winner would watch the showeree's 3 1/2-year-old some day soon so that she could go out and watch the latest Twilight movie in peace by herself before the baby comes. I won at Bingo, tying with another of the moms, and it was explained that the prize was two other moms watching the showeree's and the winners' kids so that we could all go enjoy Edward and Jacob together. It suddenly seemed too much like a date to me, and I mumbled something about what I thought the prize was and wandered away. At the end of the shower, one of the moms who'd offered to do the kid watching reminded the other winner of Bingo that she was obligated to go see the movie whenever the showeree wanted, but she never looked my way, and I felt kind of stupid. And kind of relieved.

And when people began to leave, and the showeree was hugged, I filled one arm with my big bowl of fruit salad and the other with my big toddler so that I wouldn't wonder if I was supposed to hug too, or not. But still, it seemed like the hug could've happened, if I'd tried, but I didn't, and I wondered if she felt snubbed, or felt like I was oddly reserved, or if the hug, if I'd attempted it, would've been even more awkward, especially since I'd filled my arms with cargo.

And then, when I got home, I saw a Facebook Status Update that made it clear that one of the breastfeeding moms had found my blog, and I remembered that, though I'd originally intended to keep my blog anonymous and separate from my Facebook, I'd had second thoughts. I couldn't recall if I'd actually added as my webpage in my Facebook info, or if I'd just thought about adding it. Turns out I had actually added it. And my imaginary online life collided with my real life.

It didn't sound like she was offended, though maybe her husband was. Hard to tell. But what struck me from what she said about the whole thing was: I am probably making up all of this awkwardness all by myself. If I feel like I'm standing on the outside, unincluded, it's probably because I'm standing on the outside, not participating. I have been very careful not to offend, not to overstep my bounds, whatever those bounds might be to whoever might be keeping score. And who knows how my own reserve is interpreted by these perfectly nice people who've invited me into their homes.

I wonder how old I'll be when I finally stop acting like that awkward teenage boy who was pretty sure that everyone else was working with a script he never got?


Kirsten said...

If I was blogging at the time my oldest was Thumper's age, I could have written this post. Awkward in-home playdates were my norm. I don't think it has anything to do with male-ness, just hard to find someone you click with that makes the whole situation less awkward.

And volunteering the bingo winner to watch *all* the kids of parents going? Extreme.

(and my word verification is "holyrap" - take that for what's it's worth!) :)

tricia said...

Talk about judging someone you don't even know! I'd rather be socially awkward than an opinionated loudmouth(could have inserted the B word here). Don't allow her 'opinions' to make you feel more awkward. Instead of a bowl of arrogance she should take a spoonful of compassion each morning and by doing so might be able to really listen to how someone is feeling & in turn try to make them feel less uncomfortable. Don't let one bad apple spoil your continued involvement.

I, Rodius said...

Wow, I'm not sure who you're talking about there. If you're thinking the 2nd to last paragraph was what somebody else said to me, it wasn't. It's my own thoughts after seeing her Status Update, which I didn't quote or paraphrase at all. She mostly thought the whole thing was funny, hadn't given the breastfeeding a second thought, and was surprised and interested to learn what it was like from a different perspective. I'm sorry I gave the impression that anyone was an opinionated loudmouth; it wasn't my intention, or my interpretation, at all.

I, Rodius said...

And Kirsten, thanks for the verification that I probably should worry less about the "Man among women" aspect and realize that awkwardness among new friends is probably pretty normal.

tricia said...

Sorry I misread the paragraph. Truly I am.

That the women continue to welcome you says they are comfortable around you. A true testament to who you are. Relax and enjoy!

Lisa L said...

I wonder how old I'll be when I finally stop acting like that awkward teenage boy who was pretty sure that everyone else was working with a script he never got?

I am almost certain I was your twin sister separated at birth. This whole post (the feelings, and that last paragraph, ring so true with me..)

She Said said...

Play groups are definitely a hard one. I always daydream about having that perfect neighbor with children who comes over and drinks coffee with me while the kids play. I guess I need to stop watching Little House on the Prairie. :( Although they didn't drink coffee. Oh well, I digress.

Also, awkward can also be defined as getting kicked OUT of a play group. Oopsie.

I, Rodius said...

Thanks, Lisa L. Glad to know I'm not the only socially awkward one out there.

She Said, now I'm going to have to go look through your archives for that story. Was it Em? I'm guessing it was Em.

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