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Posts Tagged ‘parenting for introverts’

Today is the last week day of Spring Break. (Our spring break was two weeks long; we went out of town for one of those weeks.) (The first week went by MUCH more quickly than the second week has.)

Since my husband is on call, I have two remaining days of entertaining Carla, and then she is back to school on Monday. It has been a long week, through no fault of Carla’s. But I am not cut out for two weeks of spring break. Nor for being solely responsible for entertaining my child. Why yes, I am one of those people who says I need a vacation from my vacation.

  • It is no secret that I am an introvert. And being a parent has only heightened my need for alone time, I think. Not because I don’t enjoy being with Carla. On the contrary: I love spending time with her, and I especially love it when I have enough energy to plan and do fun things with her. But I need time to myself. It is essential for my mental well-being. Normally, after spending a lovely, fun-filled week with my husband and child, in-laws, sister, and niece (as we did last week), I would prefer to close myself in my office with my computer, some tea, and maybe some Reese’s peanut butter eggs and not talk to ANYONE for a good three days. This is not hyperbole. I am 100% serious. Instead, this week, I had my lovely energetic and talkative child at home with me all day every day. I also had multiple appointments scheduled, because I figured they would help break up the time. Instead, I ended up compounding the problem by needing to interact with additional people. By today, I am DONE. I have a friend who is returning from spring break tomorrow who wants to get our kids together and I cannot FATHOM such an idea. I cannot wait until Monday when I am going to drop Carla off at school, come home, and sit in my office silently All. Day. Long. I am even dreading the social interaction that will come with drop off. Since it was a long break, Carla’s teachers sent the kids home with everything in their cubbies so the classroom could undergo a good thorough cleaning. So Carla has a bunch of stuff to take with her, which means I will need to walk with her to her classroom. And that means running into parents – parents I like! and am friendly with! and want to talk to! – who will want to chat about spring break. I don’t think I can do it, Internet.
Matcha latte

Reese’s peanut butter egg not pictured because I am brashly using an old photo from a previous post.

  • I’m afraid Carla has had a pretty boring spring break. I am trying really hard not to feel too guilty about it. We have been spending time together and playing together every day. And she did have a WHOLE WEEK of sunshine and grandparents and swimming pool and cousin. But I do worry that she’ll grow up and remember how I kept her closed up in the house for spring break and all she did was watch TV. (That is NOT all we’ve done! We’ve gone bike riding! And for walks! And to the grocery store twice! And we went out for donuts one morning! And to the library! And to Tuesday Morning and Kohl’s! Okay, okay, so it’s not the most exciting roundup of things, and, yes, there was definitely some TV in there, but we Did Things.)
Donut

This was Carla’s donut. I ate mine too fast to photograph it.

  • Playdates are not the solution. Perhaps you are giving me the side-eye, because this half of the break would have been much better and more enjoyable for Carla if I had managed to set up some playdates. This was my husband’s feeling, in fact. However, the execution is not quite so simple. First of all, the vast majority of our friends are also on spring break, in exotic locations like Australia and Bermuda. By “our friends” I mean families that have a kid that Carla knows and likes and a parent that I know and like. Second of all, of the families that are or may be in town, they all have multiple kids. And I really still don’t “get” how to do playdates with those families. If you invite one kid, are you automatically inviting ALL of the kids in the family? Seems like that’s only fair. But that means a playdate at my house isn’t a great idea; our house is small and we don’t really have toys for non-five-year-olds. Plus I am not of a mental state to have a bunch of people in my house (see above re: introvert). Which means that out-of-the-house playdates would be the best solution, but… that requires planning. And THAT’s exhausting. What can we do? Where can we go? Can I really handle chasing my kid and her friend and possible siblings through the natural history museum? Do I really want to drive 30 minutes to the indoor playground? It’s been rainy the past couple of days, so outdoor playgrounds are out. And most of these families are people I’m not super familiar with. There’s one friend Carla would love to play with, but I have never met either of her parents. It is so hard to gear myself up for meeting a brand-new person on a regular basis, and I am definitely not up for it this week, when I have already exhausted my small-talk stores on conversations with my in-laws. I don’t think sitting across from another parent, staring blankly and fretfully into the ether as I try to think of something halfway interesting to say, would make such a great impression. So! Nothing it is!

 

  • Plus, as I mentioned, I have already shot myself in the foot by scheduling additional adult interactions this week. The window madness continues, for instance. A friend had recommended someone she’d worked with, and he – no longer at the window company – had passed my name on to someone else who still works there. Apparently my friend had told him how frustrated I’ve been with the Hard Sales tactics, so they sent me their lowest pressure person very best salesman. And truly, he was excellent. I know that he was using tried and true sales tactics, just as the other salesmen had done. But his were invisible. By the time he left – THREE HOURS LATER OMG – I was completely sold on the idea of fiberglass windows, when before I had only wanted to consider vinyl. And I was willing to strongly entertain his bid, which was three times as high as several of the other window people I’d met with. He was that good. And he was very nice, as have been all the other window salespeople I’ve talked to. But THREE HOURS is much too long to be talking to a stranger, feigning interest in Window Facts that you’ve heard several times already, wondering how many times you need to offer someone water/soda/a sandwich over the course of three hours, and deflecting bored-child questions. When it was over, I felt mentally drained. And of course, my poor aforementioned bored child had to watch TV the entire time because when it was off, she kept interrupting. And this guy wasn’t really a Kid Person, so he had no idea how to interact with/deflect her, and kept getting flustered when she’d do something totally normal, like ask why the window he brought was so small or volunteer that we’d had donuts for breakfast or complain, “WHEN is he going to LEAVE?” After I discussed things with my husband, I remembered that our house is not a three-times-as-high-as-other-window-bids kind of place, and I have one more  window sales call to endure before we either make a decision or I run screaming into the sea.
  • As our one non-shopping excursion this week, we went to a Cat Café. If you are wondering what a Cat Café is, it is an establishment that has a tiny coffee-shop space on one side, and then a much larger Cat Habitat on the other, and people can pay to spend time with the cats. It recently opened in a nearby town, and I knew Carla would be over the moon to go. And the weather was obligingly dreadful, so there would be no bike riding or playing on the backyard playset. We had to make a reservation, and when we arrived there was a long line of other cat fans so I’m glad we didn’t try to wing it. The café part was truly minuscule. You could order coffee or tea and the staff would bring it to you in the cat habitat; we didn’t order anything; I would be terrified that I’d spill tea on a cat. The cat habitat was like an enormous living room, with lots of human seating and bookcases and tons of cat-friendly apparati to climb on and play with.
Cat cafe1

That orange cat didn’t budge from his perch the entire time, even when a tween-age boy started throwing cat toys at him to “get his attention.” And this may be the closest you’ll ever get to seeing a picture of me on this blog, so savor it, Internet.

Carla was the youngest person there that day, and I discovered that she doesn’t really GET cats. She loves them, that’s clear. And I don’t know why I’d expect her to GET cats, when she hasn’t spent any time around them outside of Pet Smart.  But she thought they would be snuggly and friendly in the way that dogs are. Oh, Carla. Cats are SO not dogs. She immediately went up to a cat that was playing with one of the café staff members (who was in the habitat with us the whole time, introducing the cats, telling us about their personalities and backgrounds, trying to get them to be playful) and tried to pet it, and the cat, who was in the middle of playing, bit her on the arm. She was FINE, it didn’t break the skin. But of course she was surprised and betrayed and it probably hurt a bit and so she cried for quite a while. I took her to the bathroom to wash her arm and tried to talk to her about how cats are. Independent. Feisty. Unpredictable. Claws and teeth. I’d done a little of that before, but it’s one thing for your mom to drone on and on about cats in the car and another to be confronted, face to face, with a cat-being-a-cat. She calmed down and we went back in and eventually she got some cats to chase balls and attack little cloth fish and she even got to pet some of them. She was much more interested in playing with the cats; I would have preferred to have a big purring cat on my lap, but they were (understandably) a little wary of all these new humans milling about and seemed more interested in playing, hissing at each other, or sleeping in nooks that humans couldn’t reach.

Cat cafe 3

This cat was very amenable to receiving scritches and pats.

I wasn’t sure that it was a successful visit. There was the rocky beginning. And not a single cat snuggled with us. We were there for an hour, though, which was enough time for the shock of being bitten to wear off. By the end of our appointment, Carla was begging me to take her back. We’ll see. I think it would be much more satisfying if it were just you (and your kid) and the cats, rather than being one of twelve additional people. But it was still a fun, novel experience.

Cat cafe2

All the books were cat themed, as was the decor.

  • One of the other ways I tried to Make Things Fun this week was by throwing a couple of Movie Nights into the spring break mix. Movie Night, Movie Afternoon, whatever. We’d make popcorn and snuggle up and Carla was pretty delighted by that. I think we may make Movie Nights a weekly event, she seems to get such a kick out of them. One of the movies we watched was the live action 101 Dalmatians starring Glenn Close and Joley Richardson and… Jeff… Not Bridges… Jeff… Daniels. Jeff Daniels. I don’t know why I get them mixed up. Oh! And Hugh Laurie is in there as well, pre-House days, I guess. This movie is from 2000, but it holds up pretty well. There are some mildly violent acts – Home Alone style. And some salty language (you, know, like “butt” and “shut up” – nothing too outlandish). Glenn Close is fantastic as Cruella De Vil. Her outfits alone make the movie worth watching; she wears press-on nails on the OUTSIDE of her gloves! And the whole time I was watching it, I was marveling at a) the sheer number of animals featured in the film and b) the dogs’ (in particular) stellar acting ability. Pongo is one well-trained pupper, that’s for sure. It was an entertaining movie, but the part that I found most scoff-worthy is that the Joley Richardson and Jeff Not-Bridges characters meet and then immediately, on their first “date,” decide to get married. I mean. What?! I get the whole love-at-first-sight thing. And falling in reckless, lifelong love seems perfectly acceptable for DALMATIANS, or, like, animated characters like Anna and Hans (although at least in that movie, Elsa and Kristof both object strenuously to getting engaged to a stranger) but… come on. Seems like a lazy way to move the plot forward. Couldn’t they have already been married… and then Pongo spots Perdita out at some adopt-a-thon event, and that’s how the dogs get together? Or maybe both dogs live at Joley Richardson’s house and Jeff Not-Bridges visits them as he’s getting to know Joley? Well. Aside from that ridiculously unbelievable plot point (yes, more unbelievable than animals talking to each other), it was a very enjoyable flick.
Dalmatians

photo from amazon.com

  • Did you know that there are no Os in the word “Dalmatians”? I did not, until I just wrote the bullet above.

 

  • I am really looking forward to getting back to my writing next week. Two weeks away from my work in progress is a LONG time. I did work on a story while I was out of town – a continuation of a story I started writing last year over spring break. But it feels like a distraction from the main project rather than anything meaningful.

 

  • And now, I must go start on The Folding of the Spring Break Laundry. I have been very successful in washing the clothing. Where I have been less successful is in the folding, which is really the ABSOLUTE WORST.
Laundry

My personal shame.

Did you have spring break this year? If so, did you do anything fun?

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The Pre-K year, for us, has been The Year of Play Dates. We maybe do one or two a month, but that’s a 53,008% increase over previous years, so I’ve been devoting a LOT of energy to them.

Does everyone find playdates unbearably awkward? Well, I do. My personality – introvert, people-pleaser, awkward in general – is just not suited for focused encounters with other parents and children I may or may not know.

This is not to say I don’t want to do playdates with my child! I do! I want her to have friends. I want her to build the kind of social skills that playdates seem suited for. I want to get along with other parents. Hell, I want to make new friends.

Some of the issue, maybe, is that playdates are relatively new to me. For the first three years of Carla’s life, my husband and I both worked full time outside of the home. So playdates on weekdays were a no-go. And because we spent so much time away from Carla during the week, we typically spent weekends together, just the three of us. If we had anything resembling a playdate, it was a get together with our friends and their similarly-aged children.

But this year, we’ve had many. And by “we,” I mean me and Carla because my husband obviously still works full time outside the home. I cannot tell you how anxious these stupid playdates make me. Well, I’m going to try, I guess, considering I’m writing a post about the topic. Let’s see if I can break down the awkwardness into a few categories.

Initiating a Playdate

I don’t really know how to go about arranging a playdate. I mean, it seems pretty obvious, right? But I am shy and I am deeply afraid that the other parent won’t want to hang out a) with me or b) with my kid. There’s been a little bit of the old, “Oh, we should do a playdate!” kind of thing that never results in anything. And that kind of thing totally feeds my own self-consciousness/despair. When, in fact, the other parent could be feeling just as awkward/nervous as I am and/or could just be BUSY with LIFE as people tend to be. Also, the phone works two ways, Me.

Previous to this year – last year, Carla and I went on a whopping three playdates, two with the same friend – the other parent and I would suggest the playdate. But now, Carla and her friends have figured things out. And they seem to be scheduling playdates at school, without their chauffeurs in attendance to record the details. Once, Carla’s friend’s mom came up to me and said, “Carla said she wanted to do a playdate with my child. Let’s get together!” and then, miracle of miracles, we actually did end up getting the kids together. That’s my ideal, right there. A sort of mutual mention that results in an actual playdate.

But that ideal was a one-time thing. Usually, Carla comes home ALL THE TIME saying she wants to have a playdate with so-and-so and I get overwhelmed. Do I pick up the phone and call them up? What about the moms who have additional small children – will they even be interested in getting/able to get together? And what if I’ve never said more than hello to the parent at drop off? Some of the other parents seem to get their kids together all the time, but it also seems like those parents are friends. Would they welcome a suggested playdate from me and my child? Would they recoil in disgust? WHO’S TO KNOW?

The Playdate Location

This fills me with dread, too. First of all, who suggests where the playdate should take place? It’s the playdate initiator, right? That makes sense to me but… it hasn’t always worked out that way. Anyway, when I suggest a place for the playdate, I am always at a loss. I have gradually come to be okay with having Carla’s friends over to our house (listen, I’m an introvert and having people in my space is always nerve wracking), but… is that too forward? Is it too boring? Should I be presenting an option that’s super stimulating, like a trampoline park or a museum? And, if I DO suggest something like the latter, who pays? Am I supposed to pay for everyone because I suggested it? I am HAPPY to do that, but I don’t know what the protocol is! Summers are easier, at least, because you can just go to a nice, free, stimulating playground. But it is NOT summer and summer feels a million years away and I need to know what to do now.

I do love having playdates at other people’s homes, though. I love to see other people’s houses, and how they decorate, and the level of neatness they have (it is SO refreshing to see some clutter). But then there’s the awkwardness/stress of my child not eating anything they offer, or possibly breaking something, or bothering the dog, or whatever. And I always feel super self-conscious: how should I sit, what should I wear, do I trail after my kid or sit here like I expect to be entertained. Blah blah blah.

What to Do on the Playdate

So far, my playdate experience has been that the kids run off and play, and the other parent and I stay pretty much in one location and chat, intervening with the kids in case of an argument/injury/extended silence. Is that the expectation, universally? I mean, it is pretty ideal for friendship building. But what if you aren’t interested in/meant to be friends? Carla has a friend who is darling and wonderful and whose parent is someone I think is lovely and very nice, but we just aren’t clicking the way friends do, you know? It’s all small talk, and I find it exhausting. The PARENT is wonderful and does a marvelous job of keeping the conversation going, but I find it so terribly draining to be “on” with a person that I don’t feel 100% comfortable around. (This is the introvert thing again, I fear. If you are an extrovert, you may be furrowing your brow right now, trying to understand why ninety minutes of chatting leaves me feeling like I’ve just completed a biathlon.) I suppose I could just tell the other parent they could leave their kid with me but… that fills me with new layers of terror. And do I need to feed people? So far, when we’ve had playdates at my house, I’ve tried to have some kid-friendly snacks on hand and then I’ve offered the other parent coffee or tea. But is food expected? I certainly don’t expect it, when we go to other people’s homes. But that’s because Carla and I are both super picky, so eating at other people’s homes is additionally fraught with anxiety.

What If the Playdate Goes Sour?

And then there’s the other worry, that the kids won’t get along, or that something bad will happen. My daughter’s teacher gave me a Hot Playdate Tip, which I now pass along to you: groups of three are a bad idea. If you have three kids (at least, Pre-K-age kids), one of them will inevitably end up feeling left out. Okay, so as long as I’m the playdate initiator, that’s easy enough to control for (and egads I have enough trouble working up the nerve for a one-on-one playdate, let alone a playdate involving more kids!). But what if your kids start fighting? Or are bored? Or want to do completely separate things? How do you salvage a) the playdate and b) the potential for future playdates? Do you just throw in the towel? Write it off as normal kid behavior? WHAT DO YOU DO?

How Do You Get the Playdate to End?

You know how most birthday parties are about two hours? I tend to go by the Birthday Party Rule for playdate length, too. Carla has a playdate threshold of about ninety minutes. Sometimes she’s good for two hours. Other times, she’s done after an hour. And I can tell she’s done because she starts wanting to be alone and there is an increased level of pouting/irritability. Fine; she knows her boundaries, and so do I. But how do you communicate that to another parent, whose children may have no limit to how long they can be together? I have usually just said from the beginning, “Carla’s good for an hour or two but not much longer than that.” And when I am in control of the planning, I try to say things like, “We’ll meet you at this indoor park for an hour and a half and then we’ll split for lunch.” Or whatever. But sometimes the other parent wants to extend it! Or they’ll invite us for an open-ended playdate! Ack! We had one of those open-ended jobbers at our house recently, and I was able to close it out with my need to prepare dinner. But it can be tricky! Especially if the kids are getting along really well (as was the case at my house recently). (Although, believe me, “getting along really well” can transform into “the world is ending tears” in a matter of moments.) And, okay, sometimes it’s really just ME who needs the playdate to end. I guess this is a lesson for me to always have something to do immediately after the playdate, whether it’s going to the grocery store or making dinner or whatever.

How Often Do You Do Playdates?

I really think two playdates a month is my limit. But I think other parents and their kids are getting together once or twice A WEEK.

Okay, I am back after taking some deep, restorative breaths; the thought of two playdates a week made me a little dizzy. I think that’s my answer right there: two playdates a month. Sorry, Carla.

 

I do wish I could put less pressure on the whole situation. It’s a playdate, for goodness sakes. The way, for me, to make playdates the most palatable and least stressful is to have them out in the world. My preference is for going to parks in the summer (although, as I noted above: NOT CURRENTLY SUMMER DAMMIT). That way, you can be outside in the fresh air. No one has to cook (although I do bring enough snacks for everyone). No one has to clean. You can take breaks from chatting to push your kid on the swing or the merry go round or the teeter-totter. It’s free. The kids get worn out pretty quickly, so it’s easy to not spend seven hours together. If I could do a playground playdate every time, AND if I could get over my crippling dread of initiating the damn things, they might not be so bad.

I am holding out hope that the awkwardness will fade with time. Either that or Carla will develop a deep and lasting friendship with a mom who turns out to be my Friend Soulmate.

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