It’s come to my attention that T may need some help meeting kids his own age. He’s very social, always attentive to what’s going on around him, makes eye contact, and can hold his own in “conversation.” We never really worried about finding playmates because we bring him with us almost everywhere and he’s exposed to a diverse network of people, places and events. Then a few weeks ago I caught him running to the door “wo-wo”ing in unison with our barking dogs when Daddy came home. A few days later I noticed him playing tug-of-war with a stuffed animal dog-style, shaking it around in his teeth. At this rate, the first day of kindergarten will be filled with some pretty embarrassing questions.
As if the pressure to find playmates for T were not enough, my husband has made comments in recent weeks about his shrinking circle of friends. To be clear, my husband’s list of “friends” includes nearly everyone he’s met since he was in high school, if not before, so I’m taking his complaints to mean he doesn’t spend enough time with them, rather than the number is actually dwindling. That said, his gripes are not without merit. I think most people go through a transition of friends when they become a couple; some are lost, some are gained, and couples tend to spend more time with other couples that are a good match for their own relationship and personalities. When the status changes from “couple” to “parents,” our experience has been that the social transformation is both immediate and stark. Afternoon happy hours now require a delicate dance of “who will stay home with the baby?” Dinner or brunch with an infant is distracting, for lack of a better word. And carefree nights out, once so common, now require strategic planning akin to scheduling security detail for a Presidential trip to the Middle East. Couples are fluid, integrating in and out of social life seamlessly. “Couples plus” are more like a hangnail in their otherwise childless social circle, tolerated but requiring that much more attention, courtesy and accommodation to be a nuisance. Unfortunately DH and I know few people with kids, and even fewer (okay, none) with kids near the age of ours.
All of this, sadly, has left our little family kind of lonely. Well maybe not so much lonely as sick of each other and in search of someone else with whom to talk and spend time. We live in a family-friendly neighborhood and, at least based on demographic information and the posts to the local mommy listserv to which I belong, the place is crawling with kids. How to meet them is a different matter. I remember when I first brought home my dog, Oscar, feeling like the neighborhood opened up to me; constant puppy potty breaks tend to reveal all manner of early birds, night owls, bar crawlers, church goers, athletic types, and fellow pet owners. Unfortunately, outside dog-walking, much of the daily pattern of urban family life seems to remain more indoors than out. Sure, I can tell you what time the mom down the street arrives home with her youngest child in tow, but they disappear so quickly into the confines of their rowhouse that I’m left wondering if it was really just a mirage, a figment of my imagination brought on by the desperate need for companionship.
So I did what any city-living mom would do – I stooped. As in, parked on the front stoop with a glass of wine, tossed some toys out on the sidewalk, and let T have at it. This plan is brilliant in its simplicity, I assure you. For one, there is an open window in which to scope out who is coming and going, and which of those may be people you want for your team. Two, the sidewalk is now your hostage, and potential passers-by have two choices – break ranks and retreat to the other side of the street and the safety of a childless sidewalk, or a direct attack through the middle of your compound. The retreaters are now on notice that this is a Child Zone and to enter at their own risk. Third, and most importantly, you’ve created a minefield of toys and people (and sometimes dogs) which forces people to slow down as they pass. This gains precious time in which to attempt to captivate these unwitting pedestrians with witty banter and a few flashes of T’s four-toothed grin.
It’s a bit early to tell, but I think my plan is working. Sure, we occasionally notice that someone with whom we shared a few laughs now crosses the street as they turn the corner. But more often than not the same people walk by and stop to chat. The other day while chatting with the parents who have a little girl, we simultaneously stopped talked when we heard the unmistakable sound of two toddlers howling at the fire engine coming by, sirens blaring. Her parents may have their own embarrassing questions to answer when she heads to school, but I’m going to mark that as the day T made his first friend.