Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why We May Reject Your Invitation for a Playdate...

...yet still ask you just to come hang out with us instead:

Yesterday morning (late morning--Abe is still sleeping until 10 every day), we went down the street to our local coffee-joint mainly to let Abe watch people and hopefully play with some other kids. He gets squirrelly at home alone with me.
There was only one other kid his age there and she was kind of shy, so while Abe was on the floor pushing aside every toy I tried to give him in order to get his hands on the dirty underside of the coffee-table, I was listening to the conversation of two women sitting near us. Yes, I was eaves-dropping. I am a horrible person.

But let me share with you what these two women talked about nonstop, for more than an hour: their babies. I kept hoping to hear something interesting, but it was all things like, "Oh, she eats more bananas than peaches" or "She's a good baby--not fussy at all," or "She likes two naps a day."

Zzzz, snort...still awake? Again, I'm a horrible person. I know this, okay? (Please don't leave hateful comments telling me this. It's a fact I'm well aware of). It's not that I don't like talking about Abe or that I'm bored by mother-hood. I'm not. I love being a mom, and I think Abe is a pretty interesting fella. But I also know that baby-talk gets boring after a while. If I get bored talking about Abe for more than a half hour or so, then you must certainly be bored listening, right? I was telling my friend Rusty the other day on the phone about this, and he agreed: it's just not that interesting when people say stuff like, "My baby started clapping this week. Let me tell to you how cute it is." As he explained, babies are wonderful, but a lot of that wonder falls in the realm of, "Guess you had to be there." It is cute to watch a baby clap for the first time (believe me, I know: Abe started that this week when I sing "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da" to him), but I certainly don't want to subject anyone to a descriptive narrative of how adorable this is. You can see for yourself when you're at our house or through the magic of youtube.

Anyway, all this has me thinking about parenthood and how different I think it is now than for my mom when she was raising me and my sister. I guess growing up I don't remember the world circling around me and my sister the way it seems to for kids these days. My parents always had their own interests, jobs, and hobbies, and this is what I remember them talking about. When I asked my mom today what the experience was like for her when my sister and I were babies, she said, "I just went to work and all our hippie friends at USM sat around watching your sister. She was kind of a novelty since we were so young." She has no memory of discussing the ins-and-outs of babyhood with her friends. She's sure she must have talked about it some, but they moved on pretty quickly to stuff about nursing school or their jobs or something.

My sister and I seemed to go along for the ride with whatever my parents were into, from stuff like camping and cooking out on Saturday nights while listening to Folk Alley and Highway 61 (what I liked to call "junkyard music" as a kid), to going with my mom to her job at an outpatient surgical clinic where after-hours my sister and I would push each other so wildly in the recovery-room wheelchairs that we'd crash into the walls (and my mom somehow kept getting promoted at this job in spite of her hooligan children).

I was reading in the Sunday newspaper a book review about how over-scheduled kids today are. (Gotta track down that review...) There was one grade-school age kid who needed a blackberry to keep up with his schedule. This is crazy to me. Absolutely insane. What compels parents to fill the days and weeks of their children so full with extra-curricular activities? I'm interested in reading this book as a way of having it explained to me.

When I was a kid, the only scheduled activity besides school I can remember were our weekly piano lessons on Friday afternoons that my grandmother took us to and a year or two of Girl Scouts. I never really took to either of these activities, preferring to get home so I could chow down on some Little Debbie snack treats and pink-packaged Tab before playing "devil in the ditch" with Katie and Timmy, my two best friends on our street. Looking back, my sister and I were pretty unsupervised too during our play time. I can remember a period where we'd climb onto the roof of our house and make pine-straw forts facing the street so we could call Timmy over to play, then bomb him with pine-cones when he got to the house. There was a pretty long concrete ditch that ran through our neighborhood, and we'd all go play in that for hours. I guess I fit the stereotype: a fat kid in Mississippi playing in a ditch. But we loved it. My mom would get us to come home by standing on the front porch, hands on hips, and calling our names at the top of her voice until we came running. We could hear her from pretty far away.

With all of this fun and play-time, not once did we have an official "play-date." Even if one's child is not one of the crazy, over-scheduled ones, this term has still managed to creep its way into our modern-day American lexicon, and I prefer not to let it into mine. I don't want the term "date" used anywhere in Abe's life until he's developed a crush and is pestering us to let him go out with the sweet thing he has his eye on.

It seems that a lot of people these days are viewing their parenthood not just as their profession (which honestly, it becomes that which is a good thing, at least for a while), but also their sole hobby and interest. Is this healthy? Won't kids grow up pretty self-centered when they see that the only thing their parents have any passion about is their presence in their parents' lives?
My mom currently works in a pediatric clinic and told me that she sees this kind of mentality all the time, much more so than even ten years ago. She admitted that she also cringes at hearing "play-date" but is horrified by the wacky stuff parents have their kids doing, like one woman she works with who bought her 3-year-old competitive tumbler/cheerleader a thong for Christmas. A thong, people. Seriously?

Though I made fun of it by calling it "junkyard music," I loved my dad's passion for folk and blues and am mourning having to miss Merlefest this year. I love it now as an adult and watch Austin City Limits all on my own. And though it's a miracle that my mom never got canned for letting my sister and me play with the wheelchairs and hospital beds in the recovery-room at her job, my mom's love for nursing got passed on to my sister, who is now a nurse as well. And though she probably shouldn't have let me read Robin Cook and Stephen King novels when I was in the fifth grade, my mom's passion for reading got passed on to me, and our shelves are just as stocked as the ones I grew up with. And I know my childhood wasn't perfect: I probably shouldn't have been drinking all the saccharin-infused Tab and my dad really should have taken the ladder down a lot sooner when they found out we were playing on the roof(!). But Lordy if I'm not thankful that my parents didn't push me to earn more badges or sell more cookies in Girl Scouts. They just let me be. Somehow I think I managed to grow up to be a relatively decent human being, in spite of my lack of after-school lessons and preschool play-dates.

So what will Abe be passionate about? We'll certainly let him choose his way, but I also really hope that Abe will see what things Ted and I are passionate about and that some of these things just might hook him too, whether it's something important like theater, travel, and teaching or something as ridiculous as getting as good as his dad at making weird faces (and hey, who says there couldn't be a profession in that?). So as much as we love Abe, we don't want our entire world to center around our child(ren). It's a definite temptation when he gets more demanding by the day, but I think we can start by making sure he gets heavy doses of Allison Kraus and especially by limiting the term "play-dates" from his vocabulary.

And I promise to get him down from the roof the second I find out he's up there.


Stephanie said...

Lori, I've never left a comment for you before - but I've been following your story since I found out about it over at Susan Isaac's blog. (And I found out about Susan because I knew Larry way back in the olden days of youth group.)

But on THIS topic, I feel quite compelled.

A. Thank you a thousand thousand times for not being a "child centered" mom. What's a mom like that supposed to do about making an adult person be the result, I'd like to know? How does one extract the kid from Childworld when it's time to grow up? This has never been made clear to me.

B. I'm with you. Never let the words "play date" be used in a serious conversation. (gag)

and mostly,
C. I don't think your goofy husband stands a chance now that you've adopted what must surely have been the most goofy kid on an entire continent. He's not even a year old and he's the goofy face King! How is that possible?

God bless you three. (He already has - I mean, God KEEP ON blessing you three.)

Dani Schmidt said...

Were you reading my mind? I wholeheartedly agree.
I think you turned out just fine by the way. Tab and all. Sounds a bit like my childhood.
Abe has already mastered the goofy faces.
(My 8 month old son's name is Abenezer too! We call him Abe. We are smitten.)

coffeemom said...

Lori, well said, as usual. Yes! yup! you betcha! and, whew, maybe the tide is turning! Look, i now have seven (I love saying that!) kids! And while I admit I do obsess about them, I hate and have always hated the term, the practice and God forbid, the actual doing of "play date". My childhood was much like yours, except in the desert of Arizona, we played in a gulley and it was fabulous!!! And I just don't think they did that back that whole "playdate" back then. Instead you jsut went outside and found the other kdis hanging around ro knocked on their door and were told sure, or no, come back later.

My mom sewed and played tennis and did, well, stuff......and I think that's best. I dont' think it's good for kids to have parents who have NO other's good for them to think maybe you're a little weird because you like to: paint, run, make bread or weird new food, travel, listen to strange songs, read voraciously, talk w/ pals......they already tend to slide into the "center of the universe" concept all too easily.... YOu can adore them and not hang your every waking thought on them....even if you are made to be MOM. (and no, not saying don't gush and goo and relish them to bits) Especially as they grow, I think that's healthiest for all!

Years, years, ago, I got sucked into a few playdates. Before I learned how to nicely "just say no." really, excruciating those things and now I am happily old enough to never never do that again! Our family is a play date as far as I'm concerned. Other kids are always welcome, and they can go to friends when they are older and bike over or meet halfway.....whatever. But the modern era blackberry's a little scary morph of nature in my book.
Brava to you!
What a lucky guy little cute Abe is, to have such smart fun parents!

Anonymous said...

yeah, that term deserves a special place in vocab purgatory. right along with mommy-time and the question "what was his apgar score?".

graceling said...

Amen, Lori.

My friend and I were just talking about this... the child-centered parenting mentality.

You know, that's not how God made us to be. God loves his children, and likewise, we love our children. But recently I have seen more and more parents move to a kind of worship of their children. I really think it's become a form of idolatry.

Also, I don't let Abigail make "play dates." We do call up other kids and ask if they can come over and play. That's how we did it when I was growing up, and it is a much more reasonable expectation for a child, because it then becomes true play, based on the child's desire to play and interact, rather than being based on the parent's need to schedule social interactions for their child.

And don't even get me started on the crazy toys we give kids....

Carol said...

Hi, Lori - Totally with you on the whole play-date thing. Sometimes, we just need to let kids be! Mine are happiest when they aren't overscheduled - yeah - I fell into the overscheduling trap for awhile but I'm in supermom "rehab" now. I'm learning to let them lead the way with what they want to do! And, gotta repeat - Abe is such a doll!

Karen said...

I played on the roof of our house too! And I think I gained a lot of perspective from being up there...

Lori said...

Grace: Oh, please do get started on the crazy toys we give our kids! That's another hot-button topic I've thought a lot about. I'd love to hear a post about it from your perspective.

Anonymous said...

Well let me just say phew, not that I thought you would but as a non-parent let me just say, I have become partially comatose listening to people describe ad nauseum their child or grandchild's latest exploits, so glad to know you will still be holding "normal" conversation as a priority. I love kids but there is a limit to how much I want to discuss them. I know, you can add me to the awful person club.


Jocelyn said...

I do use that term but I never really thought about it until you just posted is sort of crazy, I don't mean a date though, just play:-)
So, I guess between Pacey's tumble classes, ice skating lessons, soccer practice and olympic underwater basket weaving training, we can get together and play:-) Hee...Hee...totally agree, let kids be kids!!!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add, when I was a kid my parents idea of a "play-date" was telling me to go outside and play; the rule was you came home when the street lights came on.


Anonymous said...

You know I love you Lori, and I hope you take this in the spirit I mean it...

I think it's just as important (as not overscheduling our kids or as moms not having outside interests) to not be judgmental of other mothers.

Those moms in the coffee shop might really want to talk about their babies. Some days they might talk about other things, some days they just want to talk about their babies. And I think that's okay.

Every family does things differently, and i don't think it's better or worse. Just different.

Anonymous said...

I too played outside with who ever was in the neighborhood, rode my bike all over the place and half the time my mom didn't know where I was.
Unfortunately the world is a different place now. I wish I could let my kids go wherever outside but my number one job is to keep them safe.
Play dates might not be for everybody but when my kids were really little it helped to get out of the house and let them play and me to visit with an adult.
Every body is different and has their own way of raising their family...I just think it is better to learn from each other than judge.

-A mom of three kids

Lori said...

Oh, crap, this is exactly what I was worried about happening. Jill, you are *exactly* right--it *is* so important not to judge others, and this is why I admitted to being a horrible person for eaves-dropping on these women. I know that this just maybe be what they were talking about that particular day and that they probably lead interesting lives normally. It was just that listening to them got me thinking about all the other stuff I wrote about in the post, which led to the conversation with my mom about these things, and I really didn't mean to be pointing fingers at these moms as being bad moms. And the use of the term "play-date" CERTAINLY does not make someone a bad mom! You could slap me right in the face if I ever said that!

But I do have to respond to what you said about every family doing things differently and that being okay. I see where you're coming from, but I gracefully don't agree that every way to parent is just as good as any other. I do believe we all make mistakes with our kids as I'm sure Ted and I will!

It's just that as a new mom, I can't help watching, reading, learning from what I see around me to try to figure out we think is the best way to raise responsible, caring kids. I think we all see parents making mistakes, and who knows? Maybe we'll be one of those parents in a few years making a desperate plea for Supernanny to come rescue us. In the meantime, I'm just trying to figure it all out.

Lori said...

To anonymous-mom-of-three: I never meant to say that safety isn't a concern. It *is* totally; you're exactly right, and I always plan on knowing where Abe is when he's outside playing. It truly is a different world, and we have to be more vigilant than in the past.
And assuming I haven't managed to totally piss off all my friends with kids who we hope to socialize with, I too hope to get together regularly to let the kids play and to talk with other adults. I've done it already, and having this community can be a life-saver! It's just that I want to try to avoid our kids' being over-scheduled with activities, which is why I prefer to stay away from the term "date." That's all. I love the idea of getting together with other moms with kids, and like I said, I hope I haven't polarized my pals so much by this post that they all just say, "Eh, screw Lori Rooney--she sucks!"

Autumn and Dan's family said...

Lori! ok,ok, I won't call it a playdate! Do you want to meet at the library this week? I agree with you. I live and breath Rhett, but if I didn't have my crafts and other interests along with all of Rhett's interests I would not be very interesting. I had a limit of one extra activity I was allowed to do growing up and I plan on keeping the same rule with Rhett!
I'll see you soon and we can talk more about this! Autumn

Autumn and Dan's family said...

Lori! ok,ok, I won't call it a playdate! Do you want to meet at the library this week? I agree with you. I live and breath Rhett, but if I didn't have my crafts and other interests along with all of Rhett's interests I would not be very interesting. I had a limit of one extra activity I was allowed to do growing up and I plan on keeping the same rule with Rhett!
I'll see you soon and we can talk more about this! Autumn

jen said...

Well if you didn't live across the country, I'd certainly love for you to come over for a cup of coffee. And you could bring Abe and he could play with Sam or the dogs. I think I understand the spirit behind this post and I'm not offended at all. I do think that I've let go a little too much some things that I loved before I loved Sam. This post was helpful for me to read and to think about!
take care,

Meredith said...

I was also a fat MS kid playing in the ditch and we knew we'd have to go home when the street lights came on. We would play with the crawdadddies! I loved those days.

I see so many "play dates" at the museum where the moms are off in a corner talking about something ridiculous and the kid dives head first into the pretend fishing pond and guess who has to pull him out!

Susan Isaacs said...

Preach it. A kid with a blackberry. Horrifying. While play date is just another word that's cropped up, it DOES reflect how our culture has become far too scheduled and busy. I understand what Jill above is saying, some moms want to talk about babies, that's where they are. We don't want to judge. There are lots of ways of doing things. But not every way is working. Whenever I go out in public I am assaulted by children throwing tantrums for minutes on end, and parents DOING NOTHING... Adults with no sense of boundaries cutting in lines, shoving me out of the way (at Whole FOODS!) and asshole drivers. These ADULTS learned their skills as CHILDREN. Not every way works. Yes, every parent has a different way of doing things, but maybe not every way is working (no offense to the ladies talking about baby food for an hour). I just hear Lori trying to figure out what kind of mom she wants to be. And you go girl. Don't call it a Play Date.

PS I went to the supermarket yesterday, an interesting mother son caught my eye. A very stocky lady, I'd guess probably a lesbian, and her son. I was right behind them as we walked in and I heard the boy say, "So what made your day today? and the mom answered, "Well I got a lot of work done, that made me feel good."

And I started to cry. I'm so used to being assaulted by negativity, it was so nice to hear a family doing something right.

Rusty Spell said...

Lori, I haven't read your post yet, but I was wondering if you wanted to come over to watch Teletubbies with me (Carrie prefers Blues Clues, but we can argue about that later--besides, I only have seasons 1-2 of that on DVD) and maybe talk about burp noises if we have time. You'll also be happy to know that I threw away all my David Lynch and Werner Herzog movies: we don't want Abe growing up to like *that*!

Carpenter Family said...

oh lori i think we'd be good friends..hehehe
i am fortunate to live near a park that we visit most days weather permitting.. and living in DC gives us a great chance to get outside, take the train everywhere, people watch and definately listen in where people are talking loudly..
i mean come on, if you can hear them, they want to be heard...hehehe

Stephanie said...

Bless you, Lori. I support you and I'm with you. Also, Bring On Allison Kraus! You can never have too much of her silky smooth voice with a banjo playing!!

What a great voice you've given to this topic with so many views. I just wanted to let you know that I'm glad you posted this and it makes me think. We will all do fine as long as we are making concious decisions to make us and our world a better place!

Cheers to you, my friend!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your view on things. It's HARD to take your kid out and then you're with a bunch of other moms and then you wonder why everyone's comparing who pooed when for 2 hours. YAWN. The only thing is that I have a sister who is exactly like that and I love her MUCHO because she is so lovely and sweet. And her baby is her life. That's what she eats, sleeps and breathes. Maybe it'll change, maybe not. There are so many reasons I don't understand why some are like that and some aren't. But well, I think it's like I hope people will love my kids even though they can be really, uh... just a tad annoying sometimes... we should just try to be understanding of other moms too.

Anonymous said...

Bravo to you Lori and all of you other mom's who are healthier then I have been. I am a mother of 3 children. The youngest being 16. I somehow lost myself in motherhood. I loved every minute of it but now I am trying to find my way back to ME. Always remember to take care of yourselves first. I am just learning how.

Anonymous said...

"So as much as we love Abe, we don't want our entire world to center around our child(ren)."

The thing about it is your WHOLE blog is about your child and your process to get him. That's why we all check in everyday because we WANT to hear about this precious child.

You have met all these wonderful families because they have become families in similar ways as you and Ted. You all have the Ethiopoa connection. Your adopted children are connecting you.

Rusty Spell said...

Anonymous famously said, "The thing about it is your WHOLE blog is about your child and your process to get him. That's why we all check in everyday because we WANT to hear about this precious child."

To which Rusty replied, "Actually, I only check in to keep up to date on the latest viral videos."

Lori said...

About the last anonymous comment: I appreciate your interest in this story of ours and I'm honored that you check in every day and call our boy "precious" because we think so too! (the amazing adoption community we've found has been one of the highlights and biggest surprises of this process). And yes, this entire blog is about our child and the process to get him, but this is not what my entire life is about. I just don't blog about my entire life (though during the long waiting process, I certainly had some forays into our history pre-adoption). I realize to some this may sound...cold? But like Linda wrote, parents shouldn't completely lose themselves as they are caring for their children. It's not healthy for the parents or the children. That was the whole point of this post, and I guess I didn't do the best job of explaining that :)

coffeemom said...

Lori, don't get your head spinning w/ all the different opinions! Here's the deal, you're the PERFECT mom for your fun cute boy. You already have all the instincts for how to parent him, and clearly, from what we read, you are right on target!!! Hooray for you, hooray for opinions and for the different ways, families, and styles.

But yeah, I could lose the post-modern playdate concept in a minute, but hey, that's just IMHO.

It's YOUR blog,you get to take any stance you want!...dont' let em make you crazy!

mama becca said...

Dude- the internet is so weird. Let me just say that I love our backyard, and that my kids love to dig for worms everyday, and that our neighbors kids hop over our fence any time they want, and after I'm done blogstalking my adoption friends (with the window open so that I can see or hear the kids), I happily bring everyone some cookies drinks. And then I sit on the deck and talk or read, and it is bliss. And my kids have some freedom, to explore and get creative. Maybe it's a southern thang ;).

Shelly Roberts said...

Gee .... I get busy packing and look all the fun I missed out on! Wow Lori, maybe you should make "Wednesday Discussion" a new thing here. :) Then again, maybe not and enjoy the calm. :) Anyhoo ..... I guess I never had really thought anything of the "play date" terminology ... I just thought it was another way of saying "getting together" ... like asking a friend for "coffee", but maybe she doesn't like it so you know she'll really be having D. Coke, while you have coffee ... yet here people would say "wanna meet for coffee" meaning a break in the day, not necessarily the beverage. My olders are probably a little old for the term "play date" wouldn't you say? Although they thoroughly enjoy "getting together" that's for sure! ... and not too many more years they'll be gone! How sad.

At any rate, it's fun seeing you find your way through motherhood. I love watching moms/babes relationships because each one is unique. You guys are gonna do great. And you'll find that with each child (yes, I caught the tiny blip in your post on Addis that made me dream with you if there will be more) ... anyway, with each child your relationship sometimes is a bit different. That's what makes it so amazing and wonderful because they are unique people and you get to have an individual relationship with each one. I LOVE how different each of my boys are.

Okay ... now all this rambling is making me feel old because I realize once again we're kinda starting over!! .... because now we have two little girls! Oh my. Now if you were only closer you all could drop by and chat. :)

Enjoy the journey Lori! ... it's such a blessing seeing you as a momma to Abe and beloved wife of Ted. :) That makes you queen. :)

Take Care,

Liesl said...

I haven't ever commented on your blog before, but have been inspired by your journey to Abe and how God has paved the way for you! And I must say, this post is refreshing. I totally understand what you are saying and the implications behind it. There is a difference between children feeling valued and loved (which you clearly love Abe), and feeling entitled, which is what so many kids these days are showing. Unfortunately, when the parents' lives revolve solely around their children (often even coming between the parents' own relationship), there is societal (I might have just made up that word) evidence that those kids grow up feeling just as entitled (and self-centered) as they have been growing up. Makes me scared for where our society is heading (where parents think they are doing "the best thing" for their children, yet society is going downhill fast...hello! Connection?!). Anyway...sorry for the soapbox...I just agree with you :) We need to love our children, yet teach them respect for authority and to serve others before themselves.

Brad and Fran Hoagland said...

Omg! This turned out to be quite a controversial topic! I agree completely with Lori and the term "play date" just really gets on my nerves. Thank you for this blog! I also realize that you werent insinuating any insult to anyone. I really believe though that "play dates" and "mommy time" are almost one in the same. Because alot of you are right in that moms like me end up "taking care" of the kids at the playground whose moms are too busy talking to be watching what their child is up to. Oh, but they are probably talking about how busy and exhausted they are keeping up the pace with all the busy ball practices they have to take their kids to.

Stacie said...

Man! I was just about to email you and see if Abe wanted to have a playdate with Micah! Screw that! :) Kidding - you know.

You've seriously touched a nerve here. I think I teeter on the edge of jumping over to over-caffeinated soccer mom type wanting Micah to have social interaction and be in swim class and music class, and then teeter back again to punk rock mom wanting Micah to listen to the Ramones and learn to sneer. I'm off track here, but I'm trying to say that it can be really easy to fall in to the trap of overscheduling and I don't think it's good for our children. (Or us - I get crabby when we have too much going on!) It's hard to find the balance.
And, I think the points you've made are all quite valid - people can find fault with anything once it's typed out and "out there" forever with you not "there" to defend your words. And, this communication we do can often lead to miscommunication - being interpreted differently than you intended. Okay - now I'm really off track so I'm done. :)

emily said...

Lori, Lori.....what a great post. From a geeky homeschool mom that only allows video games and t.v on the weekends (for the kids, my tivo is not bored) and apparently has the "only 6th grader on the planet that doesn't own a cell phone", I applaud you! :)

I think you should do this more often.

Anonymous said...

I love babies and love to talk about them. I'm a NICU nurse and I am "all baby, all day." This got me wondering if I talk about babies too much. I don't have any children. Do my friends with children get tired of me talking about them?? Makes me think. Anyway...
What I really wanted to say... while I love to talk about babies and children I CAN NOT stand talking about adult children. I work with a mom who has three adult children who has completely lost herself. She talks NON-STOP about her children. It makes me want to pull my hair out.