Sunday, July 20, 2008

View from a Distance

If this was an LP/OP ("listening post/observation post") and I was the character in the covered hole watching and listening (as is the wont for those in such a place) for the barb'rous foe to come ravening down from the secret places of the stairs full of wrath and intent to unseam us from nave to chaps, this entire weekend would have rated a full-on 24-channel "Negative Sitrep, over."

It's not that we did nothing,'s just that the entire weekend was full to overflowing with the small change of toddler- and preschooler-parenting. Feeding, playing, disciplining, comforting, diverting, directing, diapering (or checking, for the older one), napping, dosing medicine, encouraging, consoling, calming, feeding again, sleeping. Both Peeper and Missy have little infections; Little Miss from cleft complications (no news there) and the Peep from a blister on his left foot that he let get dirty rather than let us clean up and bandage. They're both taking antibiotics and the Peep gets a dressing change twice a day, which he cries and screams through but before and after seems to feel confers on him a sort of odd disctinction, a Purple Foot for Peepers.Wash, rinse, repeat.

There's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing intrinsically awful or boring or pitiful. And yet, there's nothing there to entertain, inform, anger, amuse or fool you. It's Wonder Bread parenting, interesting only to the participants and sometimes not even all that much to us...

The only thing that really crossed my mind this weekend was regarding friends and friendship. And it kicked in Saturday when our friend K came by on her bike.

She looked terrific and was happy and fun and interesting as always. I felt a little awkward because we had nothing planned so we all sat and talked and played with the kidlets in the cool under the plum tree. It wasn't much in terms of entertainment for her - or for us, really, other than a chance to catch up with a great gal and a friend. (But that may be me. I'm guy-ish in that I think of friends as people you "do stuff with". Hmmm.)And it was that that got me thinking, about friends and how it seems that either friendship in general is somewhat of an ephemeral thing, or that we in particular have no gift for it.

Because I realized that outside of K yesterday, our friends Brent & Janelle fairly regularly, and the Ravas every month or so, we have not heard from or managed to set up anything with any of our friends for...well, months, I suppose.

This is simply biologic to some degree; for example, we know this terrific woman, M, who is married to an equally terrific guy, W. They're sort of like the friends you have when you're one of the leads in a romantic comedy: clever, funny, warm and loving (they've got that "we're not just cool individuals we're a fun couple" thing working)...and they get all the good lines, too.They're good people. We really like to hang with many 30something kidless couples want to do the sandbox at the zoo for the zillionth time? Pass on the Brewfest or all-night no-limit D&D for "Kung Fu Panda" and Peanut Butter & Ellies?

So you accept that losing touch - maybe not completely, but to a greater or lesser degree - with most of your single-and-kidless friends is just a fact that accompanies reproduction, like recognizing types of vomiting and developing the ability to catch thrown food out of the air .

But it seems that we even have trouble connecting with other parents.

We've had three-martini playdates with kids from the Peep's daycare. One date only, no return engagements. We've tried the local Families with Children from China and gotten no love and no congee recipies. The area single-moms-with-Chinese-adoptees? We got the congee, but our connection with the group just never went anywhere.

We'd call and things would fall through. And, most damningly, the return calls would never come. We'd try another time and somehow that connection never got made.

It's gotten to the point where I've just stopped trying to set things up, even with people that would seem to be good prospects for friendship. I don't know what's going on; I'm not sure if it's bad timing or just coincidence or something more toxic - something fundamentally unpleasant about us that is making people shy off. I can't be all that objective about my own charm, but who the heck wouldn't love Maxine? Or be entertained by the Peeper? Or enjoy Mojo's dry wit and ability to belly dance? Is it personal hygiene? Political views? Theologically unsound? What??

But I suspect that I, or we, are starting to sound desperate. And as everyone who dated in high school remembers, that's the Tolling Knell of Death. Social Doom. The Long Kiss Goodnight. At that point it's better to accept that spending the weekends with one's own family is kismet rather than try to lure the unwilling into proximity, becoming the unspeakable in pursuit of the unapproachable. Ugh.So. Not sure where to go from here. But we either need to 1) find a couple of new friends who like us, really, really like us, 2) work frantically on our social skills, 3) completely change our personalities, or 4) get used to seeing a LOT of each other, and we're getting too damn old for options 2 and 3.

It is, as Yul Brynner famously said: a puzzlement.

Update 7/21: BTW, feel free, friends and aquaintences (assuming you read this) to post a comment re: your take on whether we have a "friendship problem" and if so, what you feel the problem is. I mean, I'm perfectly willing to use actual soap in my monthly bath if it'll make our pals more willing to invite us to go cycling or take in the Pirate Festival or the Sprockettes something.Really. We're willing to go the extra 1500 meters for friendship.


pluto said...

We went through something very similar when our kids were that age, Chief. It didn't help that both the wife and I are both quiet analytical types that aren't typically comfortable starting things.

We also wondered what we'd done to drive away other people, even family didn't visit with us much during that period of our lives. In hindsight we realize now that raising the kids was such a full-time job that we really didn't have time for other people, even though we wanted it fairly badly, and the other people tended to recognize it more quickly that we did.

We were always tired and always trying to do too much with too little and we weren't able to stop and relax because the kids would take parental relaxation as a sign that we needed to harassed or scared witless by their antics. I don't want to even think about the credit card bills from that time, formula and diapers seemed like they were worth their weight in gold. Hate to think what you're paying now wih inflation kicking in...

I hate to think how many times we’d start something and it would go “pear-shaped” to quote a British friend. There was always something; we’d have to cancel because of an emergency or they’d show only once or we wouldn’t be able to afford going to the event a second time or the kids would cause such a mess that we’d be politely invited to not come back.

The only advice I can offer is that, although it seems like forever, this really is a short period in your time with your kids and your options for social gatherings will change as the kids do and the kids will change quite a lot in the next few years.

My boys are now 12 and 15 and are FINALLY getting enough independence so the better half and I can go do stuff with or without them and we are now welcome in all social venues again. Heck, last weekend we took the boys to “Mamma Mia” over their very LOUD protestations (nobody can protest or sulk like a teenager) and they wound up enjoying it. Of course, the food bribes DID help their enjoyment quite a bit...

mike said...

My grown children have little time for socializing. Both spouses work or when on post-natal leave they are too busy with the diapers and feeding schedule to seek same age companionship.

When mrs mike and I were young, things were different. I was a lifer. She never worked until the kids were in HS and we got stationed where the cost of living was sky high (California). So we always had a many friends and a full social calendar. I still hang out with some of those folks. Mostly long distance, but one couple is local and the others we try to see at least every year (or two or three).

I even put up with the few who have turned into Limbaugh wingnuts in their old age. It is hard to see them stoop so low, but there are still benefits in keeping their acquaintance.

You Know Where You Are With said...

We have a similar problem (outside of our one set of couple-friends), and R. blames it on the administration.


He thinks folks have just learned to keep close in this climate.

Lisa said...

A puzzlement. You look like a pleasant and approachable fellow, and we know you are smart as a whip, so what's the problem? If I saw you at that cafe, I'd chat with you if you flashed me a smile.

But look at the woman sitting at the next table. Slumped, self-absorbed. . .the face of so many of our fellows. People are harried and skeptical, perhaps these days more than previous times.

I am single and do not have kids, so I come from another angle. My friends who are marrying and having kids are cleaving off into their own lives. They are lucky if, like you, they have one reliable friend/couple with whom to meet. But they are not so different from me.

I was discussing this topic recently with a friend. People seem to lack either the time or inclination to meet these days. So many hunker down in front of the t.v. at night, like babes in a crib.

Going out for them was for a purpose: socializing to expand a social web to find a mate. Once the mate is found, or after an unproductive run of looking, they shrink into the domicile.

It is as though the things that delight me -- like a wandering discussion -- so many adults have put behind when they grew up. Conversation is seen as sophomoric when there are nuts and bolts things to be done.

I suspect for you it is simply the life stage in which you find yourselves, and everyone is busy, busy. I suspect this is why writing on a blog is so appealing--it is self-expression with no expectation or agenda.

Communication can be dispensed with expeditiously via email today, so there is less and less need to meet up. McLuhan saw that the technologies which ostensibly were formed to bring us together would ultimately keep us apart.

It matters not the forum: if the message is trite there there is no compelling need to meet. Most people's messages are trite. Even if they have an interesting speciality, they do not have the patience to digress. That is why so many keep to their particular academic/technical community, and their talk will bore you to tears.

Meghan H said...

hey, we're going to the beerfest on the waterfront this Thursday after work with other friends with kidlings -- want to join us for a quaff at a table in the shade?

J. said...

I have a similar issue - DINK who makes friends with a couple, couple has a kid, they drop off the face of the earth. "oh our child is so much work... blah blah blah." It's like the brain chemistry changes (which I think others have commented on here), suddenly, we're not interesting enough because we don't have kids and stories of how cute they are. Ah well.

Lisa said...


Thought you might enjoy this relevant essay on friends from the NYT's ed: "A Secret Society of 30 Million":

Also, would you like us to link to you?

walternatives said...

Funny, we don't have kids yet, but we lead fairly sequestered lives already. Nearby family are our social highlights, followed by occasional poker gatherings once a month; dinner dates with other couples three-four times a year comes in third. My social contact is mainly telephone calls to gab with sisters and girlfriends, many of which have children.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm no help here. The Goob and I would be hanging with y'all if we lived nearby, but really, we're happy in our homebody-ness.

atomic mama said...

My only advice, Chief, is that you be careful what you wish for. Heh.

Oh, and if y'all are ever in the Valentine state, we'd be up for some of those 3-martini playdates. Repeatedly.