When I was about 26 I met a friend for brunch near the Santa Monica pier, an area heavily trafficked by tourists and locals alike. The two of us were frustrated by not being able to navigate through the throngs of Sunday brunchers pushing strollers, or the “stroller patrol,” as smug single people often referred to them, and I said to my friend, “People with strollers shouldn’t be allowed in crowded places.” I was only half kidding at the time. Back then, I suppose like most childless people in their 20s, I had little tolerance for crying babies in restaurants, strollers impeding my path as I hurried on my way and parents who talked incessantly of their children. Flash forward a decade, and I became a member of the stroller patrol, tripping up the fast moving youngsters with my oversized child travel system, no doubt while standing there with a confused look on my face and/or talking incessantly about my child. Hell, I even have a website devoted to talking about my child. A switch flips when we reproduce. It happened to me, and someday it will happen to many of you uninhibited single people brunching at the pier this weekend. Perhaps the most marked change as you go from nonparent to parent is that you’ll do things you once truly hated all in the name of the profound affection you feel for the tiny being you created. Love for your child can make you do some messed up things. Below are some things I’m not proud of doing, but I did them for my kid. (This list is likely to offend. Continue reading with caution.)
1. Joining a group for stay at home moms. I am not a joiner. Like most introverts, I prefer small gatherings of people I know well and I spend a lot of time with my nose buried in a book. And Hailey is quite shy. It takes a giant push out of my comfort zone for me to sign up for a group of any kind, especially a group made up of strangers. But a year ago, when we simultaneously moved to a new area and I left my job and became a full-time mom, I thought I should do something different to make some new friends for both Hailey and me. So I joined a mommy group. It was terrible. The moms were clique-ish, and at the first playdate we attended I felt judged for having had a c-section (which they asked; I did not volunteer this information), not having breast fed (they also asked this) and having been a working mom for the first three years of Hailey’s life. We attended two more playdates after that (although I had to give myself a pep talk to get myself out the door) but I found that Hailey and I only hung out with each other at these events. On the third playdate Hailey asked, “Mommy, can we take a walk?” and led me away from the group. I read this to mean, “Mommy, can we get the hell out of here?” We never went back, and have since met mommy/Hailey friends in a more organic way.
2. Going to the playground. There are many, many activities that I love doing with my child — playing Barbies? I’m in. Make believe? I do a mean witch’s voice or Irish brogue. Building a fort, going to the beach, hiking, swimming? Yes, yes, yes and yes! But as soon as Hailey asks to go to the playground, my response is, “Daddy, you’re up.” When Daddy’s at work, though, I have no choice but to suck it up and head to the awful urban oasis known as the park. Hailey prefers a participating parent, so any delusions I have of sitting on a bench in the shade and waving to her while she happily swings on the monkey bars are quickly dashed. So I go down the slide with her a few times, push her on the swing, play hide and seek, pretend to be a Jedi, scoop sand into a bucket…but I am 10 times her age and have a tenth of her energy. So it isn’t long before I’m complaining, “Hot….” “Tired….” “Smartphone….” “No more fun….”
3. Attending the Hello Kitty Friendship Festival. “Guess what!” Josh exclaims as he walks in the door one day. “I got us tickets to the Hello Kitty Friendship Festival this weekend!” Hailey promptly bounces off the wall in glee at this announcement. “All of us?” I ask through the clenched teeth of a forced smile. “Yep!” The event turns out to be everything I imagined: 10 musical numbers sung by giant dancing Hello Kitties (who don’t even have mouths by the way, but I digress), thousands of children dressed as Hello Kitty and running in every direction and glitter everywhere — my God, the glitter! There was a movie screen behind the dancing kitties where they would slowly spell out Hello Kitty. At one point the letters H-E-L-L flashed up on the screen. That pretty much summed up the experience.
4. Buying and Assembling Legos. When Hailey wants to build something, I do my best to steer her towards Mega Bloks, easy to use, easy to assemble and easy to clean up. But thanks to “The Lego Movie” and savvy Lego marketers Hailey is showing more interest in Legos, which bear little resemblance to the Legos of my childhood. No, the Legos of today are teeny tiny, come with a 40-page instruction manual and require an engineering degree to build anything interesting. After Daddy spends an evening toiling to assemble “Unikitty’s Palace” or some such grand structure, it usually lives in its assembled state for a total of 10 hours. From there it slowly disassembles of its own volition and the pieces become lodged in the couch cushions, get stuck in the vacuum or (my favorite) get chewed on by our dogs until they resemble a prison shank and then lie on the ground waiting for me to step on them in the middle of the night.
5. Anything Having to do with Lightning McQueen. I enjoy most of the movies Hailey likes with a few exceptions, the biggest being “Cars.” That movie is the worst. And Hailey was obsessed with it, and anything having to do with Lightning McQueen, for about a year. Whenever she got movie time, we’d try to nudge her in the direction of “Winnie the Pooh,” only to hang our heads in defeat when she’d resolutely say, “Cars!” But being involved parents, we tried to find something, at least one thing, we could like about that movie. And we found it in the Rascal Flatts theme song, “Life is a Highway.” It was catchy, and we’d play it on our morning drives to get coffee or weekend treks along the coast, singing along. The problem was, Hailey liked it as much, if not more, than she liked the movie. And after hearing it 489 times, we started to hate it as much as we hated the movie. “Well, maybe we like Rascal Flatts now,” I suggested to Josh. We weren’t country fans, but maybe if we liked this song, we would like other Rascal Flatts songs, and maybe the discovery of some new music was the positive that would arise from our Lightning McQueen phase. So we listened to a bunch of Rascal Flatts songs, hoping. “We just like one Rascal Flatts’ song,” we agreed.
*Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post: Five Things I Loved Doing but Gave Up for My Kid.