Tag Archives: new home

Panic at the Play date: Defining My Role as a Mom Among Moms

Standard

We recently moved into a house on a lovely street lined with pleasant people into which we are gradually settling.

Our first box hadn’t been unpacked before the little boy across the street came over to ask if Jack could come out and play. This thrilled me, as it did Jack.  The kids had a wild rumpus outside, and we counted our blessings at having such great neighbors.

We live close enough to Jack’s school that we walk some mornings.  The kid from across the street walks too, and his mom and I chat while the kids bumble down the sidewalk pointing out dogs and bikes and stale Halloween decorations to each other.

It’s charming in a way that begets thoughts of Norman Rockwell and cups of sugar passed over picket fences.

The other mom is so sweet.  She’s also hugely popular. Before we even moved, when we told people the street we were moving to, they invariably said, “Oh! You’ll live on Martha’s street!  She’s the best.

I’m grateful for the warmth she has shown our family as we went through the adjustment of moving.  She seems to know everyone on the playground, is very active in the PTA, and has energy for things like Pilates, baking, and book club.

In other words, she is very social and energetic.

Which is great.

But I’m sort of a socially-anxious introvert, and the whole dynamic has me feeling confused and insecure.

Questions rattle around like dry beans in the gourd of my skull–  How often am I supposed to invite them over?  Do we have to alternate and should I feel awful if she invites my kid over twice in a row?  What if she doesn’t like me once she discovers I only vacuum once a week?  How do I ask whether there are guns in her house before Jack goes over to play?  What if she tells all the other moms not to like me?  What am I supposed to do if she asks me to babysit her kids and I am just not up to it after a day in the social work sweat shop?  How will I handle it if my kid acts up on a playdate?  What if her son hurts my son’s feelings?  What if I get the reputation as the mom who is weird or stressy at playdates?   

In a way, it feels like the terror of middle school all over again, trying to figure out the social rules and expectations, and how do I define my individual role as a mom among this pack of my peers?

I was never the “popular” girl in school. I had a rag-tag group of friends, most of whom were exotic theater types or quiet dancers like me. My “best friend” was popular and spent most of middle and high school ignoring and bullying me, until I finally got a boyfriend and dumped her in tenth grade.

I’ve always been a bit mystified by and skeptical of popular people.

In another way, unlike middle school, I am more comfortable with myself, and don’t feel the need to know or talk with everyone on the playground. I’ve evolved into someone who is aware, strong willed and minded, with shades of that exotic and theatrical dancer. I consider myself to be a pretty cool person, and also a cool mom.

I’ve cultivated a group of friends who are caring, kind, open-minded, and accepting.  The friends I’ve made as an adult are people who find me lovable, neurosis and all.  My bestie thinks nothing of it if I text her in the middle of the night to report a recurring anxiety about polar bear attacks in my backyard, or if I forget her birthday.

But it is a cozy little microcosm, and in this new neighborhood, where I am formulating new relationships, I feel sort of out of my element.  Will other moms be as forgiving if I forget to RSVP for their kid’s birthday bash, or if I don’t immediately reciprocate the cookie tin at Christmas?

There is this nagging fear that people will find out just how neurotic and weird I am.

Much like the dynamics we enact and reenact in families, I am finding that social roles also seem to be a perpetuating pattern.  Of course, any pattern can be broken.  So, I could get out there on the playground and be my healthy, brassy self, not really caring what the other moms think.

But it seems like the stakes are higher now because it is more than just my reputation and popularity at stake.

I am also a representative for my children.

While it seems unfair their popularity or desirability should be linked to my political views or prickliness around new people, it also seems somewhat inevitable. I mean, what kid is going to want to come over to play at the house where the mom is weird and stressy?

Maybe I am way overthinking things, but I know enough about the social pecking order to know people are judged.  While I don’t really care how other moms judge me, I do very much care if they judge my kids.

Finally, since we do not plan on moving soon or ever, I need to figure out how to balance being a good neighbor and ambassador for my children, with being myself- quirks and all.

My advice to myself is to take it slow, take time to figure things out, and take one for the team.  I will be gracious and keep my chin up for my kids, even when I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

One thing I know about being a mom is you occasionally have to do things you don’t relish.  I despise legos, dread the playground, and think Hello Kitty’s voice is worse than nails on a chalkboard, but my children love them, so it is important for me to take an interest and be there with them.

If all else fails, I suppose I could bake some muffins for Jack to bring across the street.

Have you ever felt anxious about getting along with other moms/parents?  

The Key

Standard

We closed on our new house. IMG_6386

Since I’ve held the same job for the past ten years, and my husband is self-employed, everything was put in my name.  Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I split everything 50/50, but in this instance, it was advantageous for us to go through my financials.

If you think about it, it’s pretty messed up, based on the peanuts I make as a social worker.  Anyhoo, I put on my big girl panties and signed a whole stack of papers, in exchange for a key to my new, humble abode.

(For the record, I have always hated the expression, “put on big girl panties,” however in this situation, that is what it felt like.)

After the signing, I did a lot of pooping.  My intestines were pretty freaked out at the bigness of the purchase.  I mean, it’s a house.  It isn’t just a scarf I bought on impulse at Target because I was feeling a bit down and wanted something to spruce myself up a bit, you know?

Since I never bought a house before, the whole process was new to me.

The closing happened at the lawyer’s office with the sellers, who were from out of state.  They pulled up in a luxury SUV.  They looked very well heeled, well dressed, and well rested.  They looked like people accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and who can afford to take nice care of their skin and hair.  They had bought the house–  our house now–  for their daughter who was in college nearby.  Since she graduated and moved on with her life, they were selling the house.

I felt a bit shabby, parked next to their shiny car in my ten year old Corrolla with the dent in the side from the douche who backed into me in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot then drove off, so I was never able to sue his insurance and afford to get the dent fixed.

We were paying the maximum of what we could afford for this little bungalow, but you could tell it was just chump change for these people.  I’m sad to admit it took a little of my pleasure out of the whole process.  It felt like we were getting their sloppy seconds.

I wondered if they looked at the rusty dent in my car and felt a little bad.  Or maybe they were just happy to get rid of that property.  Either way, it made me uncomfortable.  I don’t know why their opinion of us, if they even had one, would matter to me.  We are good people.  We take good care of our kids.  We live nicely and respect the planet.  We just happen to reside in a part of the country where the standard of living is exponentially high, and where it is really hard to buy a home, even if you are forty, well educated, and employed.

The signing went off without a hitch. The lawyer was an affable fellow who put me at ease.  He rambled off a lot of legal jargon, and might have been speaking a language foreign to me.  At one point he asked me if I had any questions.  I looked at him, smiled, and said, “I have no idea what you just said.  But you are smiling, so I am going to assume everything is okay, and just sign where you tell me.”

After about 30 minutes, the lawyer passed some checks around to the realtors and sellers.  Then the seller’s agent and the sellers left.  I spent another half hour signing, initialling, and generally feeling like I wanted to simultaneously vomit, pass out, and have explosive diarrhea.

Then we were handed a key.  One key.

I sat and posed with the key and my husband while our realtor, a good pal of mine, took our picture.

She and my husband had been chatting about the race for governor while I completed the actual signing which made the property mine.  So, she posed me with a pen and a page that had a shit ton of numbers on it, made my husband and me smile for the camera.  Cheese and snap!  The picture came out okay.  I look “happy” and my husband looks amused.  She emailed me the picture from her phone and I posted it on Facebook.  But it felt kind of fraudulent, like the moon landing photos are supposed to be.

I left the signing and went to work.  I couldn’t even fake happiness for my friends at work.  Some were surprised that I felt so confused, overwhelmed, and let down.   Others said it was normal and they felt the same way when they signed on their home.  Every conversation ended with me feeling awkward and annoyed, smiling and saying, “Nah, it’ll be okay.  It’ll be okay.”

All night I laid awake counting beans, wondering how we would make our mortgage and do all the necessary work in the house.  I obsessed about vacuuming up the spiders in the basement so I can put my kid’s legos down there.

We will go into the house to paint and clean and put in shelf paper.

I have the key.

I can go in there now.

I’ve driven past this house a dozen times over the past few weeks, champing at the bit to get in there with my stuff.

And now it’s mine.  Ours.

It’ll be okay.  It’ll be okay.

Eventually, the house will look and smell like us.  It will have our dead skin cells collecting in the corners, and our hairs clogging the drains.  It will have our sleepy morning smells.  We will fill it with our familiar noises.  We will mark it with spilled juice, errant crayons, and muddy sneakers.

At the moment, it feels kind of like I am jumping off a cliff into the unknown, as I take a breath, slip the key into the lock, and open the door to the next chapter of our life.