I've had a couple of Max-related interactions in the past week that have left me contemplating what constitutes stepping over a line when talking with the parent of a little one. Mind you, for a change, I wasn't the one stepping over the line. Rather it was two moms who flummoxed me with their comments. (Moms? Comments that flummox? Nooo!)
The first of these interactions may sound harmless enough. I was at the neighborhood playground, enjoying the last minutes of light while Max pushed trucks around in the sand, when a mom who's new to the neighborhood arrived with her four-year-old son. This was my second time bumping in to her, the first having also been at dusk at the same playground. She seemed, in both conversations, to be a nice, reasonable mom I'd be happy to get to know.
That was when the "P" word was uttered--as in "playdate"--and everything changed. Because while playdate may seem like an innocent, and maybe even cloyingly annoying--modern parenting term--it is accompanied by all sorts of rules of engagement. And this woman was trampling all over those.
Let's start with the fact that we had met spontaneously twice, for a few minutes each time, at a neutral location, in dim lighting. For those inexperienced in the ways of edgy parenting, asking for a playdate at this stage is like going to a bar, spotting a woman you've seen there once before, and casually asking her if she'd like to come by one afternoon for some nookie.
I'm sure there are others out there who will disagree with my assessment, but I was bristled by what I felt was a presumptive request at this stage in our "relationship." And it further annoyed me that because she'd invited us to a birthday party the previous week for her son, and because Sarah had RSVP'd via email (we couldn't make it), she had Sarah's email address, which she made clear she'd use to start discussing a date and time. I couldn't help but think of how Jerry Seinfeld (the TV character version) got himself in hot water by calling a woman whose number he got off an AIDS walkathon list. Let's be clear: we weren't RSVP'ing so they could immediately plug us into their "database of future playdate suckers."
Of course, this could all come down to us having different definitions of the word "playdate." In my mind, a "playdate" is when one parent/child visits the home of the other parent/child. In other words, it implies being isolated with the other parent, and committing your child to an unknown period of time in the presence of another child with whom he may or may not want to play. The other mom, however, may have had different expectations of a "first playdate," which in her eyes might only entail a harmless rendez-vous at a public (i.e. easy to escape) location. But if her definition differs that much from society's at large, then she should have made that clear, n'est-ce pas?
When I got home and told Sarah about this perceived breach in parenting decorum, she seemed to think it was no big deal. Undeterred by her complacence, I made it clear to Sarah that if she got an email about this, I was strongly urging her to suggest a time to meet at the playground. I pleaded with her not to invite the woman over to our house. Not only did I not want to find myself having to be the host should Sarah get called away, I simply was not ready to give this person access to our inner sanctum.
But there was another element of confusion surrounding the situation, that being the age difference between the boys. I mean, who the hell suggests a playdate for her 4-year-old son with a 2-year-old! Duh, isn't that age inappropriate? And who wants to subject their 2-year-old to a 4-year-old he barely knows? It's preposterous!
The second interaction, which occurred the following morning, was even more disturbing. It occurred at the local YMCA, where we take Max once or twice a week to enjoy the so-called "Kindergym," which is exactly what it sounds like--a small gym filled with a bunch of plastic toys and padded shapes and mats in which toddlers can safely run around for a bit, hopefully without seriously injuring themselves or anyone else. So there I am, minding my own business as I follow Max around the room, when I think I get a whiff of something, so I pick up Max and sniff his diaper quickly. (Thankfully, no need for the HAZMAT team). A woman I've never seen before--a tall, big-boned, Germanic looking woman--sees me and asks if I'm working on potty training.
Now here's where I need to inject some advice. First, to anyone who might find themselves in my position: If someone asks you anything about the topic of potty training, do anything you can to avoid or otherwise get out of the conversation that would follow. Act like your phone is vibrating and you need to take this call. Pretend you hear your mom calling you. Scream "fire!" Anything. Because nothing good can come of discussing potty training with anyone other than your co-parent. There are few things in life of which I'm more certain.
Now, to those who think they might, in some fit of insanity, make a similar inquiry: There are very few questions you can pose that will generate a more instantaneous sense of disgust of, or a stronger instinct to flee from, you. Let's make this very clear: Potty training is a--how shall I put this?--less-than-appetizing topic best limited to the confines of your own home because, when you get right down to it, it's none of anyone's damned business.
That said, the wave of irritation, panic and desperation that certainly was evident on my face was clearly not enough to stop this woman, who apparently was dead set on making sure I'd never invite her to one of our legendary Fall Fiestas. Or even something mind-numbing like a Bar Mitzvah, although I've been to Bar Mitzvahs that would have been a perfect punishment for the crime. But I digress.
This woman proceeds to ask me how old Max is.
"Almost two," I answer.
"Oh, no, I mean exactly. In months," she says. My concern for where this exchange is headed deepens.
"23 months," I answer meekly. The woman gasps.
"You're past the window," she says in a tone that suggests I've failed my child on some deep, inexcusable level. "They're at the easiest to work with between 19 and 22 months. But I can teach you a sure fire way to potty train him in 3 days."
What I want to say at this point is, "Shut the hell up before I punch you in the mouth, bitch!" But what comes out is, "really?" Uh-oh.
She proceeds to tell me all about how if you put your life aside for 3 days and take off your child's diaper, and (this is important!) don't put it back on, by day 3, the child will be using the potty flawlessly. My creative version of her description of events:
Day 1: Child poops and pees all over himself and your house. Some items are salvageable, and vegetation should be able to grow again in 75 years. Psychotherapy during the evening suggested.
Day 2: Child starts to get annoyed with the constant presence of pee and poop on his butt, legs, feet, toys, and anything else unfortunate enough to exist within a 3-foot radius of his privates. Amid the resulting fits of frustration, toys are thrown, food is flung, and most breakable kitchen items meet their demise. First voluntary flirtations with the potty provide glimpses of hope. Presence of an anger management counselor strongly recommended, as is consumption of at least one strong alcoholic beverage once child is in bed.
Day 3: Tired of living in a constant flow of his own waste, the child makes regular runs to the potty, where he steadily adjusts to a new paradigm. Sure, lots of pee and poop misses the target during the trial-and-error portion of the proceedings, but hey, at least you're not changing diapers! By the end of the day, the child not only has mastered the potty, he's also cleaning his own room, washing and folding his own laundry, and even volunteering for some light vacuuming duty. The son shines through the roof, creating an other-worldly glow throughout the house, mom dances around the living room in a free-flowing nightgown, showering the room with handfuls of flower petals, and a leprechaun arrives with a pot of gold.
Of course, at this point in the "conversation," I'm no longer registering anything the woman is describing, mostly because what little piece of me isn't trying to gracefully monitor Max while at least looking like I'm vaguely interested is busy visualizing shooting her with an elephant dart.
I guess the moral of the story is, have a child at your own risk, because there's a whole world of parents out there who will be drawn to you like moths to a flame, but sadly, unlike the flame, you can't cause them to spontaneously burn alive.
Thankfully, I returned home, happily changed Max's diaper, and promised myself that he will never, ever play with another child in our home because that would mean I have to interact with a mom, and clearly I can't have any of that.