Ah, that was nice.
It definitely is easier to get to know people when the conversation isn't fragmented into bits too small to get past a grammar checker. Kids seem to know when your attention is aimed at anyone but them, and like a cat, will place themselves between you and the item to which you are attending. (Hence the fact that they have an urgent question whenever you pick up the phone and it is someone you want to talk to, but seldom leap in to interrupt when it is a sales call.)
It was nice to have the opportunity to pay attention to other adults, more so because they were interesting, intelligent, funny, engaging, real people.
My mom, ever aware of finances and everything else to do with our lives (too aware this week for my taste), asked if the trip was worth the expense - two hours each way in the car, that's an expensive dinner out even without counting the cost of the meal.
It definitely was worth the expense.
But I had a hard time explaining why. I'm glad I went, and still feel that baseline hum of pleasure coming off it, and still struggle to express quite what it was that made it so good.
It seems to be an accumulation of small things, but that aren't scattered bits or kind of an assorted lumpy amalgam of things, but more a patchwork that comes together into a pleasing pattern, making a new whole in itself.
The small things included:
- feeling indulged - good food, and (gasp!) TWO alcoholic beverages. I usually split one with ep. But he was driving, and the margarita was really the best I've ever had. Lots of lime, probably a bit too much tequila (a hare down from that would have been perfect), only just sweet enough (not sticky), and, okay, more salt with a bigger crystal size would have been my preference. BUT, still the best, even if imperfect. Indulging in two was nice. The salmon was also just a hint rare in the middle, which is the way I prefer it. Mmmm.
- Interesting people to talk with - which means having two sets of conversation that were worth listening to, at the same time. I was sitting in the middle, so I ended up swinging back and forth between the conversations, wishing I could be in both at the same time. But as much as I felt that 'ooh, dang, wait, over here, now what did I miss over there?' sense, I'm an ENXP, which means distraction and flipping back and forth are basic to my nature, and so this was actually a good place to be. I still missed some of the conversation, but I got to dip into both ends. At the same time, there wasn't a boring topic all night. No lulls, no floundering for another topic, no trying to feel out where to go next.
- Which brings me to probably the core item - being with people with whom I have a good chunk of common ground (and better, knowing this before we started). Even if our details differ in the specifics, we all approach our parenting and the parenting of others with the assumption that we're doing the best we can (and that this is good, and the right path for our family), we're always working on it, and we're accepting of others also finding their own way through. We knew we didn't have to caveat anything about cosleeping or babywearing or nursing - we could just say it. And even if the other person wasn't cosleeping, or babywearing, or nursing, or hadn't, or struggled with it, we could expect that there was no judgment or rejection coming. There might be some shared unhappiness, the sorrow over struggles, sympathy or commiseration or empathy even for the experience we didn't have ourselves. But no rejection, no jabs or digs or attitude, no superiority. Just real people, working their way through the experience of life.
- Plus one very cute baby. Who happens to look a LOT like epeepunk did as a kid (only ep's black hair stood on end and looked a lot like someone stuck one of these to his head then put his finger in a light socket...) Same huge really dark brown eyes, same cheeks, same solid body and cute rolls of baby chub and ... yeah, adorableness. My littlest half-brother also looked very similar, and his son could pass as a close relative without trouble - same skin, same hair, same eyes, same soft, chubby please-nibble-me hands. Mmm. And I'm definitely not having any urge for another baby. It's always a bit reassuring to hold someone else's child and not feel my ovaries ache. Lovely, sweet, and while I'm willing to love another, I'd rather it be a grandchild. And for that, I can wait. (Hopefully a long time.) (Though my body did its usual trick and I woke up yesterday with the itchiness of letdown and some fullness... a hundred years ago, I'd have been a wetnurse...)
And all of that together still is still only the patches in the quilt. The whole evening was bounded and edged with a sense of commonality, community. We were stitched together with our Ask Moxie experience, maybe, or with the mutual backstories from so many posts there, or on other blogs. There was also a sense (hopefully shared) that if we didn't have babysitters to return to, if there weren't family and home and child to draw us back away, that the evening could have been one of those that just kept rolling until we ended up the next day torn between feeling like idiots wandering around in bleary misery and gladness that we knew we had drunk every ounce of the companionship available.
It is rare for me to find even one other parent in a random group that has that sense of 'I would hang out with this person.' To have dinner with a table full of them, three other couples who engage my brain, my interest, whose lives and families and choices interweave in patterns I'd enjoy following across time and into more depth... that was a true pleasure.
Perhaps it is a little silly developing friendships two hours away - especially as I already have a friend two hours away (in the same area, even - though our friendship is complicated and sometimes a bit stressful for both of us). We barely see the friends who are across town, yet here we are driving two hours to see new friends. Sigh.
That serves as a reminder to see what we can do to meet up more with the local friends, too - most of whom are quite comfortable with us and our parenting choices even if they're not happy about how much having four kids interferes with the local schedule of events... (we DO keep trying to move the Saturday morning riding lesson later, so we can do Friday night dance classes again, really!).
For me, finding mommy friends (any parent friends, really) is always a long dance with a lot of partners, trying to find the very few whose dancing meshes with my own. When the music changes, some of those fall away, too, and the search is on again for others. Over and over and over, we try out the intersection of me and thee. Most mesh well enough for one event or evening or occasion - the same school, the same circle, the same activity... but don't stick the way I'd like. In 10 years, I've had just four who stuck reasonably well. One moved back to the UK years ago, and we've not been good at keeping in touch (either of us) - life moved on. One moved to upstate NY a year and a bit ago, and we miss them terribly - Mr G found a true friend in their daughter, a kindred spirit, and talking about N makes him sad - we need to get him an email account to stay in touch with her. One is still local, busy and scrambling the way we are, but true friends, drop-everything-and-come-over, easy with cancellations and easy with unexpected opportunities as well. One started out before she had a child, but progressed rapidly. So, 10 years, and two that stuck, only one of those already in parenthood when we met.
I do have many friends from before parenthood who didn't wander off when we (or they) became parents - most are busy and active people like ourselves, and only a couple are local (admittedly, we moved south, and they moved north, but we're still in the same loop). It's always a trick, predicting how parenthood will shift a friendship (especially if there's a difference in start times, or one party does not take that path). So far, it hasn't been too difficult. It does feel odd sometimes, because we started sooner than the bulk of our peer group (we're older, too) - and we have more kids than most of them probably want. I try to dodge the assumptions I put on my own friends in the group who had kids before me, who I saw as experienced and successful - and who fortunately were quite good at telling me that I'd be fine doing it my own way, and needn't try to duplicate their way. Not as sure that I'm good at saying the same thing, though I feel it. All the people I know well are finding their own way through, floundering at times maybe, but the same ways and times that I think almost everyone does (read: 'fussy stage').
It's a long road, parenthood. Lots of turns, changes in direction, and a path we can only walk for ourselves. A labyrinth, like the healing journey I went on a couple decades ago (man, I'm old). Like walking a labyrinth, it has to be okay to accept the casual companion at one's side, the person who seems to be going the same direction for now, who may be ahead, behind, nearby or far away, but for this short time is side-by-side with me. Sometimes that short intersection of companionship brings me into longer intersections, long enough to recognize each other as parents discovering the same path, so that even when we're at a distance we may glance up and smile from across the pattern. And sometimes the connection is just a few paces long, before we each turn our own ways. They're all part of the process.
That's part of the Acceptant, Loving, Faithful process, I guess. Walk my path, allow others to walk theirs, allow the connection to be for as long as it is, welcome what it brings, let it go gently when the paths separate. Granted, that's a lot easier when things are going well than when I'm feeling lonely or when I'm really struggling with even staying on my own path.
No idea if the other parents feel the same about us - but that's a point of curiosity rather than need to know. We will or will not encounter each other again, and I will be happy if we do, and if we do not, I will be happy that we did even once (or twice, for some of them). At least from here, I can say that there's enough joy to be gained to spend a few minutes checking the calendar ahead, and keep an eye on Caramama's blog for the next meetup.