Before I became a parent, I had a few relatively close friends who began starting families, and after the birth of their little ones, I never really saw them again. I tried calling periodically, and would offer up the same sort of date idea we used to do together, typically coffees or lunch dates. Usually the offer was rejected, and after a few attempts to stay connected, I got pissed and gave up.
I remember thinking, "What a**holes. Don't they give a sh*t about their friends anymore?" I mean, I understood they were busy, and of course family comes first, but I hardly ever saw them again. It seemed ridiculous.
A few years later, I had a child of my own, and while I make a concerted effort to schedule in time with friends, I'm sure there are some people out there who now think this about me. Possibly even some of my own family.
So, for the non-parents out there who think I've turned into an a**hole, here are my excuses.
1. The kid's schedule is more important than one would think. Turns out kids need to eat, drink, move, sleep and poop. Every damn day of the year. And, for the most part, it really DOES make a difference when and where these events occur. No parent wants to deal with a kid who is dehydrated, has low blood sugar, is exhausted or has sh*t his or her pants. I'm quite sure none of our friends want to deal with these scenarios, either. This means that the noon lunch dates, 4 p.m. coffee dates or dinners out at any time are really, really hard to swing. Yes, sometimes we can do it, but when we do, we are pushing it, so we tend to save up these moments for holidays, vacations or other special occasions. Even if it works out OK, and we/our kid make it look easy, it leaves us exhausted because it basically gives us a heart attack worrying about whether or not our selfish choice will result in having to calm our child who is screaming bloody murder and/or having to clean urine or feces off of a public bench or the seats of our minivan.
2. Kids put their parents on a schedule of their own. Parents usually blame schedules solely on their kids, but the truth is, we now have a schedule, too. Before the kids get up, we get ourselves ready for the day, empty the dishwasher, pack the lunches and enjoy 15 minutes of alone time with our cup of coffee. If we're feeling overly ambitious, waking up somewhere in the 4 a.m. time slot, we might get a workout or an hour of blog writing in before waking up the kids and getting them ready. Before we get to work, we're already several hours into our day. When the kids nap, we clean the kitchen or the bathroom or fold the laundry. Once the kids go to sleep, we may or may not get to any of the items on our to-do list, bills, home improvement projects, workouts, or any of the other things normal people do on a day-to-day basis (that are virtually impossible to do while the children are awake), before we basically collapse in a useless heap on the couch. Yes, we know it's only 8:30 p.m. And, yes, we're TOAST. If we do see you outside of our typical schedule, particularly in the evening hours, take it as a huge compliment. We're still getting up at the ungodly hour we always do the next morning, and are unable to make up that extra energy we are expending for the next 18 years or so.
3. We like hanging out with our kids. And if we work outside the home, we feel like our time with them is very limited. Going out to dinner could mean not seeing our kid all day; going away for the weekend could mean not seeing our child for 80 percent of the week (that we are not working and they are awake). Seemingly boring activities, like stacking cups, singing the ABCs, pushing a little one on a swing or even simply eating a meal with the kids, have turned into some of our favorite moments. Even if you see our kid act like a total a**hole, crying every five minutes or bouncing off the walls like a human pinball, at home there are more instances than you can imagine that result in us smiling the biggest smiles, laughing the loudest laughs or otherwise NOT being annoyed with our own offspring. This can be hard to imagine, I know.
4. "Just bring the kids" is an option. But it is one that sucks. Even though we thoroughly enjoy our time at home, we want to see you, too. We really do. Even so, we often decline invitations to your fun events, not because they don't sound like a blast in general, but because we know, for us, they just won't be fun. This is not because YOU aren't fun. You are a riot. (Do you hear us? We really do think this, even if we neglect to express this enough.) We just can't focus on you very well when we have to simultaneously keep an eye on our kids, making sure they don't choke, drown in a randomly placed vat of water or get a head injury bumping into the pointy corner of a table. We spend a lot more time and energy worrying about keeping our brood alive than you might imagine. A lot of times we host events you don't get invited to. Again, this isn't because YOU aren't fun -- it's because our events aren't fun, at least not for most adults. They are loud, obnoxious and strategically located where there are wide open spaces or playscapes that allow toddlers to run and bounce off padded surfaces, screaming like banshees, and allow us to leave the Xanax at home since we don't have to fear death by pointy edge.
5. Seemingly benign household chores suddenly seem to consume our lives. Things we used to think were nothing now seem to take over everything. Washing, drying, scrubbing, cooking. I still haven't figured out how one or two tiny little humans result in thirty-five times the number of dishes, laundry loads and crumbs on the floor, but they do. Chores that we used to be able to put off until we felt like doing them now Must. Be. Done. Immediately. If they wait, we fear our house might implode, much like a black hole, from the massive amount of grime and toys and dirty dishes concentrated in one place. To top it off, feeding and housing small children results in such an exponential increase in clutter and dirt (which we care about more now, since our kids are rolling around on the carpet all the time) that it is now unacceptable for our own sh*t to add to the mess, so there's the double whammy right there. Not only are we responsible for cleaning up after our offspring, we are now also being held responsible, if only by our own OCD, for cleaning up after ourselves.
6. Kids go to sleep pretty damn early. Which means we have to leave events even earlier, or we miss attending them altogether. It's easy to look at our kids and say, "Oh, they don't even look tired!" -- and you'd be right. That's why we're leaving NOW, before they have a total meltdown and lose their sh*t. We can preemptively sense these things, like some animals can sense earthquakes before they register on any seismograph.
7. Leisure time is so limited that we tend to spend it on ourselves (often by ourselves). Fitting in time to relax and engage in activities we enjoy can be so difficult that sometimes we think we are being a**holes to ourselves, for not spending enough time on our own. I'm not making this up. Getting a manicure or a haircut or a taking a trip to the gym requires creative scheduling, and everything else in our life to go according to plan -- our spouse's engagements, our kid's health, work obligations. A lot of our hobbies end up being things we can do at any hour of the day, on our own time, by ourselves: jogging, reading, writing or activities that can be done just as well at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. The demands of the social calendar scare us. If we're going to fit in time to actually see another human being, it's usually someone who can give us the most bang for our buck: a workout buddy or someone to chat with during a playdate, or, rarely, a meet-up with a pal who can completely de-stress us, who is totally on board with our entire excursion being completed within a 30- to 45-minute window. We do not have the time or energy for idle lingering.
8. Sometimes we just need to idly linger. OK, this might seem like I'm refuting my last point, but I'm really not. We're spending so much energy carrying, wiping, toting, cleaning, chasing after, listening to, reasoning with, teaching and doing, that sometimes we need to just sit, in a quiet space, for 10 or 30 or 120 minutes in a row, for our own sanity, and for the safety of those around us. There is no sleeping in or afternoon napping or resting on the weekend, so these moments are critical to help our bodies and minds recover and recharge for the remainder of our day or week. God help you if you infringe on the time we've allotted to revive ourselves. My friends might notice that I played Words with Friends at 10 p.m., but they shouldn't take that as a sign of me being capable of sustaining vigorous nighttime conversations or activities. I've probably been in my pajamas for hours, expending almost zero energy, using this time to replenish my life stores, an act of sloth equivalent in importance to the hibernation of bears in the winter.
Keep in mind we're not upset about these things; we are not complaining about our choice to raise our little ones. We are happy as clams, but we still do miss you and recognize we probably don't tell you this enough.
Basically, when it comes to friendships, parents of young children are forced to hunker down and encase themselves in a protective cocoon in order to preserve their energy, like some spore that can withstand the harshest of elements.
Don't give up on us -- we'll emerge and thrive again, once conditions are right. In the meantime, if you are not deterred, let us know if you want to come over at 7 a.m. for breakfast. That's when we are at our peak.