Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Brave New World of Parent-Free Activities

Last year around this time, we were invited to a birthday party for a boy who was turning 5 (while Gwen had not quite turned 4).  We were the first to arrive at the house, and when the next child arrived, her mom gave her a hug at the door, instructed her to be good, and left.  Same with the next kid.  As I watched all this from the easy chair where I’d plunked myself, I suddenly realized I was in a brand new world.  I also felt super awkward.  Was I supposed to just drop Gwen off and leave?  I wasn't sure Gwen was ready for that. Heck, I wasn't sure I was ready for that.  And she’d never been to this kid’s house before, and the parents probably wouldn't know what they were getting into with her particular brand of exuberance, and … Just as I was pondering all this, another kid showed up, and his mom stayed.  And this happened again with the next kid.  Whew, okay, parents are welcome to stay or go.  Okay!  I can handle this.

But the dilemma soon flipped itself around in my head.  Gwen’s birthday party was coming up.  How could I indicate to parents that no, I am not ready to handle 12 4-year-olds on my own, please to be staying and looking after your kid for the duration of the party?  I don’t remember how much I actually stressed out about this, but knowing me I am betting: Lots.  And in the end, every parent stayed, and I don’t think I put anything specific on the invitation.  They all just knew.

I continue to be the odd one out, the person who can’t quite read between the lines to determine whether or not I’m meant to remain by Gwen’s side at these events.  In the fall, we invited a friend over for a playdate and I kind of did a double-take when her mom kissed her goodbye, told her to be good, and then asked me what time she should come back to pick her up.  Up until then, “playdate” meant that the kids played together while the moms hung out on the couch and visited.  Ever slow on the uptake, I hadn't clued in that kids in the 4.5 – 6 year range don’t really need their moms hanging around cramping their playdate style.  Since breaking the seal on this exciting new way to socialize, we have had plenty of parent-free playdates at our house, and Gwen has enjoyed some solo playdates at her friends’ homes too.  And it’s all fine, always.  In fact, it’s great: being able to “swap” kids in this way has allowed my friends and I to have some kid-free time and accomplish lots of things that just wouldn't happen otherwise.

In general, I just assume that if Gwen is invited somewhere, I’m meant to be there too.  But more and more, this isn't the case.  I brought her to a drama practice at our church last weekend, where the kids were practicing for the upcoming talent show.  Right away, the Sunday School teacher told me I was free to leave, or free to stay, if I chose.  It makes sense, doesn't it – Gwen will be in kindergarten soon, and experiencing a vastly different adult:child ratio from what she is used to in preschool – 1:20 instead of 1:4.  She is old enough not to need me mediating every experience for her.  She is old enough for me to kiss her at the door, tell her to be good, and promise to be back in an hour.  It’s just so STRANGE for me to adjust to!

A few days ago, Gwen and I decided to open all of her craft storage drawers to see what is in each one, and then write labels for the outsides of the drawers.  “That way,” I told her, “if you say, ‘I want to use my stickers,’ I can read the labels on the drawers and tell you which drawer has the stickers in it, instead of opening each one to find them.” 

“What a GREAT idea, Mom!” she enthused.  “And maybe someday, if I get big and learn to read, then I won’t need you at all!”

True enough, my girl.  And that day is coming closer all the time.


Tricia Vollmer said...

I dunno Laura, that picture doesn't look like a child I'D want to leave anywhere on her own. Look at that Mischevious smile!!!

All kidding aside, I can totally relate to the weird feelings you're going through. The weirdest was at a bowling party and we left him alone at the alley with the party! Scary stuff. But I came back and he was still there, he was actually quite subdued and I was amazed at my big little boy...

Yay us for exploring this new world :)

Amberism said...

Wait until Kindergarten and playdates at kid's houses of people you don't know, and homes you've never been in. It's PAINFUL. And fine. But hard.


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