Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Party is such sweet sorrow (Babble)

When I was growing up we used to take these whirlwind family vacations to the East coast.  My parents are self-employed which meant time off to travel was rare, so when they decided to close the gallery for a couple of weeks every few years we would cram into the car and see as much as we could in the time we had.  We went to Washington D.C., New York, Boston,  Rhode Island, Connecticut….  Every place we went we would go to museums and galleries, historic homes, college campuses and bookstores.  We had fun and it was all interesting, but my brothers and I used to complain that we always ended up doing just what my parents wanted to do, and we never got to pick. 

So one bright morning in the middle of a vacation mom and dad said, “Okay, you can decide today.  What shall we do?”  My brothers and I looked at each other and thought for a bit, and finally we said weakly, “Well, I’m sure there’s a museum around, and I think I saw a bookstore….”  The truth is we didn’t know how to pick what to do.  We only knew one way to do things, so even given a choice there was no choice to make.

That’s kind of how I feel now with my kids.  I’m used to having at least one of them around all the time and that’s the way I do things.  I don’t get out alone much, and when I do it’s for a scheduled purpose, such as a rehearsal or a concert.  I know I probably should make time to be alone, but when I contemplate an evening away from my kids I draw a blank about what I would do with it.  I’m so out of practice with the concept that I don’t even know what the choices are.  It’s especially weird since most of what I would want to do is at home, and finding a sitter who can take the kids away but leave me here is awkward.  I feel like if I’m home it doesn’t make sense that the kids aren’t here too.

So when my friend Carol told me she was having a party I automatically asked if I could bring the kids along.  She said she had envisioned a more adult affair, and that I should see it as a good chance to get out for a change.  She even found me a place nearby that was having a babysitting fundraiser event on the same night, so there were no excuses.  I was going to a party.

I’m not good at parties.  I adore my friend and definitely wanted to go, but I don’t drink and I’m a geek which always makes me worry about fitting in.  I don’t have a problem with this–it’s not a flaw and I’m fine with who I am for the most part, even if who I am means being uneasy at parties.  I don’t need to learn to like parties more.  I get by okay, because I can talk to almost anyone and when I have the energy for it I can be amusing (so I’m told), but it doesn’t help that parties are the kind of event where I intensely notice my husband’s absence. 

It’s hard to go to a party alone, even when everyone there is nice and you know some of them already.  When you come with a partner there is a default in place for when you don’t know where to stand or what to do.  It’s like home base in tag–there’s a safe spot to retreat to and catch your breath.  Plus my favorite part of a party is always that period after it’s over, when you can talk about it and compare notes.  I especially like it if we host a party, and as Ian and I clean up together we talk about how it went.  Some of my favorite memories are of the two of us washing and drying the dishes as a team, chatting about what went right and what we’d do differently next time, who was funny, who surprised us, me assuring him his sense of humor wasn’t too odd and him assuring me I didn’t talk too much.  Leaving a party alone has an unfinished quality to it.

So tonight you get to play Ian’s role in this one-sided post-party chat.  Here’s how my evening went:

I don’t know why leaving the house always has to have a Keystone Cops quality to it, but we can never just go in a timely and calm fashion.  Mona is the most reliable of the bunch in terms of actually following simple directions, which means sometimes when I tell the kids to use the bathroom and put on shoes, Mona ends up buckled in the car before Aden’s even dressed.  (I’m not exaggerating.)  But there is always some scrambling over coats and snow pants and gloves and hats that is frustrating, some kind of discussion about what toys they can or cannot bring, and no one ever remembers where we are going. 

Anyway, Aden and Mona both got into the van while I struggled to put a coat on a sound asleep Quinn lying on the family room floor.  About a minute before I was ready to leave (and about five minutes after we should have left), Aden came rushing into the house yelling frantically that Mona had spilled water everywhere.  I don’t know why there was that much water waiting to be spilled in the backseat of the van, or why they couldn’t figure out on their own that Mona should come in and change, but I told Aden to please go out and ask Mona to come in and find new clothes.  Mona clomped upstairs a minute later, jeans soaked, coat wet….  She found a new outfit, twirled in it for me, and got back in the van.  Quinn was sleepy and cranky, and I nearly forgot to grab all the cream puffs I’d baked for the party, but we were finally on our way.

But to where?  The babysitting fundraiser place was in a facility I’d never been to before.  I had an address, but my sense of direction is a strange and magical place where anything can happen.  Apparently even an inexplicable drive out to the airport.  I finally dug out the GPS and while I was fiddling with it and looking at the time, I reminded myself that I couldn’t really be late because none of it mattered.  This was supposed to be fun, and getting stressed about fun is stupid.  Carol would be happy to see me whenever I got there, the babysitters wouldn’t care as long as they got their money.  So I didn’t get agitated about being lost, which is good because it was better to laugh when it turned out the place I was trying to find was only a few blocks from my kids’ school.  From the backseat Aden said, “Why have we been driving so long and now we’re almost back home?”  Excellent question.  We chalked it up to one of those things that happens when her dad isn’t here.

The babysitting fundraiser was kind of cool.  Lots of people and activities and snacks and a movie.  There was a ball pit and lots of games.  The girls vanished into the herd of kids immediately and didn’t look back.  Quinn…Well, Quinn fell to pieces.  He clung to me for dear life, turned away from anyone who tried to help, and wept.  This is another one of those areas where deployment makes things more complicated.  In a normal circumstance I would probably be inclined to say, “Hey, he’ll get over it as soon as I leave.  We both need to toughen up.”  But this is not normal.  Daddy went away and now he’s just some guy we talk about.  I have no idea how deep Quinn’s fear of my leaving goes.  Maybe this is run of the mill separation anxiety, and maybe it’s something more traumatic, but I don’t know, and it makes it hard to decide what to do.  I know to other parents it looks like I’m being too indulgent sometimes, but I’m just trying to be sensitive to what might be a bigger problem.  In some cases the regular parenting techniques might prove to be cruel, but again, I don’t know.

So I walked about with Quinn glued to me as long as I could and I finally had to just peel him off, hand him to another mom, and listen to him scream as I walked away.  I burst into tears before I even got out of the building.  I sat shaking in the car for a bit before setting the GPS for the party (because it was close but I didn’t want to risk seeing the airport again).

The party itself was really nice.  It was a tropical theme, which in Milwaukee during winter is particularly welcome.  The food was abundant and tasty, and I met some interesting people and ran into a few friends.  I had volunteered to make something sweet (and no, cream puffs are not tropical, but who turns down cream puffs?), and one of the best parts of my night was when I went to see what else was on the dessert table and a couple of guys sitting near it kept pointing me toward my own cream puffs saying, “You have to try these, they’re really really good.”

It was pleasant, but the moment when I felt most comfortable?  When Carol’s youngest daughter who is Aden’s age came up to ask if she could take my picture.  I said yes, but only if she was in it with me.  I was much happier sitting with Carol’s kids at the back of the room than I had been anywhere else.  Proabably because I don’t know how to choose not to be around kids.  It’s what I know, it’s where I fit right now.  (Plus she’s got super great kids.)

(Me and Anna, photo taken by Sara Kraco)

I was tired, and decided I’d done as much of a party as I felt up to.  I missed Ian.  I missed my own kids.  I think I hit the time limit someone who doesn’t drink can do at a party where other people have glasses of wine in their hands.  Carol gave me some colorful pinwheels to take back to my children and I headed out with about an hour to use up before having to get the kids out of hock.  What to do with it?  Should I go home?  That sounded lonely.  I chose Target.

It’s nice to shop without having to chant an endless litany of, “No.  No.  Put it back.  No.  Did you hear me say no?  Maybe later.  No.  Put it down.  I don’t care, put it down.  No.  No.  No.  I love you, but no.”  I picked up a few things we needed, like paper towels and shampoo.  And then I thought, “Hey, it’s my fun party night out–I’m going to treat myself to something nice!”  My husband, if he’s reading this, is already thinking (correctly) “Good lord, we own another flashlight.”

I don’t know why a nice flashlight puts me in a good mood, but it just does.  I like one with some nice heft, a good grippy grip, and a button with a satisfying click.  I have no explanation for why I enjoy buying flashlights, but it works in my favor a little that my kids are always absconding with them and running the batteries down and breaking them.  I like to have one in my nightstand and one on the refrigerator in case of blackouts, but especially since we hung a mirror ball in the kitchen and the kids use those to light that up, I can never find either one of them.  So I found myself a nice new flashlight for on top of the fridge.  I put the batteries in it in the car and clicked it on and off happily a dozen times before it was time to go get the kids.

The girls didn’t want to leave they’d had so much fun, and Quinn had eventually calmed down enough to hang out with one particular mom.  The mom kept saying to me, “My goodness he’s smart,” and couldn’t get over how much detail he was able to bring to his descriptions.  Between that and the big happy hug I got from my cutie boy it was the complete antidote to the upsetting dropoff earlier.

A weird emotional mix of an evening, but it’s a start.  I need for all our sakes to get out alone a little more often where it’s not for work or errands.  I signed the kids up for the next babysitting event at the same facility in a couple of weeks.  Quinn promised not to freak out next time, and I’ll try to find something quiet to do by myself.  I have no idea what, but at least I’ll have a nice flashlight to do it with.

No comments:

Post a Comment