One of the interesting…

One of the interesting things about having small children is that you stop having friends.

I mean, not really. Once you get past the brutal period of interrupted sleep (which for some people takes only three months, and for us took nine months for each child, and which for everyone continues, off and on, for years afterwards), there comes a point where you think you could stand to socialize a little. And so you sneak a little time, when you can, to see a friend. When the kids are very wee, you may even be able to bring them along, have them sleep on your chest, and have real conversations with your friend. That's quite lovely.

But as the children get bigger, they learn to talk. And they want to talk with you. And even when they're not talking, they're needing things, sometimes every five minutes. Food, a kiss on a boo-boo, a drink, a tissue, a companion for the potty, a reassuring snuggle, a change of clothes. Which means that the process of having dinner with a friend, with small child in tow, becomes a series of fragmentary, interrupted conversations, and you are lucky to be able to remember what you were trying to say from one minute to the next.

If your friend has a child too, that's great in some ways, because you don't feel quite so apologetic about it all. On the other hand, every additional small child multiplies the effect. The higher the ratio of small children to adults, the more fragmentary the conversation becomes, until it reaches a point of near incomprehensibility, and you wonder why you ever thought you could have friends at all. Why won't the children let us have nice things?

But here's my theory. My theory is that when your children are small, dinners with your friends aren't actually about having coherent conversations. They're relationship maintenance. They're about offering support, and sympathy, and an occasional piece of advice, and maybe, if you're lucky, learning some tiny thing about what's happened to your friend in the six months since you managed to see them last. But mostly, those dinners are relationship place markers. They're you, saying to your friend something like this:

"I still like you, really I do, and someday, when these wee creatures are not quite so wee, hopefully we can interact like adults again. In the meantime, let us at least wave hello, as we two not-quite-foundering ships pass in a weary night. The lights on your prow cast a gentle glow; after seeing you, the night seems not quite so dark. And even though I am even more tired at the end of the night than I was at the beginning, I will cling to the promise this night carries with it. That someday, we will have an actual conversation again. In the meantime, this is still friendship, and it is still worthwhile."

2 thoughts on “One of the interesting…”

  1. When I had a small child, I lived in apartment complexes and met lots of neighbors at the complex playgrounds. Some of these neighbors became friends over the years. I doubt I would have met them at all had it not been for having small children in the same place at the same time.

  2. I agree with David but with us it went a bit farther. When our youngest was a toddler we lived in a high-rise building in Detroit. We hooked up with a single mother whose daughter was the same age as our son. We both fell in love with her and while neither of us ended up sleeping with her we each found another couple of other lovers in her circle of friends. We have stayed in touch with most of the gang and recently visited her in New Mexico.

    Candidly, if you are raising small children, who are you going to find to sleep with if not the parents of their playmates? There just isn�t a lot of time to meet other people.

    With all of love,

    C. J. Czelling

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