We flew down to LA this past weekend for a mini Ex-pats reunion. Our friends Barney and Robin served as hosts. I should say from the start, I really didn't like Robin the first time I met her. We ended up going shopping, and I had to watch her try on (yes, pose in front of a mirror) various $800-$1,000 purses; I wrote her off as a pretentious LA bitch. Yes over the years, I would come to learn that she is more down to earth. She was one of the first to whom I disclosed our fertility struggles, and she was surprisingly supportive. We bonded further when we were pregnant and new mothers together, often texting various questions or admitting when aspects are hard. However, outside of motherhood, we have very little in common.
Still, I was looking forward to getting together and meeting their daughter Little Myrtle (who has the same name as the other Little Myrtle and as Robin is again pregnant after another first attempt, so the nickname fits). Yet, I would learn that motherhood can unknowingly change the dynamics of your friendships, especially when it seems like your friends are mothering your kid. I have to acknowledge one rookie parent error; when we visit another kid's house, I have to ask their parents 'what are your house rules?' Where is food allowed? Shoes on or off? I get the no shoes rule, we do the same thing in my house, but are you allowed to walk one foot in the door before you remove the shoes, or do you have to take them off as you pass through the threshold? Also can you also appreciate that my daughter's shoes Velcro in the back so that she can't take them off herself before you scold her for not taking off her shoes? If she tries to climb up on the couch, is that allowed or is it considered 'climbing on furnature'?
I feel that I should have asked these questions, so that I could have done more to teach Kate about how we behave we were are a guest in someone else's house, and maybe I wouldn't have felt that I was walking of eggshells, so afraid I was going to get admonished for doing the wrong thing. But what really getting to me was the way she was interacting with Kate.
"Kate, do you know what colour this is?"
"Kate, can you sing a song?"
"Kate, [after she placed a sticker in the wrong spot of a sticker book] that sticker is improperly placed. Can you say 'improperly placed?'"
I should realise that she was just trying to engage her, but it was annoying the shit out of me. "She knows her colours." I informed Robin, while wanting to add; she's a bit overstimulated in a new environment, and you're a stranger, please don't expect her to perform. Of course, I interpreted her questions to Kate as an interrogation of my parenting skills, where she was checking in to see that Kate was learning appropriately.
At the same time, the visit did serve as a useful learning opportunity. Little Myrtle is about two and a half months older than Kate, which is a significant gap for their ages. Her speech is very progressive, she's speaking in small sentences. She can recognise letters and numbers very well. We probably should do more singing with Kate, although I think she does quite a bit at school, as she knew 'The Itsy-Bitsy Spider' and 'Wheels on the Bus' before Robin tried to take credit for "I got her to sing 'The Itsy-Bitsy Spider!'". We definitely need to work on manners, expecting her to say 'please' and 'thank you'. Maybe I just feel so resentful as I was able to make these observations myself without Robin pointing them out to me. Or rather, I feel that I didn't need her to tell these things to Kate, and make me feel like I'm not doing my job as a parent. In what ways are friends allowed to extend parenting to our kids?
I'm in such an unfamiliar territory; yet I also have to admit that I'm guilty of judging other people's parenting in the way I felt it was done to me. I went through the Denver Development check list with my cousin's sons to make sure they were meeting their milestones, and I actually got down on my hands and knees to show my cousin's nine month old son how to crawl. I've been silently critical of the ways Myrtle is raising her little Myrtle. At the same time, I was acknowledging our deficiencies during this trip, I was scoring the areas where we are ahead. Kate is physicially stronger. Kate is ahead in potty training. We use less screen time. We serve healthier foods. I lost my pregnancy weight (okay, that last one was just me being petty).
Why do we do this? Parenting is really hard. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are better at disclipine. Others are more creative at thinking up games and activities. No one is perfect. We're all really making it up as we go along, just trying to get from one day to the next. We're on the same team. But how do we work at teammates? How do you incorporate your friends who are parents with your kids?