It starts with a phone call or a paper invitation sent home in a school backpack. The birthday party. Some small child in your own progeny's class has decided that your kid needs to be at their birthday party.
And it's good. Who doesn't love knowing their kid isn't a social pariah?
I sometimes wonder if maybe I'm a bad parent because I don't immediately wonder if the parents of these children are derelicts or Satan-worshippers or sociopaths. You want to take my kid for 3-4 hours and feed them sweets and pizza? Is it bad that I'm totally okay with that?
Whether one is prone to excessive paranoia or not, etiquette and basic safety rules dictate that you meet the adults to whom you will be entrusting the life of your little one.
There is little in the world to make a parent feel more inadequate than the prospect of meeting another child's parents.
I'm lucky in that I have a few close friends who are in similar situations as myself and have kids in my girls' age cohort. But meeting parents outside of my social circle.. it's harrowing. You may have been there, yourself.
It starts with a phone call. An invitation. A time and an address.
Dropping your child off at the address provided and realizing it's in a rather posh area of town. These parents, they aren't renting an apartment in that sprawling century home. They live in, and may even own the whole thing.
As you're invited to come in, suddenly you become hyper aware of your own tiny dwelling, and even though you're not there, you feel a little ashamed of the dust in the corners and the old futon on the front porch and the dirt and gravel driveway, as though each dust bunny, each unmade bed, each fingerprint is written on your face. Walking into an immaculate kitchen, you think of the unwashed dishes in your own sink.
Was her coat that dirty when we left? you wonder as you try to casually run your fingers through your child's hair, using a seemingly-affectionate gesture to hide the fact that you're really just trying to get it to look neat as suddenly it seems impossibly messy. And in need of a trim. You find yourself wishing you had some scissors.
You see the fridge with the professional portraits of each child taped neatly to the door and think of your own fridge, with pictures of your kids from five years ago and a number of magnets with off-color jokes and advertisements for fast-food restaurants.
You make idle chit chat with this parent who is the same age as you, looks five years younger, but seems so much older, so much more put together, so much more... grown-up and you take off your hat and realize.. holy shit, I'm standing here talking to this totally-put-together parent who is making fruit smoothies for her kids SNACK - meanwhile your kids had a handful of goldfish crackers in the car - and I have pink hair. Pink fucking hair. What am I, 15?
Feeling ridiculously uncomfortable, you just thank Gord that your Shut Your Whore Mouth or equally inappropriate T-Shirt was in the laundry today. Standing there in your coat, you wonder when you should excuse yourself.. too short, and you might appear rude.. overstay and you might appear.. well... still rude, not to mention over-protective. This is part is especially fun for the socially inept like myself.
You find yourself comforted when you realize that Ms. Other Mom is talking a mile a minute and it dawns on you that perhaps, just maybe, they are just as intimidated meeting you. After all, you're entrusting your child's well-being to them.
Maybe one day I'll get over the nerve-wracking experience of meeting other parents. More likely is that I'll be that parent who has a near-coronary when one of the girls wants to introduce me to the parents of their significant other. Such is life.