Loneliness and boredom work tirelessly as the joint heads of business development at Match.com. After Viv’s first birthday, a perfect storm blew the undesirable pair back into my life.
At around the twelve-month mark, Viv’s feedings went from consuming (pun intended) an hour each to flying by in less than fifteen minutes, and her doctors’ appointments dwindled, hallelujah. Then, like most one year-olds, Viv jettisoned napping twice a day (for about three and a half hours of total daytime slumber) in favor of taking one nap lasting only somewhere from thirty minutes to two hours. That same week Ian obtained a new, more exciting role at work that not only usually prevents him from making it home for dinner, bath, and bed times, but also often keeps him so late that he’d have trouble committing to a midnight snack rendezvous. It felt like my manager eliminated a good chunk of my duties, cut my break time by at least half, and extended my shift by hours without giving me any new exciting assignment to fill my time, or even just an office mate capable of gossiping or waxing philosophic (she’s not waxing at all yet, at least not in English).
Not helping matters was a serious dearth of adult companionship. Most of my Seattle friends are (1) members of the workforce, available only on weekends when I jealously hoard our time for Ian; or (2) other tube moms, largely inaccessible in person thanks to their high-maintenance kids and suburban location (the latter also dooms efforts to connect with my one stay-at-home dad friend much of the time). Then there’s Kate, the mommy friend gold standard with whom I connected at the biweekly new mom support group I managed to attend only four times during Viv’s dark ages. I first developed a crush on Kate when she responded as follows to her three-month old daughter Mabel’s inadvertent brushing of V’s knee: “I’m going to have to have the ‘not everyone is aware of their sexual preference as early as you’ talk with her.” With an acerbic wit, penchant for self-deprecation that only showcases her talents, irreverence-plated heart of gold, and ability to make just about anything a little bit funny, she reminds me of my dear friend Monica. Unfortunately, our weekly play date actually occurred about as reliably as the Nationals (née Expos) bring home the pennant thanks to Viv’s health issues, Kate’s part time work as a prosecutor (“I just got slammed with work . . . . Stupid criminal pervs.”), Mabel’s bout of viral pneumonia, Kate’s simultaneous spraining of her ankle and purchase of a “cursed” house (“I’m about one more catastrophe from digging in my basement ala Amityville Horror to find the freakin’ Native American burial ground we are tromping on.”), and several months lost in the one-nap baby/two-nap baby Bermuda triangle (each only awakes when the other is sleeping). For all intents and purposes, Kate is the one who got away.
I tried to make new stay-at-home mom friends during Viv’s first year but had little success. I figured mommy friendship would come easy, but as my brother-in-law theorized, finding parent buddies turns out to be uniquely difficult since on top of all one’s standard criteria, a somewhat similar child-rearing ethos is required lest annoyance eliminate enjoyment. As my experience with Kate demonstrates, even once one identifies a comrade in arms (the hugging kind), the complication of scheduling for four – at least two of whom can’t be reasoned with – often intervenes.
Thus seeing nary a play date on the horizon, I embraced the fact that my relationship with scheduling mirrors a toddler’s dependence on his lovey (possibly unhealthy, but more liberating than restrictive and certainly comforting) and did my best to whip together a routine from the ingredients at hand: Aquarium, Library, Soundbridge, Aquarium, Library, Soundbridge, Aquarium, Library, Soundbridge. Staring at the same pile of entwined snoozing river otters for the fourth time in one week, I finally acknowledged the (figurative) elephants in the room. Boredom and loneliness had swooped in and made fast friends with both long-term resident exhaustion, and frustration, a visitor as frequently and suddenly present as a sitcom neighbor.
After a week of gritting my teeth and clinging to my sparse activity lineup like a door floating in the wreckage of the Titanic (which, by the way, I truly think would have supported the weight of both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet if they’d made a proper effort to counterbalance each other), followed by a meltdown on the way home from the biannual company social event and a long warm bath drawn by the individual drenched in the emotional shrapnel of the post-picnic explosion, I decided to get proactive.
My initial plan: sign up for all the mommy-and-me classes within walking distance of our apartment. I scoured the web and inquired at local businesses, but my flawlessly executed strategy resulted in a depressing total enrollment of zero after a week’s effort. All the classes one fantasizes about when first allowing the twinkle of unborn babies to blossom in her eyes take place in the suburbs. The downtown yoga studios, dance halls, language centers, and even the YMCA are bereft of children’s programming, presumably because the core of the city can’t muster a critical mass of families. Oh how I miss you, Manhattan.
During week two of the search and rescue mission for my sanity, a.k.a. operation “locate new activities involving animate, non-aquatic friends,” I got desperate and aggressive. Like many of the aggresperate, I trolled the internet, increased my investment, and lowered barriers to entry.
I struck gold with Meetup.com, a website designed to connect individuals with similar interests who live in the same area but otherwise likely would never meet (e.g., “Puget Sound Active Jewish Singles”). I joined “Seattle Stay at Home Moms” and “Seattle Urban Adventures Playgroup,” among others. While a lot of the groups schedule the vast bulk of their events in the inaccessible-to-us suburbs (surprise, surprise), “Downtown Play Space” alerted me to a church five blocks from our apartment that opens its amazingly well stocked playroom to the community for two hours every Wednesday morning. We go religiously (pun intended), and even scheduled a play date or two with other attendees. Progress.
The contentment produced by this recurring calendar entry and its spin-offs inspired a join-a-thon that created an inverse relationship between my happiness and our bank account balance. When E and I stumbled upon a playroom tucked into a corner of the Seattle Art Museum, I coughed up eighty dollars for an annual membership. After reading about the toddler area at the Children’s Museum, I doled out another fifty dollars. The Pacific Science Center currently seduces with its “Tropical Butterfly Greenhouse, Preschool All-Star Planetarium, Pacific Tide Pool, and Just for Tots! Play Area.” In an attempt to stop the financial hemorrhaging, I decided to weather the shame of frequently taking Viv to three nearby toy stores (four, if you count the toy aisle at Ross) just to “look.”
Finally, I mustered up the courage to give out my number (actually, my email; the dastardly duo of Verizon’s pricing structure and Viv’s hunger for attention render my phone almost entirely impotent) to any caretaker who seems remotely (1) sane, (2) intelligent, and (3) anal. If you’re picturing me cruising area kids’ spots and hitting on unsuspecting moms, you’re getting the right idea. I’ve already suffered a crushing rejection (“Sorry, we live in Brooklyn.”), experienced second thoughts about my new lowered standards (“Seriously,” Ian asked, “she only speaks Japanese?”), sensed that a potential paramomour could smell the desperation on me (the part-time psychiatrist hasn’t emailed yet), doubted my ability to discern even baseline compatibility thanks to an adorable accent that results in me giving everything a UK transplant mom says at least a forty percent bump on the amusement scale, and scored a first date with a very attractive candidate (a vet and former NYC resident who laughed at my jokes with just the right amount of gusto, made statements reflecting both actual opinions and an understanding of the rules of grammar, and clearly possessed an as yet intact strong will despite appearing at least a little fazed by motherhood – no one actually likes the mom who looks like she fed her child while simultaneously shooting a Cover Girl ad, executing a multi-million dollar contract, and baking for charity, after all).
Viv and I now enjoy standing engagements Monday through Thursday mornings, a rapidly filling afternoon dance card, and a repertoire of nine solo destinations to fill in the gaps. If I were single, now would be the time to cancel the Match.com membership and spend the extra cash on rounds of martinis at the latest hot spots.