We get our first birthday party invite in Levi’s daycare cubby. We don’t really know the little girl, but the rule is that if you want to invite one kid from your child’s class, you need to invite the whole class. This is not a dilemma for us: We will never invite one kid from his class. Two introverts, we deliberate over whether or not to attend. “I just wish we knew who was going to see if we will know anyone,” my wife keeps saying.
“Honey, we don’t know anyone,” I keep reminding her.
Still, I think this might be a good way to meet other parents from Levi’s school, and so shyly, nervously we show up. We scan the large room filled with tumble mats, balance beams, bounce houses, and parachute cloth, looking for familiar faces. There aren’t (m)any. The mom of the birthday girl comes up to greet us and points to her husband. We wave and then settle in, alternately chasing our little guy around and watching in wonder as he parallel plays alongside his classmates.
At one point, they round up the kids for parachute cloth games—versions of “Row Row Row Your Boat” and “Wheels on the Bus.” I watch the children and primary colors pass by me, ‘round and ‘round, while trying to catch a quick video of the moving target that is my son. As I move my arm and observe the party through the screen, I suddenly become aware of the other parents. I note their wrinkle-free faces, tanned and taut skin, white teeth, lack of bags under their eyes. I take in their energy and realize suddenly that my wife and I are probably old enough to be the parents to some of these parents. I swallow deeply and let out a little breath. Is this why none of the parents walk and talk with me as we exit school after drop off each day? Is this why I am never one of the moms standing in the hall or parking lot chatting each morning? At the end of the day I squat near my son at the low-to-the-ground snack table and talk to him, while around me parents exchange tid-bits. They ask questions like: “Did you already travel to London?” “I go to my conference when Diane gets back.” “We should get together….” From my vantage point of looking up at all these young faces, I get it. Hanging out with my wife and I would be a bit like hanging out with your parents. And who wants to do that on the regular?
While being queer parents has seemingly been a non-issue, I start to feel like maybe the real gap between us and other parents is the rather hefty age difference. Or perhaps this is all in my head. It could also be my introversion coupled with my walk that’s nearly a run (I’m late for work, people!) that send the message to other parents: Don’t talk to me! On the other hand, age differences—even at the stage in life where we tend to group people by decade—can feel very real, especially when the age differential puts you in different decades! Despite it being increasingly common for people to have kids later in life, this tends to be defined as (early) in one’s 30s. Parents with the kind of grey hair and neck wrinkles that I have are still fairly difficult to come by.
This summer I met two moms on a local beach who are 46 with 3 year olds (and 5 year olds). I’ve been both inspired and comforted by this chance encounter everyday since. When school started this year, we ran into one of the moms at parent night! We chatted again and, to our surprise, discovered that our kids had been enrolled in the school the year before as well. We were unsure why our paths hadn’t crossed previously. In thinking about this, it seems to me that part of the reason I hadn’t noticed this other old(er) mom during the year prior is that she just doesn’t stick out as, well, any different than the moms in their 30s. And that too, comforts me, because maybe it’s the same for me. Maybe the red letter “O” (for old) that I feel adorns my chest while in a gathering of daycare parents, is only visible to me.