I ran into a friend-in-law (can’t think of a better term for the OPU’s friends) the other day, post an afternoon at the museum with the child, just when we were attacking our fennel infusion pasta (me) and chocolate milkshake (Re) at a neighbouring cafe.
After the first enthusiastic greeting, our conversation went something like this: “Where are you? You are never to be seen! Why didn’t you come to Wild Wednesdays?” (something in between wonder and cynicism in her voice)
“Well, I have given partying rights to the husband. And in any case, I am not into wild nights anymore; I just don’t have the temperament for it.” (Need I add that the aforementioned party required you to come dressed as your favourite animal?)
“Oh, maybe we should organise a brunch for you,” she said, in the manner of someone offering a consolation prize.
She didn’t realise that I had already left the conversation.
I know what you are thinking. What’s the big deal about having a night-life post children? A “real” social-life, hanging out with randoms at places where you can barely be seen, forget heard? Where you are saying “Awesome!” to all and sundry, while holding drinks that could buy you dinner somewhere?
Oh, come on, you can do it, you might say. What are nannies, night crèches, parents, friends for? Yes, I know I am missing out on a lot of scintillating conversations and company. But you don’t know what I’m thinking. I’m thinking, “This is my chance to trim the extraneous matter from my life. I am so going for it.”
Perhaps, this is one of the fringe benefits of having a child. You trim down. You cut out the riff-raff. You find it easier to say no. You become selective about who you spend your time with and how. You realise that the friends who invite you home and the ones who come over to see you are the ones you want to keep. (The ones who cook for you become topmost in the hierarchy).
You begin to strike off the ones who say, “Let’s catch up” (and never mean it) from your list. Or the ones who send a bulk SMS for their birthday bash, which is a paid-for, food-deficient, alcohol-fuelled event, chiefly populated by 30-somethings who always keep their sunglasses on. No, I am so not missing all of that. Having a baby gave me a legitimate reason to not see the people I didn’t enjoy seeing. It would have been rude to tell them, “You are so shallow and boring; I really don’t enjoy your company.” However, “I have a baby at home” sounds good and grants you immunity.
So my social life is currently a movie with friends I want to catch up with, friends I have over and friends who will have me over, parks and theatres and play-dates and, of course, weekend breakfasts and lunches with the OPU and child. On some such outings to manicured fine dining places (the OPU doesn’t do basic), the child collects all the cutlery from the table and the neighbouring ones and opens a stall. Sometimes, he wants to try a headstand. Sometimes, he wants to pretend we are trees and climb us. Or pretend that he is a lion and we are “his people”. Sometimes, he just wants to take his animal entourage (all 16 rubber toys) to lunch. With a child, every outing is an expedition, every routine, an adventure.
Most of the times, we get beaming looks (“You made that?”), sometimes we get the “This too shall pass” nod, at other times we get the “Poor you!” look and very rarely do we get the WTF look. The funny thing is, the ones giving the look are more often parents of older children. The been there, done that kind. Clearly, they have short term memory, because they have forgotten what it was like. But that’s the thing about children. You always forget the bad parts.
Yes, children in public spaces can be a bit overbearing at times. But not as much as adults who go around pouring glasses of wine on an ex-lover’s head. Or slapping random people at parties. Or shooting someone because they weren’t served alcohol. Why is the focus always on well-behaved children? Why is there not an equivalent demand for well-behaved adults? Why is it that every time a child cries in an airline, everyone turns to look around like it’s the most abominable thing ever, but if an adult is a nuisance on his mobile phone or asks the stewardess for one drink too many, no one bats an eyelid?
The thing is, children are meant to be seen and not heard. So a baby came and peekabooed you? Not on! But an adult dropped wine on you? He was just having a bad day.
(This post initially appeared as my column in Indian Express EYE on Sunday, June 10th 2012)