There is a time when you pick up your child (somewhere between zero to six months) and think that you could gaze at it forever and nothing else matters. That feeling—and that foolish rush of hormones—quickly passes. Somewhere along, you realise that you and the child cannot really entertain each other without getting on each other’s nerves. You need company. Friends. And if you, like me, haven’t married your neighbour or are a decade too late in ‘settling down’, you need new friends.
Location is key. Any friend who is not around is no good, even if she makes the best dips or can tell the best stories. My BFF, childhood friends, in-case-of-breakup-friends, hostel friends, work friends, the friends I made when I was on the prowl—had all been packed off to different corners of the universe. So there I was, all alone, with a child, faced with the ordeal of making new friends. Slim pickings attained a new meaning.
Enter the mommy date.
Mommy dates are actually play-dates in disguise. You make it about the child, because it’s legit. But what you are really interested in, is the mother. Will you click, will there be laughs, conversation, wit, sharing, food, travel, sleepovers?
So you put yourself out in the market as someone who is dateable. You lurk. In schools. Parks. Book stores. Libraries. Twitter. Facebook. Luckily for me, Re is enough of an arm candy. But that puts additional pressure. I have to be nice.
Finding everything that you want in one mommy is as hard as finding all you want in one man. The only difference is, when you come close in the latter, you end up marrying the guy. Here, you can date forever.
Some mothers you have instant chemistry with. One has a sense of humor. One makes cupcakes. One knows the best deals. One can cook. One can paint. One is good with animals.
Since I am a romantic, I don’t believe in playing hard to get. I invite them home, plan lunches and tea around them, bake cookies for their kids. I make the move.
It takes work. It takes heart. It takes the ordinary. The extraordinary has issues. The ordinary listens. The ordinary has empathy.
Like conventional dating, there are a few ground rules:
First you have to like her.
Then your child has to like her child.
If it goes to the next level, well, the husbands have to like each other.
Men have it easier. They don’t have to go through the prowling, the small-talk, the scanning, the short-listing. They enter the game once the groundwork is done. It’s almost like, “Here is a child and parents I’d like you to like. Now you better!” No wonder they go through it with a strange sense of passivity, unless they really click with the other daddy (or mommy) and want to make them endless rounds of margaritas. Mine has his favourites, and thankfully, things are still going steady and our margarita pitcher always runneth over.
But unlike a bad date with a guy, a bad mommy date is worse. Especially if there was hitting or throwing up involved. But the tricky part is that even if the date turns sour, she or her child will continue to be in your universe. There are just so many parks and public spaces and schools.
I am no serial mommyniser, but just for clarity, I decided to list down my type:
1. Moms who are curious. About people, things, food, me. (There is a thin line between curious and gnawing.)
2. Moms who like food. Who know food. Who eat food. Who serve good food.
3. Moms who are low maintenance are particularly valuable (read that as those whose kids will eat anything and sleep anywhere)
4. Moms who have no trouble asking ‘What’s in it for me?”
5. And lastly I like moms who are spontaneous. Who don’t have to consult charts or tea-leaves before confirming a beach-date or a weekend getaway.
I have learnt the following from the rules of the mommy-dating game:
1. If she likes you, she will invest in you. Time, food, toys, books, babysitting, pet sitting, alcohol.
2. If she doesn’t call you back, someone else will.
3. If she loves you more than you love her, it’s good for you and your child.
4. Interesting mommies don’t always have kind kids and vice versa. It’s a chance you take.
5. “Let’s do a play date” is the new “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
6. “Come over anytime” doesn’t mean a thing.
Things happen. You get stood up. You get served bad food. You host and don’t get hosted back. You are bored and want to leave but can’t, because the children are doing fine. There will be times when you are at a loose end. When there will be no plan B. But one thing I have learnt to accept is that in mommyhood, as in dating, chemistry is overrated. Ultimately the mommy (or the man) to keep is the one that is willing to do the work.
(This post first appeared as my column in the Indian Express Sunday Eye on 6th January 2013)