River Dad, Social Networking Through My Children

It wasn’t always this way. I had a very active social life once, with friends, hobbies, interests, etc. My wife and I would go out, spend too much on a nice dinner, meet new and interesting people at parties, visit friends, and in every other way expand our social circle.

But that was in a different epoch, back in the years 25-1 B.C. (Before Children)

Today, every single thing we do centers around our kids, ages 3 and 5. What happened to the independent, multi-faceted couple who could hop on down to J.P. Doyle’s at a moment’s notice for a burger, or take in Aimee Mann’s Christmas Show at the Music Hall without a care in the world? When did we get replaced by people with intimate knowledge of the pros and cons of every public playground within the Rivertowns?

Activities that we would otherwise take for granted get squeezed through the KidLens. Stop for dinner on the way home? Sure, but make sure it’s somewhere that’ll have food they’ll want to eat. Nothing fancy, but not fast food. And sit-down is preferred, but make sure they’re kid-friendly… ah, hell. Where’s the nearest Friendly’s?

Whether we go out or not has less to do with how much we want to go and more to do with the time of day. Is a party in the early afternoon? Sorry, we’re still conning ourselves into believing our 3 year-old naps. An evening get together? Forget it. Third Friday may be a lot of fun, but since we’ve got to start getting ready for dinner and bed by about 5:30, we’ve never been able to find out. And when we bite the bullet and go out? We’re catching Sesame Street Live at the Westchester County Center. Trust me, nothing says “Saturday Night!” like a 6-foot tall Elmo.

My weekends have become a blur of child-related activities, usually birthday parties. Now that we have two children in some form of school, we are contractually obligated to attend at least one party a weekend. We try to take turns based on who went last time, who’s attended too many shindigs at the New York Sports Center or Gymboree, or who did the most recent Build-a-Bear or KidCraft extravaganza, in an attempt to keep each other sane. Eventually it all becomes too much and I end up wondering why nobody holds these parties at Grape Expectations. I mean they’ve got a BRIO train table, wine and bathrooms. What more do you need?

Another unexpected consequence to my child-centric social calendar: All my friends are just the parents of my kids’ friends. Even people who used to be my friends are now just the parents of their kids.

My children are my social network.

The weird thing about this arrangement is that it seems to be age-specific. My kids are in kindergarten and pre-school, so I am only friends with people who have kids in their class. If our kids are separated by even a single year, we may never meet. I could live next door to a guy with a little girl in 1st grade. He and I could have everything in common, sharing a love of 80’s music, baseball, and Jerry Bruckheimer movies. We could be destined for a beautiful romance, but his daughter is a year ahead of mine in school, so we’ll never meet.

My pool of potential friends is limited to people I meet either picking up or dropping off one of my kids in the Escher-like, never-ending loop of childhood activities. Naturally, I scrutinize these unknowing applicants whenever I encounter one. “That man has a child in my daughter’s gym class! I must discover if he plays poker!”

Maybe having your social calendar ruled by three and five-year olds is a blessing in disguise. It sets me up with like-minded parents who can dive head-first into a discussion on why Wonder Pets is so much better than The Wiggles. It keeps me hooked into what’s current and hip with the teenagers of tomorrow (hint: Princesses are big), and it gives me the ultimate gift of living through childhood all over again.

Besides, my kids are cool, so their friends are cool, so their friends’ parents are cool, so I’m meeting cool people. Isn’t that what Social Networking is all about? Everyone has their social filters, mine just happen to eat a lot of chicken nuggets.

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