Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Play Date

My 21 year old daughter Jackie has always been very shy - she isn't reserved so a lot of people don't notice this... she's outspoken around those she knows, but it is tremendously difficult for her to meet new people.
A few days ago, she was approached via Facebook by an acquaintance who invited her to a local area Mom's group Open House ... there would be lots of moms and kids and door prizes and a peek at what sort of activities they do through out the year.

She panicked - she very much has wanted to meet more parents, as her unattached friends no longer have much in common with her. She's wanted to get her daughter - now 14 months old - around some other children to begin learning to socialize. But... a room full of strangers?

She said no. Her husband asked her to please say yes, instead. She asked me if I'd go with her... then said no, she couldn't go, because of X, Y, and Z. I told her I would go with her, and she should go.

We went through this for a few days - right up to last night, in fact. And I was starting to think this morning that she'd be backing out, because they were a bit late in picking me up.

But finally she showed - sheepishly confessing she'd changed clothes a few times trying to strike just the right outfit that said "I'm a good mom" and would allow her to nurse as needed without it being a big deal.

For me, this was full of flashbacks - it's been many many years since I've had a play date of any sort on behalf of my children.... and here I was again, gently coaxing my (adult) daughter to go say hello, to not wait until others approached her, because they were as nervous as she was. Some things never change!

Meanwhile, her own daughter was down and running - quickly showing a preference for the 3 year old boys.. the rowdier the better.

We met some nice women - ages ranging from early 20s to mid-40s, and lots of children from about 10 months old to about 4. Jackie will be going back - they not only have lots of activities and field trips with the kids, but they have mom-only time in the form of monthly Mom's Night Out dinners and a scrapbooking club she was interested in.

I still don't quite know how to interpret her perception - she spoke with a lot of women (I helped begin conversations where she couldn't, and then receded into the background so she could talk with them without me as a crutch), seemed to enjoy it.. and then later declared that 'no one' talked with her. And oddly, at least three of those we met were women who shared that they had this same sort of stagefright when it comes to meeting with people. There were times when I thought it had a whole 7th grade school dance vibe.

Here's the thing - I am not shy about meeting people, so I know I can't say it's easy to someone who finds it very difficult. But I do think that there may be some grossly heightened expectations in play. What I know about meeting people in group settings is this:

- you aren't likely to instantly find that friendly soul mate with whom you can share everything. Oh.. she may be there, but you're not going to figure that out in a sea of conversations and kids running about.
- that's why you want to follow up. In this case that means remember at least a couple of the names, and 'friend' them on facebook... start a conversation on the group's discussion board, and otherwise begin laying some groundwork so that at the next meeting... you know a couple people.

- built in conversation starter when you're gathering with your kids. 'how old is your son/daughter?' and then compliment the child! They are beautiful, have a fun personality, are walking so well.... It doesn't matter. Just say something nice. At this point, they're going to continue the conversation and ask the same about your child... find the connections! If you need to toss out another question to keep the chatter going, ask something that isn't yes or no. It doesn't have to be deep or meaningful conversation... small talks keeps the connection going long enough for you each to decide if you'd like to speak more with each other.

- seriously.. the other person IS as nervous as you are. Especially in a play group, these are often women who haven't been around any adults they aren't married to for months. Socialization is a skill that takes continual practice. A good way to forget how shy you feel is to help someone else who is feeling shy.

- someday, you're going to be in this group long enough to be comfortable.. you'll have met your closeknit friends, and when you get together you're going to want to cozy up to them and catch up on all the interesting things in each other's lives. And someone at that meeting is going to be new, and see you with your heads together, and feel like they have no place there. Don't do that - make a commitment to say hello to newcomers.. to ask them about their kids so they have something comfortable to talk about. Tell them how hard it was for you that first day. Welcome them.

- your children will learn to reach out by watching you do it.

Edited to Add: I almost forgot to mention the door prizes! Both Jackie and I came away with some treasure... she received gift cards for our wonderful locally owned ice cream stand (currently featuring mad delicious pumpkin pie avalanches), and for a local fun park... I don't even know how to describe it.  It's got an indoor area with arcade games and small child rides, a bowling alley, laser tag space... outside is a water slide (in the summer months), miniature golf, and this time of year, there's a haunted house.  So between the two of those, that's one nice free date night out for her and her husband.

For my part, I got a gift bag full of Mary Kay goodies - 3-in-1 cleanser and moisturizer and a set of hand care products.  Sweet!

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