Tuesday, July 8, 2008

To Make a Grown Man Tremble

This weekend was the first anniversary of my husband's summer hobby - a backyard theater. Which is just a fancy way of saying "a projector, a big screen, cheap speakers, lawn chairs and lots of bug spray."

But it's been a big hit with our neighbors, and it's done us a lot of good, socially. We've become quite the entertaining mavens. I think this summer, with the economy in the toilet, more people are very happy to descend upon our backyard and eat free popcorn, candy and see a free movie. And really, I can't blame them. And we really do enjoy having them.

I was reminded, though, of our initial effort last year, and how much trouble my husband had with the wording of the first invitation.

Of course, as the only person who actually gets paid to write around here, I am the Oracle of Grammar, Punctuation and Vocabulary. So as a "favor" - actually, as a "requirement" because I'm very anal about this kind of thing - I read various incarnations of the invitation, and kept pushing him to make one thing a tad clearer. And that one thing was — no small children allowed. I felt this had to be spelled out, because we were talking about an outdoor movie situation and I think many people could easily interpret that as an event for the entire family. Which is fine, except that wasn't what we had in mind.

Or course, you have to be careful because if you say “adults only” and you’re talking about movies, well — people can get confused. So you have to be pretty specific and focus on the “no kids” part.

Now, my husband is a Titan of Industry. Well, OK, he’s really not — he’s more like a Foot Soldier. But still, he’s a man who regularly walks into large businesses and meeting rooms full of corporate executives with absolutely no fear, ready to do battle with just a cell phone and a Power Point presentation. He’s ruthless. He’s respected. He’s powerful, in a nerdy, numbers-obsessed kind of way.

He’s also deathly afraid of the words “no kids allowed.” He even said that. He cowered, mumbled, and stuttered, “I can’t put that on the invitation. I’m afraid to.”

Afraid??? To have the temerity to say “no kids allowed” on his own party invitation???? I have to say, I sneered at him. Scoffed. Turned up my nose. Hinted that I might have to find someone else to play the role of “Brave Knight rescuing Fair Damsel in her Nightie” the next time I was feeling frisky.

Yet still, he trembled in fear. “I just can’t. I’m afraid.”

Well, you know - I'm not. Afraid. Afraid to tell people I’m inviting into my own home, for my own party, to please find a babysitter. Does that make me a total bee-yotch? I don’t think so. But somehow, kids have taken over society. And just when did that happen?

I admit, when I think of entertaining, I somehow imagine myself in a tight little cocktail dress with a big bouffant hairdo a la Jackie Kennedy in the early Sixties. I envision hip cocktails, Frank Sinatra on the turntable, men in skinny ties dancing the Twist. Back then, in the Camelot era, children and adults did not mix. Kids played during the day, adults during the night — when the kids were safely tucked into bed, watched by the neighborhood teenaged babysitter. The adults talked about things like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Peace Corps, and Marilyn Monroe’s latest love affair — they did not talk about Thomas the Tank Engine, soccer games, and Dora the Explorer.

Yet today, we bring our kids along to everything. Even when they’re not there, they’re — there. Haunting our conversation, claiming our intelligence. Defining who we are — we’re Johnny’s dad, Sally’s mom from the PTA. Tell me, you parents, when was the last time you introduced yourself as simply you? Your own name, no “I’m Jeffrey’s mom — I’m the one who volunteers at Market Day” tacked on to the end?

I’m guilty of this, too. Even when people stop to ask me how my books are doing, I find myself steering the conversation back around to the kids — asking how theirs are doing, have they started the college search, has so-and-so gotten her Driver’s License yet? It’s like I’ve lived this life, this mom life, for so long, I’ve forgotten that I had an identity before. And maybe I’m afraid— as afraid as my husband was — to neglect to think about the children. The children! What about the children?? As if to have the guts to carry on a conversation without mentioning them labels me as, well — a bee-yotch. A selfish shrew. Only interested in myself.

Well, what’s wrong with that, actually? Not that I want us all to be selfish. Just interested in things that have nothing to do with our kids. Interested in politics, culture, art. Pulling our heads out of the nursery, for a change. Brave enough to stand on our own, be defined on our own.

I want to believe there’s nothing selfish about that. I need to believe we’re all capable of forgetting about the children. Not permanently or fatally. Just more than occasionally. Because for sure, they’re going to forget about us, one of these days.

I also need to believe there’s nothing wrong in not wanting to be around them. That I choose not to be in their company on occasion. Even when mine were younger — and cuter and cuddlier — I desperately needed time to be away from them now and then. And now that they’re pretty much grown, I want to be able to say to my friends who still have younger children, “I’d like to spend time with you. Just you. Not your kids. Play time is over.”

I shouldn’t be afraid to say that. I honestly believe so. And my husband shouldn’t have been afraid to say it on his party invitation, either.

So buck up, hubby. And everyone else out there afraid to say to the world, “Sorry. Kids are great. Just not all the time. I’d like to be able to enjoy the company of adults only — talking about adult things. I’d like to think we’re pretty interesting people, all on our own.” It used to be OK to say this. Now, for some reason, it’s not.

I like to think, that in my small way, I’m changing that. Take back the night, people! Take back the sophistication and glamour! Drink your martinis, dance the Twist, and leave the kids in the nursery where they belong.

Or, as I suggested, so sweetly, to my husband — Why don’t we all grow a pair, OK?


Threeundertwo said...

So how did you word the invitation?

I agree that somehow we've let kids take over every part of our lives. I love my last bastion of grown-up socializing with booze and no kids - bunco parties.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh, Melanie, I'm your people. I am a firm believer in "parents only" entertaining.

Good for you--

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

I think my husband wimped out and let the movie we'd chosen - I can't remember what it was - take the blame. Like, "Due to the mature nature of the movie, it may not be suitable for small children.." Kind of a cop out!

Insane Mama said...

I am Mariah! Not the parent of a teenager, a tween or anything in between! Bless you for growing a pair!

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

Grow a pair--ouch! The backyard theater sounds like so much fun!
I agree with you completely. On the 4th we went to a cookout that included families, but sadly one clingy (and far too old to be clingy) child constantly interrupted the conversation. Not 5 minutes went by without the whiny 5-year old interjecting herself into everything. It was completely annoying and completely inappropriate. I was ready to read the kid the riot act...

Barb McKone said...

I'm going through invitation arguments myself. We're planning a graduation party with a little rock band action primarily for kids at the local park and I wanted to add, in small and subtle print, that this was to be an "alcohol free event" on the invitation. Just don't want to have to deal with policing at one lousy party, and think even the adults can go without for three hours of their lives. If it's on the invite, everyone, including adults, knows exactly what I'm doing-- protecting the teenagers from being carted away by park rangers or driving home drunk. I believe my daughter called me a "freak." Another pleasant parenting moment! We'll see... by the way, love your movie party idea! Wish I could come!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

LOL - I'm with you. I take any opportunity I can to enjoy my adult time. Kids don't belong everywhere - and at night they belong in bed, asleep. It's good for their brains and for their parent's sanity...