Both my girls are in school now – preschool and kindergarten – and so that means a lot of birthday parties. We’re doing the tour of local play places and bounce houses and community centers with rooms to rent, and so every weekend it seems I’m on the sidelines with my fellow parents, making small talk while the kids race around, high on birthday cake or soon to be.
Nearly six years into parenting, and I confess that I know my type. I can chit-chat with the best of them, but there are kindred spirits in a room of parents, and others who are less so. More than a month into the school year, I have a general sense of personalities of the children – which kids make headlines in the dinnertime recap of the school day, which kids are best friends, which kids are the alphas. So the birthday party is the place to match the kids with the parents, to see whether the parents I connect with have kids my own kids like.
At the last party, we parents compared after-school stories, and related who played prominently in the narratives. The boy everyone liked – I’ll call him Dylan – was tall with shaggy brown hair and an eye tooth that will see orthodontia in a few years. The girls that featured in most stories were the twins, Kate and Charlotte. My own child seems in the middle of the pack, I was relieved to learn. One by one I met the parents, matching crew cut boys with crew cut dads and girly girls with decidedly sensible moms. All but Dylan’s parents. They were both there, but I never met them, didn’t quite make it around to that side of the room. They were young. Not high school young, but younger than the rest of us, in their 20s, the dad wearing a baseball cap throughout, the mom looking a lot like my niece.
It’s hard to believe my parents were parents that young. It’s hard to believe everyone used to parent that young. Get married out of high school, start a family before you bought a home, raise kids not far from where you were raised yourself, and send them off to college the year you celebrate your 40th birthday. Dylan’s parents appeared on track for those milestones, impossible young for the modern urban age, where it’s a tossup whether the baby shower or the 40th birthday will happen first.
I have a few friends who started young – but frankly, not many. I was far from alone in choosing midlife motherhood, and now, as my own kids enter kindergarten, my peers are often just a few years ahead or behind, a raft of 40-somethings in the thick of new parenthood. At the birthday parties, matching parents with kids, I am never the oldest mother in the room, and find common ground everywhere with women who waited a bit before they came to motherhood. Strange how quickly the young ones, like Dylan’s parents, are the ones that stand out in the demographic. I wonder if they feel their youth in a room full of middle-aged parents?
Happily, I never feel my age.