If there is one thing I dread getting in the mail more than bills are invitations to children’s parties. Always a cute little invitation with the day, time, and place that my children (two boys, ages 8 and 7) get really excited about seeing. Remember when getting mail was fun? Remember getting invitations to birthday parties? I loved going to them as a kid, I still love going to birthday parties for friends and family. My problem is going to birthday parties with my children’s friend’s parents. I don’t really know any of them and they don’t know me. I’m not a socially awkward person normally, at least I don’t think I am, but throw me into a room full of Moms and it’s like I am back in high school trying to decide where to sit in the cafeteria. All these moms seem to know each other and if they don’t they are best friends in the first five minutes of meeting each other. There must be some secret Mom language that I am missing out on. Occasionally, there are other Dads are at the party, but it’s no better – I’m not a regular dad, I’m a cool dad! I think.
I was at a birthday party recently, a pool party to be exact. I planned to be a little late and we were, but inevitably my boys and I ended up being the first guests there anyway. You know the saying, “You never want to be the first guest to arrive at a party or the last to leave.” Well, we were the first ones there and in my head I knew we wouldn’t be the last ones to leave. I had already planned our early and dramatic escape – OK, not dramatic, but definitely early.
My boys didn’t care that we were early and they didn’t even notice. They changed into their bathing suits and jumped right into the pool leaving me standing on the deck with the birthday boy’s parents and the inevitable small talk. I am by no means saying (in case someone who sort of knows me, Googles me and finds this) I had a bad time at this party, or disliked the family, in fact I liked them and they were extremely friendly and accommodating. This is about me and my self-described awkwardness at children’s birthday parties.
I had only ever met the birthday boy’s dad one other time at my son’s birthday party, but he quickly ran off to do birthday party prep stuff. I was alone on the deck watching my boys in the pool for a few minutes (felt like 45 to be real) until the next guest arrived. I had met the next guest, a mother, at one of my boy’s birthday parties. She was friends with this family so she strolled in with ease and made herself right at home. When the conversation started between the new guest and the birthday boy’s mother I didn’t have much to contribute besides a few nods and smiles. I mean how am I supposed to contribute to a conversation about how her husband may mow the lawn today? “I mowed the lawn once!”
I averted my eyes back to the pool to watch my boys swimming. As more and more people arrived I knew less and less people. At one point I was sitting at a table with three other people who knew each other and they were talking about other people in hushed voices. I gathered from my Jessica Fletcher-like detective skills that the baby-daddy of the woman sitting at the table hasn’t been paying his measly child-support payments, the guy sitting beside me was either on a diet or all of a sudden became allergic to everything, and the other guy sitting beside me was tired.
Almost two hours into the party, my boys were still in the pool and I was dying on the inside, when the pizza finally came. Praise be, Pizza! After pizza came cake and ice cream and I knew it was time for me to make my move. The boys were out of the pool and I could force them to get dressed. I realize that this sounds bad, like I forced them to leave the party, because of my social awkwardness. Well, you’re basically right, but we did have to return the car I borrowed to get there.
My boys were invited to another party a few months ago and this one was at a local indoor play-place. The play-place is broken up into a few rooms: the first room is full of giant bouncy houses, slides, and mazes. The next room is similar, but with different bouncy houses and stuff. The final room is where the cake and snacks are served and then you are free to go. I love the structure of this kind of party, because I know exactly when everything is going to happen and it doesn’t allow that many unknowns. Parents aren’t really allowed to go on the bouncy houses, or rather they’re extremely discouraged to do so, which allows for a lot of standing around time while in each of the rooms. Most parents, myself included, just stand around and either chat or play with their cell phones. At one point I was live tweeting this birthday party and was imagining other parents doing the same thing, except maybe they were doing it on Facebook, because this was that type of crowd. I felt so much better at this party – this was my type of people. Let’s avoid awkward small talk and just focus on the important stuff like sexting or playing Draw Something (this was months ago when it was still a cool thing to do).
I try to tell myself that attending these parties will be fun and I can reinvent myself every time I go to one, you know like one of those high school movies. I don’t want to reinvent myself, I actually like myself. I know what makes me awkward at these parties and it’s the fact that I am a gay dad. I am so concerned with being ‘normal’ at these parties and by normal I mean straight-acting, which really makes me uncomfortable – just the phrase even. I am really comfortable with myself and I am openly gay, my kids know it, everyone I know knows it. I tend to assume all the parents at these parties know it too, or at least think it, but they live in a predominately white suburb and I fear repercussions like they don’t get invited to anymore of these parties that I love so much. Or worse, they aren’t allowed to hang out with friends they made. I am going to assume I am not giving any of these parents the credit they deserve and chalking it all up to my own insecurities about being an openly gay parent. I want to protect my boys from any of the pain I have been subject to for being gay or before I was out being perceived as gay. I over-think everything and this is most likely the same case. I suppose I’ll never know for sure what other people are thinking, unless I get that super power I so desire.
So, next time I am at Chuck E. Cheese with a table full of moms I am going to casually drop the fact that I have a boyfriend into the conversation and see what happens.