Childhood experts describe the interaction of toddlers as "side-by-side play" or parallel play. It basically means that they are ignoring each other. That is until one of them takes the other's Elmo doll, then it means World War III has broken out, kind of like how the US bombed the crap out of Afghanistan after 9/11. Apparently this kind of interaction has deep meaning and real relationships are being formed:
"The togetherness of playing beside each other is what draws children together," says Alice Sterling Honig, professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. "If two young children are playing beside each other in a sandbox, they may seem like they aren't paying attention to each other. But if one gets up and leaves, the other one will be upset that their playmate has left."
I have no idea if this is the case for Charlotte and her little "friends." But I certainly hope it is true in my own "side-by-side play," with their mothers, and other would-be friends. Unfortunately this kind of distracted, self-absorbed, and superficial relationship is about all I can manage these days. Much of my time spent with other women is with other mothers and our kids. While we try to carry on a conversation, our kids are climbing our legs, destroying our homes, hitting each other, and screaming for our attention. It's hard to get past topics like, "What diaper cream do you use," to actually get to know the PERSON, as opposed to the mother. I have spent substantial amounts of time with women about whom I know almost nothing beyond what they do about their children's constipation. I don't know to whom they are married, what he does, what they used to do, where they are from, what they like to do when they aren't changing diapers, nada. Attending to my child's needs and simultaneously demonstrating interest in another adult is seemingly a multi-task too far for me. For example, Charlotte and I met my friend Jeannie and her daughter Skylar at the zoo recently. Charlotte and Skylar enjoyed seeing the lions, tigers, and bears, oh my. But I think I might have found the mental energy to ask Jeannie at most two basic questions about her well being. If I recall correctly, I may have asked her if her other child was sleeping better at night and if she was enjoying her job. I don't think I could tell you her response if you water boarded me.
Example number two, my friend Tanya called me today. Props to Tanya, she is a single woman with no kids and therefore can move on with her life and pretend I don't exist anymore post-baby (and in a way I don't) like most of my other friends without children have done. But Tanya made the effort, and I really appreciate that. Pretty much the only friends I have now that I had B.C. (Before Charlotte) are those who do make the effort, because I sure as hell don't have time or energy to chase people down anymore. People who call, people who email, and especially people who invite themselves over--or better, people who invite me OUT, who don't assume that because I have a child, I no longer own clean clothing, must go to bed at 7 pm, and consume nothing but chicken nuggets and milk--those folks are my true friends. So I was talking on the phone to Tanya, God bless her, and she was updating me about her life. Meanwhile, Charlotte was sitting beside me watching TV, which had transfixed her in a wonderfully hypnotic state. But then the show ended, and I usually don't let her watch more than one show at a time, and she started making her charming "give me attention" noises, which sound something like a cross between a rabid bat and sorority girl being chased by a serial killer. I instantly recalled the last time I had the gall to speak to another human on the phone in her presence. Since, in that case, it was her endlessly forgiving grandmother, I ignored Charlotte and continued to talk. Charlotte then threw herself on the floor and had herself a fit worthy of Miss Scarlett, only this time she was convinced tomorrow would not be another day. So, recalling that incident and not wanting to scare Tanya or have her eardrums burst from the screaming, I let Charlotte watch not one, not two, not three, but four shows so that I could have a reasonably decent conversation with Tanya. Even so, I had to silently play the tickle game with her (Charlotte, not Tanya) to keep her appeased.
So I'm hoping those experts are right about side-by-side play. And I hope my little "friends" can tolerate my distracted friendship. Just don't take my toys, people.