Popular Mom OR Not-A-Regular-on-the-Play-Date-Circuit Mom – OR Both?


We were having one of those rare unusually mild winter days in coastal Delaware so I took a walk on the beach with our dog, Howie.

He’s a mixed terrier with spindly legs, a shaggy white coat and coal-black eyes. When we adopted him seven years ago, the humane society shelter guessed he was part Poodle (smart) and part Jack Russell terrier (feisty).

And, as we have come to know, 100% anxious.

No wonder I have felt a kinship with him from the first day we met. Except that Howie’s hair is much curlier than mine. And I don’t growl at strange dogs.

As we were walking up the narrow sandy path leaving the beach, Howie The Anxious barked loudly, veering towards an elderly golden retriever walking sedately by her owner’s side. The owner tugged her well-behaved golden away from us with a slight “harrumph”.

I could have told her that Howie has always been wired to be wary. And yes, we have taken him to trainers. One told us that Howie would never be the kind of dog you can let romp at the dog park.

And I am not comparing dogs to kids here, truly I’m not, but that day at the beach got me to thinking about how people make judgments about us based on the company we keep.

Canine company for me now as an empty nester, but not so long ago some people, let’s call them Moms, judged me by the human company I kept – my two very-different-from-each-other kids.

Child #1 was what the books called a “good baby.”  She slept through the night at three months, took regular naps and played nicely with other toddlers. Taking her out in public was a pleasure. People praised her social skills from a young age. She was (still is) adaptable and affable.

Just when child #1 was old enough to amuse herself by playing creatively with her little-people-with-no-feet (thank you Fisher-Price), child #2 came along.

Child #2 was more difficult from the start. As a newborn, he had a mild case of jaundice and spent time getting a light treatment in the hospital nursery. At four days old, he kept pushing up against the side of the bassinet to pry off his eye mask. The nurse told me she had never seen a newborn wriggle as much as he did.

Silly me, I thought that was a compliment.

Unlike his sister, he wasn’t interested in a regular sleep schedule. His idea of a good time was to wake me up every two hours to be fed. I consulted my stack of baby books, tried the same training methods we had used with his sister. They didn’t work. I bought new books and tried new training methods. No luck. And when child #2 got to the terrible two’s he seemed to like it there. He was (still is) strong-willed – and also a voracious eater.

I was (still am) the same Mom with both kids but other parents didn’t see me that way.

With child #1, the Moms who knew me only as that child’s Mom, treated me as one of them. The other Moms of easy kids, the ones who got along with others, the ones who were invited to all of the birthday parties. One of the Moms who did not think of parent-teacher conferences as occasions to be dreaded.

When child #2 went off to a different school, the Moms there knew me only as the Mom of child #2, a kid who most certainly had not been an easy baby. Some of the Moms at child #2’s school were nice enough to me, some less so, some simply ignored me.  I became an Out-of-the-Loop Mom because child #2 was not a regular on the play-date circuit.  Not exactly shunned but not Popular Mom material either.

More than a few times I fantasized about getting up in front of the classroom at child #2’s back-to-school night and telling all of the other parents about child #1, the one they had never met but who was well-liked by her teachers and peers, who was sought after on the play-date-circuit.  I would explain to the parents in child #2’s class that yes, I was a good Mom, just as good as they were, had tried all of the same training methods they had probably used but what worked with child #1 just didn’t do the trick with child #2.

You will be glad to know that I never got up in front of the room at back-to-school night.

My kids are now grown so my iPhone calendar longer fills up with school events to attend.

(note: I still keep my well-loved, paper-only Filofax planner in a bureau drawer just in case any historians writing my future biography want to look through it, fyi.)

So theoretically I could spend some of my free time taking Howie to the dog park near my house – which my friend Liz tells me is the new “hot spot” for empty nesters like us to meet and greet with our canine companions.

But of course, I can’t take Howie to frolic at the dog park anymore than I could be a Popular Mom with child #2. My dog and my son are just not wired that way.

Hoping though, that newer Moms – and Dads too – will make more room for parents who keep company with kids (and dogs) who don’t play well with others.
























Filed under Adult Kids, Empty Nest, Family, Female Friends, Midlife, Parenting, Raising Kids, Women

17 responses to “Popular Mom OR Not-A-Regular-on-the-Play-Date-Circuit Mom – OR Both?

  1. Jess H

    A-men!! and wiry terriers are my favorite.


  2. Jane

    Wow, I could have written this – I have a crazy terrier as well as the same child #1 and child #2 as you. Thank you!


  3. Gail Jones

    Dear Nancy,

    I love your universal (probably) statements!

    Personally, I can relate on some level with most of your blogs. Empty nester, mom of two very different kids (one liberal and formerly academically motivated boy who now works in a bar and a second son who has independant leanings who goes kicking and screaming to communitee college) and now I spend more time with my dog. She’s a standard poodle named Princess Ginger Sparkles. Ginger was named this primarily to embarrass my sons but I tell everyone she was named after my grandmas ginger cookies.

    My husband was promoted to a job in DC. Being a tailgating wife, I came along for the ride leaving behind said kids in their respective colleges in NC.

    We bought a house and moved to “The Hill” in Oct of last year. One of the perks of the area is a kind of dog park a block away at the Congessional Cemetary. I was lucky to become a member quickly but to my horror Ginger loved and hated other dogs in equal measure. There doesnt seem to be any rhyme or reason to her agression towards other pups. I’m thinking we wont be members this year as I dont want someone to have her put down for her behavior. I need my buddy in this town.
    Thank you for your witty, worried and wonderful self!


  4. I bet if you had something like that out loud many of the moms would have related to feeling like they fit in for some cases and not for others. I often think that those we worry are judging us are just as insecure. At least some of the other women!


  5. Danielle Beres

    It’s like you were spying on me from next door! This piece is so my life right now, minus the dog! Thank you!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone



  6. Child #2 keeps me from keeping civilized company, too. Oh well, it’s probably better that way, since #3 and #4 just create chaos! We are well-intended, though! Best of luck with the new hangout!


  7. Oh, this resonated with me! Please tell me your child #2 turned out ok, since I sure spend a lot of time worried about mine! I do always remind my very social children #s 1 and #3 to make the extra effort to include kids like their brother.


    • Dawn – #2 child turned out o.k. but does struggle with mental health issues. I write about that too but it is trickier.

      Good idea to ask your more social kids to include the less social one. My child #1 and her friends were always very kind to & inclusive of child #2.



  8. robing34

    I suspect the reason we get so worried about others judging us negatively is that too often we’re judging them. The problem is some folks are just plain idiots and while I know I shouldn’t be judging them, their behavior annoys the spit out of me. I suppose the key is to hang onto the idea that it’s their behavior that’s the problem, not the people themselves, and try to have some compassion for whatever it is that’s driving the negative behavior. Now God help me practice what I preach.


  9. Great reminder that parenting is neither a take-the-credit nor a you’re-to-blame job.


  10. I am the nervous, anxious person at the dog park. With kids you can understand when one starts calling names, stealing toys or yelling but at the dog park it is every dog or owner for themselves!
    My female Old English Sheepdog, (may she rest in peace) was so beautiful that she was a kid, adult, and dog magnet. Unfortunately she was aggressive to other dogs, didn’t like kids and not that crazy about many adults.We were asked to leave puppy obedience training and she lived to be 16 so you can understand my off leash anxiety.


    • Haralee – what I didn’t mention in my post was that our other dog passed away (may she rest in peace) in mid-December. She was a cairn terrier (wizard of oz toto) who loved all people but also didn’t like other dogs. I’m sorry for your loss too!



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