I have begun an inevitable part of the parenting journey: entry into the toddler hermitage. By this I mean the one-to-three year period (depending on the child) that one might be obliged to exclude one’s child from most activities outside of the home.
I knew this day was coming, and am grateful that she made it past the two-year mark before it arrived. When she was of the “baby handbag” age — able to sleep anywhere, comforted from all stimulus by nursing, and not independently mobile — I took her as many places as I could: lots of parties, many restaurants, outdoor art festivals, concerts, museums, camping events, and friends’ houses.
Nowadays, visiting non-parent friends usually means a stressful evening of Mama Eagle-Eye, predicting and preventing all the trouble she can cause in a home not prepared for toddlers. I can still manage the grocery store without my husband, but the trip must be under an hour. I can’t imagine taking her to the vet’s office. And forget about restaurants; I dread it. I hate rushing through my food, getting her food on me, wrangling the crayons and the kids menu, being unable to finish a conversation, and having to remove the baby from the table before everyone else has finished eating.
The kid requires a nap, and will only take one at naptime — if she’s not playing the nap refusal game, of course — which put an end to running errands at my whim, not to mention dashing out for an impromptu play date or mama meetup. The nap has become the linchpin of the whole day: did she have one; how long was it; how awful will bedtime be if she slept too late; how awful will she be if she skips it?
These are all the reasons that the hermitage period has been forced upon us, and sometimes I do grouse about it. However, aside from occasional feelings of resentment that things fall by the wayside in favor of my toddler’s needs and rhythms, it’s a bit of a relief to just stay home. At least I can control the environment, have stocked up with snacks, and know where all the art supplies are stored.
I think some of my friends might be fine with it, too. It’s a common perception that one loses one’s friends with the onset of children; it happens to a lot of people. I maintain that it doesn’t have to, and I can point to those of our friends sans children that remain involved in our lives. And yet, most of our more casual friends, with the busy lives of single or DINK couples, have drifted away. It’s the right time for me to enter the toddler hermitage because I’m as disconnected as I’m likely to get.
(And frankly, I’m too tired for anyone who isn’t a supportive and nurturing friend. Right now a friend’s contribution to my life has to equal or exceed what energy they take, because I’m running on empty most of the time. I have no patience for anyone who makes me feel more run-down.)
I have accepted this with only a little heartache. Sure, some of the folks that have drifted surprise me, as have the folks who folks stayed. But I know what it’s like to be totally involved in a project you feel passionately about. My theater friends surface between shows like my grad student friends surface between semesters; I’ll surface when she’s three or four and we’ll see what connections remain and which I’ll have to revive. And what new connections have been established.