Good morning and welcome to another complaint session with your host, Christine. Hi! I am here today to discuss the pressures of seeing friends when it’s unsafe to bring them together and there are too many to juggle through a week. It’s weird to complain about your friends, even indirectly, but I’m doing it anyway.
Once I would have said that our friend group was enough, really. Enough variety for the kids to regroup themselves based on the play happening. Enough to avoid that one friend you annoyed last week, who’s holding a grudge still. Enough to find at least one person who wants to do whatever thing you want to do. Enough to play big group games together, when we’re all motivated. Enough to camp together and have three people who remembered that thing you forgot.
Now I’m noticing the holes in relationships, the shifts between kids – mine and theirs – that make it hard to choose which families we see, and which we skip. Juggling, it feels like. And that’s ignoring the social weirdness that’s following us around through a year of alone time, thanks to ‘rona. Like, my kids’ startling mental exhaustion after a few hours of interactive play with people outside of our family.
My love for multi-age play is waning with awkwardness. Play often occurs right next to me, because my kids warm up slowly, or won’t leave my side at all. Awkward play effects me directly. I might see my friends weekly and still not get to talk to them. Where once I might have an hour-long window to discuss a friend’s pending divorce, I now have 5- to 10-minute bursts of time alone with her. We need at least one more family, and possibly three, for us to have a good discussion. Better yet, we need the centrifugal force of a pile of kids who rush off with different ideas and problem-solve how to add them all to a single game.
I’ve turned to hikes to incorporate both the need for outdoor time and the ability for people to chat or explore ahead. Movement tends to downshift our discomfort faster, leading to more conversation. Also, I miss moving freely in the world. The trails still feel wild and I am loving that contrast with my daily life.
Each friendship I’ve fostered brings me a different angle view of myself, stretches me in different ways, offers benefits alongside comradery. I have an herbal friend, that witchy friend, two natural learning friends, two book lover friends, an encouraging friend. Having to choose one family over the other – based not only on my needs and feelings but also on my kids’ – is crafting some strained time together. Some people I spend time wandering hillsides near are not who I’d have chosen that week, just based on what boxes I need to check off. If I’m in a chatty mood and the other adult tends toward the taciturn. If I’m nervy and PMS-ing and the empathetic other adult registers my distance as dislike.
Often I feel strained after an outing because the connection wasn’t great, and I know that’s my only interaction outside the home for the week. What pressure! It’s no one’s fault; it just sucks.
Drawing families out one at a time is a delicate choosing. It’s also a strain on both our schedule and our collective energies. Going out and having one child never leave my side feels sad, for me and that kid. We hardly see anyone, so of course I want them to be lost in play when we do!
After a “failed” encounter, I reminisce to the kids of our group events of yore. We feel nostalgic for times when our families numbered six or eight. When we tired of each other for different reasons, ones that had to do with annoying each other with continued proximity and having to repair last week’s fights.
I might be seeing people occasionally, but I feel farther away from them, regardless. What we’re doing is not enough.