When it comes to a woman’s place in this world, I’d say even mothers have come a long way. And fathers, increasingly taking time out of their corporate and social lives to spend with their children, are helping to narrow the divide. In my neighborhood, you see nearly as many dads doing the school run as their wives, fathers planning birthday parties, mothers supporting the family with high-powered gigs – the genders seem almost seamless. And yet when it comes to playdates, we all might as well be residents of Downton Abbey.
Get two parents of the opposite sex together in a room – even with an army of rowdy, utterly distracting children – and the tension is almost guaranteed. Who hasn’t brushed past a fellow parent and blushed a little? Or shared a look that lingered a bit too long. Who among us hasn’t asked politely if there wasn’t another bathroom located on another, more private, floor of the house?
I have. And as a result, mixed (for the parents) playdates have become positively Victorian. One dad in my neighborhood who works a four-day week will go to great lengths to avoid playdates with me, stammering excuses and pretending not to hear the doorbell, even though our children are as close as siblings. When there’s an existing date in place and he’s in charge, he speaks to me through his children (“Henry, what a lovely lunch your friend’s mother has made for you!”) and rushes out on errands while I watch the kids. Even my daughters seem to be picking up on the awkwardness. When they see their friends with their mom, everyone’s atwitter, but when dad’s in charge, they give him his space. I sometimes feel we are collectively acting like a jilted teen: just pretend he doesn’t exist and we’ll all be safe indoors soon.
Other dads we get together with are simply… quiet. Perhaps they don’t have the same anxieties about their children and their parenting as we women do. Maybe, unlike most women, they see their family time as more relaxing than their work time, and they don’t feel the need to fill the silences that can make others feel tense. Maybe they’ve never had any female friends. Whatever the reasons, I feel uncomfortable. The rapport I often feel spending time with other mothers, and crave when they’re not around, is usually absent during a daddy date.
I would never have expected to experience such heights of sexual tension at my age and station in life, but the ingredients are all there: wives with diminished libidos, forbidden fruit, spouses working late… sometimes even a naked boob makes an appearance (albeit for a hungry infant). It wouldn’t be too difficult to conduct an X-rated playdate if the mood struck. Not that I’ve ever acted on it, to be clear. I’m just saying it could happen.
Is this what those reticent dads are thinking? Or are they thinking that their wives are sitting around at work thinking about it, and they want to do everything in their power to ensure they never slip up? And, anyway, what would the neighbors think if they saw us whooping it up while our better halves were hard at work?
Fair enough. I can’t say I’ve never had an impure thought about my local dads. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing sexier than a dad attending to his young spawn in a time of need. And many of them don’t need help in the first place. Coupledom in the era of small children is a struggle. Parents of the opposite sex are like porn for lonely moms who haven’t felt that excited twinge for years. If ever in my life I were to get into a keys-in-bowl situation, I suppose this would be the time.
Alas, I’m afraid none of my awkward friends would be able to handle it.
(Photo: Brand X Pictures)