By John Jericiau
The math is simple. Twenty-five boys and girls in a kindergarten class means approximately fifty involved parents. We happen to already know two other parents (the parents of one of Devin’s preschool friends), and of course we know ourselves. So that leaves about 46 new adults to get to know.
In the first few weeks of school, I have minimal contact with them at drop-off and pick-up. A smile here, a “Have a good day!” there. Some parents I never get to see, since their nanny or grandparent or neighbor does the drop-off or pick-up. The parents I do know are, for the first few weeks, known simply as Jake’s mom or Ashley’s dad. I’m spending so much time trying to get to know the kids’ names that I don’t have time to commit the parents’ names to memory.
Two strategies that I have adopted since the boys’ preschool days have helped. One is where I start to make a list of parent-child pairs on my iPhone as soon as I learn a new name, and then I subsequently refer to that list just before drop-off and pick-up. I make sure to use everyone’s name every time I see them. It sure does make a difference. People are grateful to be acknowledged. The other strategy is that I get involved in the making of a class roster as soon as possible. All the names are right there on paper; I just make little notes like “tall blonde girl” or “military dad” to put an image to the name.
After the first couple of months I pretty much have everyone’s name down pat, and that means they probably know me by name too. When you call someone by name for a week, they are much more likely to add a “What was your name again?” to their own greeting. John was a common name in the 70’s; not so much now. I don’t even think it even makes the top 100 most popular names list these days (it used to be number one). Its rarity makes it that much easier to memorize.
Santa Monica is a fairly small community, so one is bound to bump into parents and/or classmates at the YMCA or the park or the municipal pool or the beach. These are good opportunities to get to actually speak to parents for more than just a few seconds. I learn where they live, what some of their interests are, and if they have other kids. Within a few minutes you get a sense if this is someone that you might actually work toward being a friend with, or are you instead going to stick with the very superficial drop-off and pick-up relationship.
We’ve lucked out with Devin’s kindergarten. All the parents are very nice, and we have had some great fun at impromptu play dates at the park, the frozen yogurt place across from the elementary school, and the pool. We’ve exchanged phone numbers and email addresses so we can facilitate even more time together outside of the school setting.
It’s nice to make new friends. When you have kids, a lot of your kidless friends hit the road, never to be heard from again except for a Christmas card or an occasional ‘Like’ on Facebook. But with these new friends, you’re sharing something so special: watching your children grow up and all the trials and tribulations that go along with that. It’s helpful to talk things out with them and get ideas when you’re near or at the end of your rope.
It was a natural progression, therefore, when we received an Evite from a classmate’s family last week to attend an evening dinner at their home in Santa Monica. There would be plenty of parents there that we have never laid eyes on, and that gave my husband some jitters. We are the token gay family, the guys with the new baby, the adoptive parents of the only African-American student in the class. No pressure.
We pulled up to their fabulous house (mansion) ten minutes early last night, so we took a quick drive around the block to eat up some time. When we got back to the house we waited for some familiar faces to show up, and we entered the compound with them. We felt much like we did when we entered a party in our 20s and worried about who was there and if we were underdressed and if we brought the right wine. After some small talk with the hosts, who were way too busy to have any significant conversation, we headed over to familiar faces to try and strike up a talk.
With most people that we met for the first time it felt like a form of speed dating as we got the lowdown on their life in the little time we had together. Some people’s lives have intersected in the past, oddly enough. For example, at this party there were a lot of New York transplants just like me, which made for fun reminiscing while helping to form a bond between us. Of course, most people asked about our 13-week old son, since we have all been through the 13-week mark at some point. A few people remarked how handsome Devin is or how caring Devin is or how special Devin is – all things we know but nice to hear just the same.
One thing about having children – you get a second chance at some of the things you didn’t get right the first time. I’m happy that I’m getting a chance to tweak my social skills. Maybe I can win Miss Congeniality after all!