Since we came to New Zealand and I started attending playgroups and kindy with Petra, I’ve met a whole lot of different parents. Young mums and dads, older mums and dads, working class mums and dads, middle class mums and dads, immigrant parents, the kind of parents who send their kids to a Steiner kindy (I’m not sure how to categorise us, although it’s quite clear that Travis and I absolutely fit the subset).
I’ve encountered lots of different parenting styles and philosophies and listened to advice both excellent and not so much. I’ve discussed sleep, vomit, shit, potty training, breastfeeding, weaning, how many children to have, dads (both excellent and annoying), and mothers-in-law (ditto). I’ve been immersed in the world of small children and their families and for the most part, it’s been a pleasure and delight, providing support, friendship, and solace.
This immersion has its oddities though. Living in a world where I’m primarily Petra’s mother can be disorienting. I remember how strange I found it the first time a kid referred to me as “Petra’s mum,” thus making it very clear that I am Petra’s appendage when it comes to kindy and playgroup. And I’m guilty of doing the same thing myself. I know the names of all 25 kids who have passed through Petra’s group at kindy this year, but I’m struggling to recall the names of even half that many parents. The kids are the focus.
Knowing people as parents first and people second has a flattening effect on the relationships. We talk about their children and about being a parent. I don’t know who they are and what they’ve done apart from their children. All unknowing, I’ve been having play dates with a physicist for the past couple of months. She finished her PhD and did post doc work at Oxford, so she’s pretty high-powered. But I never would have guessed from our conversations, which revolve around the concerns of parenting – to work or not to work, to watch tv or not, vaccinate or not, etc, etc. It only came up because her daughter pulled a whole lot of text books on atmospherics off a bookcase and I asked who the scientist in the house was. My former life as graduate student, immigrant, sometime traveller is equally invisible. It’s strange. And it reflects and reinforces the profound identity shift that happens when you have children. Whatever else you are and have been, you’re suddenly a mother first. I still haven’t quite caught up with myself in this new incarnation, and it’s been 3 1/2 years now.