An old friend is in town for the weekend. She has bags of hand-me-downs for my kids, and wants to meet them. We head across town to her parents' house, and spend three hours with her, her two kids, and her husband. I think my kids are doing pretty well, but I can tell the other adults don't agree. We dine casually in the kitchen, the boys at the island and the girls in the nook, and when Linden gets up to see what the boys are laughing about around the corner, my friend's husband says, "Sit down and finish your meal." His tone is pleasant, but clearly he expects to be obeyed. I resist my impulse to roll my eyes at Linden.
After we eat, my friend and I chat while the kids play. Again, I think things are going fine, but the second time her husband interrupts us to tell her (why her?) that the kids are getting wound up, I realize it's time to go. What's "pretty good" for me is clearly stressing this poor guy out. I am mortified. And annoyed. With them, for not knowing how they are expected to behave in this stranger's house. With him, for being tense and judgemental. With myself, for not knowing how to handle either aspect.
Along with the bags of clothes, her 11 year old daughter had set out a couple of dolls and a pink travel suitcase for Linden. Oak becomes distressed when he realizes the dolls Linden is playing with are hers to take home, and he calls me aside to tell me he's going to ask the son to give him something too. I say no, he says, "But Linden asked!" and I explain that no, the toys were already set aside for her. His eyes fill with tears. I tell him that they also gave us two bags! Of clothes! And since the son is closer to his age than the daughter is to Linden's, he will most likely have more that fit! I know as I'm saying it that this is cold comfort, but he accepts it. He pesters Linden to play with her doll in the backseat as we ride home, and frustrates her by playing "wrong," whatever the heck that means. I let it slide, because I am so proud of him. He has come so far. Last summer, we spent a delightful and chaotic evening at the home of friends who have five kids. (There were no nervous interruptions from that dad, no sirree!) As we left, they spontaneously handed Linden a clipping from a hydrangea bush, using a tin can as the vase. Oak wept all the way home. "Why did she get a present? Why didn't I? Can we go back and ask them for a present for me? Why not?" He knows life is not fair, he knows he and his sister are different people who get different things at different times, but he has such a bottomless pit of neediness in his heart that he only knows how to express in a gimme gimme gimme manner. So this was HUGE for him. He still had the feelings, but he wrestled them into the background, he made pleasant and friendly goodbyes, and he took his misery out in low-grade sister torture instead of tears and tantrums.
My friend will likely stick to play dates in the park next time she's in town, and her husband will probably avoid joining us. I could be embarrassed about that. But my kids did fine. I am proud of them.
Oh, and here's something I haven't thought about in YEARS. When my friend started dating this guy, she almost broke up with him because he told her he had herpes, contracted from a faithless college girlfriend. This is not the kind of thing one needs to know about friends' husbands, but she told me because she was so upset about having to dump this guy. It didn't take her long to realize that if she loved him, she could work around this, and she asked me to NOT let him know I was in on his STD history. I wouldn't ever say anything, of course, and I understand it's not anything he should be ashamed of. But hey, Mr. "My Kids Stay Seated and Follow All Instructions The First Time" guy--from here on out, you're just "Mr. Herpes" to me.
*I know Judgy isn't a word, but I just discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer last spring, okay?