When I first began attending a moms' night out, I was excited — excited to be outside of my own house with other adults, meeting potential friends. Other mothers. I was going to have drinks with people, like regular people do, people who don't typically spend their evenings pinned to the couch with a baby. And I was, in the way of someone with an infant at home, simply excited to be outside after 8 p.m. Without children attached. For moms who spend a lot of time with young children, we probably all think this at times — but when I'm consciously alone in an adult space, in a bar, a daytime coffee shop, I think, "No one here even knows I'm a mother." (I'm sure there are signs if you know how to spot it, like, due for a haircut and telltale shoulder stains, but no matter.) It's a liberating, fresh physical feeling.
Before moms' night out, I made time for a shower. I bought a bottle of wine. I put on a shirt I don't wear around my kids. I hoped the baby slept well past 10 p.m. I wondered if I could stay awake after 10 p.m.
Since I was new to my neighborhood, I wasn't really sure what to expect, a small or large group. There would be people I didn't know, maybe a few I knew or had met. We'd be in someone's house, so it could be very relaxed and definitely casual. We're only impressing each other, right? I thought we were there to get to know each other, to not think about our kids. It was for us. Right?
Cue to several hours later, moms' night out is in full effect, in which a group of moms gets together with perhaps not much in common besides shared streets and the bond of having birthed children — here we are, wine in hand, talking incessantly about our children. Turns out that's a mother's go-to shtick. Some of us wax comedic, some tragic, and others present borderline baby-induced insanity. Turns out we are all desperate to talk about our children. It's really loud. There's some shrieking laughter and lots of "Oh nos!" "You didn't!" Turns out we never realized how much we can talk about our children and, in the course of the day, how there's never anyone to really, freely talk with about your children (especially not in the presence of said children). Co-workers have their limits. The playdate is not a safe space, nor do actual conversations ever get held during playdates. And with spouses — you talk about your children in a different way, with the appropriate biases and sympathies, and since you share the house with the kids, unguarded conversations about your kids can be elusive. On this night, with children as the main topic, we never ran out of talk.
So this is the real purpose of moms' night out, I thought. It's a safe distance from home. The perfect outlet for describing all those things your kid does — these people understand. They get your own weird nighttime sleep habits and all of your child-altered waking habits. They get your worry/stress/control-freak parenting. The impossible allure of "free-range" parenting. The fear of doing nothing, mothering or work, well enough. I am new to the relationship known as the mom friend — it is a category, and yet I'm old enough now that most of my friends are parents. Having moms as friends has taught me a lot. You don't realize how narrow your life as a parent is until you hear mothers' stories, until you listen to the step-by-step details of someone else's bedtime routine, another baby's nursing pattern, or a child's response to potty training. There's a mass of human experience here, held by mothers, to share and grasp. I find it vastly reassuring to hear that at the end of the day, every parent has daily failures, and every kid is an unformed thing, one you can't perfectly shape or shape on your own. I also enjoy seeing how mothers relate to their kids, what sort of relationships they have; they are all knowing, close, but in various ways. Plus, it's more fun to learn from moms in person rather than scouring Internet articles and comment threads. The fun, exasperation, and despair that I see is part of the daily experience, and it is a shared one.
After almost two years, I still love seeing moms in this setting. We still always talk about our children, but I now know who the moms are, and I remember to ask how they are, and how they've been and how work and life is going, before asking after the kids.