7/14/04: Happy Hour
Bernie and I are in the park, trolling for playdates. She's spotted a couple sitting and talking about French history, while their three children play nearby in a pile of mud. Isa has joined them. She and the oldest girl are scooping piles of mud and applying them to playground equipment. The girl runs back sometimes and talks to her parents, says something to her mother in French. Isa comes and tells us breathlessly, "They just moved here!"
"That's perfect," says Bernie, after Isa leaves. "They're new. They don't know anyone yet either."
Even I have to agree they are good candidates. Children who aren't afraid to get dirty but know two languages? That's who I'd want my kid spending time with at the park.
Bernie and I move closer to the family. I tell her some gossip I'd heard around town to entertain her. She keeps her eye on Isa and the older girl.
"It's hard meeting kids out here," she tells me. "She's new in school, first of all, and these kids, they're already so tight. And no one wants to drive their kids to see us for a playdate. They say we're too far away. After a while, you just can't call them anymore. It begins to feel a little desperate."
Isa turns and waves to us. She's like a wild, happy puppy when she gets to play with other kids. It's different than when she's playing with us. We have the power to say no, to tell her she's doing something wrong.
"These kids seem great," says Bernie. "Although there's three of them. It would be better if there was only one."
Take what you can get, I think.
Bernie tells me a story about how she brought Isa to this same park a few months back and Isa met another little girl. While they were playing Isa accidently struck a hand out at some toy the other girl held, and it fell to the ground. The girl began to cry. The father of the girl strode over and cornered Isa, and in a deep voice said, "Don't you ever do that again. If you ever do that, you will never be able to talk to my daughter again."
Bernie carefully got Isa and headed for the car. The mother of the other girl ran after them, phone number in hand.
"It's fine," she said. "Don't worry about him. We'd love to set up a playdate with you guys," she said, feebly. Bernie took the number, shut the car door, and drove away.
Sometimes there are worse things to be than the new girl in town.
Nearby in the mud pit, Isa hurls a mud pie at nothing in particular.
"Don't throw the mud, Isa," says Bernie. "No throwing." And then to me she says, "Look at her, she's got mud all over her."
We decide to bolt for Taylor's Refresher, a local upscale (Not only do they serve wine, but they serve several kinds of whites and reds - this is, after all, Napa Valley.) and completely delicious hamburger stand. The plan of attack is as follows: I will use the park restroom (and see if it's tolerable) while Bernie convinces Isa it's time to leave, Bernie will take Isa to the restroom and clean off the mud all over her feet, hands, and face, and then Bernie will make a play for the new parents in town. I will provide backup when necessary.
The park bathroom is nicer than most bar bathrooms in Manhattan during happy hour, definitely nicer than late at night. I am always amazed when I reminded that the rest of the world is clean.
When I'm done I sit on a bench and wait. I watch as Bernie makes eye contact with the father as she walks Isa to the restroom. Big smiles all around. When they return, the other parents have moved toward the mud pit, anxious to collect their children, too. Bernie tells Isa to say goodbye to her new friends.
Do it now, Bernie, I'm thinking. Make your move. I wish this with a surprising intensity. I realize I am nervous for her. We have spent more than a half hour stalking these people, waiting to make our move. If we could have, we would have bought them a drink. To be rejected now, it would be heartbreaking.
I hear Bernie say, "The girls seem to get along."
"Yes," says the husband. He's a little geeky, but he has a nice smile. I bet he's a software engineer, maybe owns his own company. Later Bernie says she thinks he's a college professor. Anyway he's smart, that's clear just from looking at him.
The wife, the one who speaks French and is wearing sparkly sandals and a big floppy straw hat, joins them.
I am still seated, listening, praying.
"Maybe we could meet here again sometime," says Bernie. "So the girls could play."
"That sounds good," he says. The wife nods and smiles.
"Well let me get your number," says Bernie. She begins to rummage in her purse. Bernie's not satisfied with vague plans, though, oh no. "Why don't we just say next Wednesday sometime?" She went for the kill! That's my girl!
Details are discussed - their youngest will need to take his daily a nap, Isa has camp till one - and then they agree on a time. Bernie asks them where they've moved from, and they say Chicago. This is my cue. I walk up and Bernie introduces me. "I'm from Chicago originally," I say. "Well, Buffalo Grove."
"Oh, we're from Lincoln Park," says the man.
I am completely aware that I am Bernie's wingman (winggirl?) right now, in a much different way than I am accustomed. I am usually pretending to be interesting so some boy will continue to think one of my friends is cool. This is very different. I have to pretend to be uninteresting.
"It's quite different here from Chicago," I say. My words hit the ground with a dull thud. Excellent. My work here is done.
"Yes, very much so." I notice they are cautious too. Maybe they're completely weird and they're hiding it, anxious for their children to connect.
It is only the kids who have nothing to hide. "Do I get a playdate?" says Isa.
"Yes," says Bernie.
"Yay!" she yells. She's ecstatic.
Later, in the car, I say, "You know if it were ten years ago, you'd have just made a date for yourself. You've still got the moves."
At Taylor's Refresher, the children are insane. They all instantly make friends with each other and then run around in packs, yelling and laughing. They don't even need to know names. Everyone just knows, Taylor's is where you go to have a good time.
Isa finds a little boy to hunt bugs with her. She has brought a butterfly book with her, so they also study that together.
"Taylor's is not a place to find play dates," says Bernie, as we sip our wine and pick at french fries. "You just get in and out of here."
But Isa and the little boy she has befriended get along stunningly well, and they sit together for a half hour.
"Maybe we can take him with us," I say.
The Napa Wine Train rolls by and cars on the highway and in the parking lot honk their horns. The Wine Train takes tourists on a trip through Napa Valley, while they eat an unimpresive meal and get lit on really good wine. The Taylor's Refresher scene comes to a halt whle the train zooms past. The children are delighted by it, and the parents, though they've seen it a million times before, are forced to acknowledge it if for no other reason than it's incredibly loud. The Wine Train, for better or worse, is a part of their lives.
Another little boy pops up on the scene, and he and Isa begin to run around together. Bernie walks over to the two women escorting the new boy, and comes back with a thumbs up.
"I think they're looking for a playdate," she says. "The grandma just said, 'Oh he doesn't have any friends. It's all older people who live on his block. No families.'"
I look at the little boy. He has white blond hair bleached by the sun and is wearing a t-shirt that says "Future St. Helena Firefighter." He's a fireman's son!
"Make friends with them!" I say. "I want to meet the fireman."
I am getting greedy, I know. But when does the wingman get hers?
Bernie eventually exchanges numbers but she returns to the table shaking her head. "She'll never call, I can just tell," she says. "And it would have been so great. He's an only child, too."
"With a fireman dad," I say wistfully. We sit silently for a moment and then I remember: she's still got one in the bag. "But you've got Wednesday! That's a done deal. You must think positive."
"You're right, you're right," she says.
"And anyway it's not for lack of trying," I say. "You've done your best."
Isa runs by with a new set of best friends forever, a family of girls in matching t-shirts and skirts. I snap a picture of them so we won't forget how popular Isa is sometimes.