The woman is very pregnant, waddling over to the counter to order her bagel as my husband I watch her from our table. We glance back and forth between her and her husband who is outside the cafe, playing with their young son.
"You ask her." My husband motions to me with his chin.
"No you ask her," I say.
"I can't ask her, I'm a guy. It looks creepy."
"You have a kid with you, its not creepy. You're a dad."
Our eyes lock, waiting for the other to concede.
We want to know how old this woman's son is, but know our objective isn't to stop there. We really want to drill her for answers. My husband and I will seek out a conversation with any fellow parent, be it at a playground, restaurant, or store. We lay out all of our feelings and thoughts about parenting and somehow expect that in return. We can't help it, we are excited to be parents and eager to connect to other people who are just as obsessed as us. And frankly on those days when we are feeling most isolated by our fatigue and stress, we just want to talk to someone else whose shirt is on inside out and clearly hasn't showered.
After trying to make contact with other parents over the past 19 months, we've developed a fail proof strategy. If my husband and I are together, one of us will watch our daughter while the other strikes up a conversation with a neighboring parent. The icebreaker is usually something about the kid's age, their outfit, or a comment about something they just did, to which we can chime in with, "Yeah that happens with us too." Then bam! We're in. Once a discussion about sleeping patterns, bottle weaning, and discipline starts, we tag team the conversation. Bouncing back and forth between watching our daughter and listening to our new friend, one of us will pick up where the other leaves off. Transitioning nicely through topics to be sure all of our questions are answered.
Its an interesting sociological experiment. This conversion from being the person who casually makes friends in social settings to a desperate, information seeking sleuth whose ears perk up at the sound of a haggered father with one kid on each leg in the grocery store. Its because you know conversation will come easy with this person and you see your own wavering faith in their eyes as to whether or not you will survive until the child's fifth birthday.
The major challenge in meeting other parents is how much time you have to talk before either one of your kids runs off and you have to go chasing after them. When my husband and I are together we're able to manage this like a well rehearsed dance. When we are on our own, we reconsider that child leash.
I'm usually the one to feel out the other parent to see if we should "seal the deal." Never one to pick up guys in bars or be picked up, I've no real experience with getting someone's number. So as I hear the other parent say, "Okay I guess it's time to go since you're ready for a nap," I panic and look around frantically for a pen and pad. My hands are usually juggling toys and snacks so programming my phone isn't an option. I've actually considered carrying business cards for this purpose.
Often the other parent is enthusiastic about exchanging information. I tell them it was nice meeting them and say, "We should make plans for a playdate," and really mean it. My husband and I walk away feeling confident and then wonder if we were too friendly, too inquisitive or too annoying, praying they didn't give us a fake number.
The pregnant woman gathers her bagel and coffee and makes her way to the door. My husband's eyes widen with urgency as we are letting her get away. She passes our table and joins her family outside. My husband shakes his head. I tell him not to worry. From the size of her belly and the tantrum of the little boy, they won't get too far down the block before we casually and stealthy walk up behind them and ask about their stroller.