In my home, we have something called “fake dates.” These are dates where we take our children someplace they can run around free without our attention while we sit and talk about life over coffee.
This is also known as “go and get some fresh air” or “don’t come back inside until the sun comes down” from generations before us.
Parents who are completely, unashamedly honest would even call this “getting the kids out of my hair” or “ignoring the kids.”
You know, we do this because of the normal problems with finding the right ayi who will tell my bossiest child what’s up and what’s down and that she will so tell me if that child doesn’t straighten up. Thus far all we can find is house help that gets bullied by that child. Sad but true.
One evening we took our kids to a local playground with tons of other children with full intentions to sit down and chat. Unfortunately, my husband has a neon sign on his forehead that says, “I love cute, cuddly children. Please play with me.”
As soon as my kids asked for him to come play and he gave in for that instant, other children joined in as he played tag, hide and seek, and tickle monster. He had a train of kids following him and of course he ate it all up. Makes sense why he’s a great teacher, right? Kids adore him!
It got dark that day before he realized he had totally messed up our fake date.
But no fear. I had an idea.
Let’s join the grannies on the corner for a night of dancing.
We have a few roommates in our house who we don’t like asking to babysit too much, but when the kiddos are in bed asleep, that’s not a big deal. Then it’s just making sure that if one nosey child gets up the nerve to meander out of bed and investigate why the house is so quiet, that child is promptly told to get back in bed by one of the adult figures in the home.
With kids in bed, we dressed up like we were going to a gala.
A really mismatched gala with my husband wearing business casual and me in a knock-off Taobao gown just in case I was given tickets to an event at the last minute.
We arrived at this massive square just a few blocks down from us. The area is big, about half the size of the CGNT pants courtyard. There were two groups of dancers, one was on the side with ethnic music blaring from a carry-around speaker, while the other group had a bit of polka/swing style music, if you can imagine that mix. We began dancing to the swing-type music in awkward swing, because it’s been years since we went dancing.
I felt awkward because he seemed to feel awkward. You know how that goes right?
“Are you OK?”
“Are you having fun?”
I imagined him thinking, “Will you please stop asking me that? Just dance, woman!”
The awkwardness increased as I looked around the square. We stuck out like a man wearing a Beijing bikini being foreigners (well I was wearing a sparkly blue dress without sleeves!) and because we were so out of our league in dancing.
These grannies are not just toddler-watching family members. They can step and swing better than most white, uncultured Americans that I’ve ever seen.
Skip, sway, turn. Skip, sway, turn.
As the night wore on suddenly the DJ broke out with much more hip music. I’m almost certain the song was by same band that performs 小苹果. Pretty much everyone with class cleared out, but we stayed to gawk.
Suddenly women and men old enough to by my parents crowded around in a circle and danced like they were younger than me. A woman in the center was wearing a white pants dress suit and clearly knew that she was ruling the dance ring. You know the yells you hear early in the morning at parks in the city? Kind of like a karate yell after you’ve just broken a board in two? The men were yelling like that.
The DJ yelled 再来一次！再来一次！ three more times until finally the rest of the group was too tired and sweaty and annoyed by the same song to dance in the group anymore.
We haven’t been back since due to the cold and awkwardness, but maybe we’ll finish some free dancing lessons with a friend and go back with heads held high.
Do you have fake dates? Where’s your favorite spot in your city?
And yeah, if you have a Beijing ayi who’s like a stone wall, please share. My bossy child won’t thank you but I certainly will!
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Vanessa Jencks founded China Moms Blog to connect internationally-minded parents through semi-humorous stories and poorly-written satire news. She is the former managing editor of beijingkids magazine; see her previous work here. She writes about relationships and faith at vanessajencks.com and runs a faith e-zine at LetMeNotWander.