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I had my daughter at thirty-five: advanced maternal age according to the medical community. (Hey, at least they stopped referring to it as a “geriatric pregnancy,” right?)
Since I’m somewhat late to the parenting game, I spent many years being the childless one at social gatherings or work events. And sometimes it got boring, listening to other people talk endlessly about their kids.
Now that I’m part of the Parent Club, I can participate in conversations about diaper blowouts and pediatrician visits. But I don’t want the baby to be the only thing I ever talk about.
Back when our babies were a few months old, my friend Charlotte and I went on a long stroller walk. After an hour of discussing our babies’ sleep schedules, I asked her, “so what’s going on in your life besides the baby?”
Her eyes widened. “Oh god,” she said, sounding shocked and somewhat ashamed. “I have nothing else.”
Please don’t get me wrong: that’s totally to be expected when you’re the parent of a newborn. In those first few months, people should be congratulating you for making it out of the house.
And I’m also not saying that children aren’t interesting. Obviously they are, and obviously I’m going to talk to people about my daughter because she’s a genius baby who also happens to be the most beautiful and amazing child on earth. But it can be quite refreshing and intellectually-stimulating to have non-baby-related conversations every once and a while. That’s all I’m saying.
So here are my suggestions on how to be a new parent who can carry on a non-baby-related conversation.
How to Have New Parent Conversations That Don’t Involve THE BABY
#1 Make a goal of (at least!) one adults-only activity per week
When my daughter was a month old and I had only partially emerged from a Twilight Zone of sleep-deprivation and random crying, I went out for a beer with my friend Cari, leaving my husband at home with our daughter. Cari and I talked about books and food and television, and for an hour I sort of forgot I had a baby… It was amazing. And I told myself I had to make this a regular thing.
These days, I go to yoga one evening a week, and sometimes Zumba. I try to go out for drinks or dinner with friends a few times a month, and I have plans to go see a play.
Getting out sans baby can be hard, I know. Maybe, instead of going out, you put the baby to sleep and invite friends over for games or dessert or drinks (this blackberry sage and bourbon cocktail, maybe?) It helps to have some childless friends, which brings me to suggestion #2.
#2 Hang out with friends who don’t have kids.
There’s no better way to steer the conversation away from the baby than by hanging out with people who don’t have one.
At the beginning of the summer, I went to dinner in DC with my friends Matt and Layla. They took me to a hip restaurant and encouraged me to sample a jalapeno-infused booze called Chacho, which they swore was the new “it” alcohol. (Childless people in the city always know what’s new and hip.)
Then, over margaritas and tacos, I made them promise to let me know whenever they do anything cultural or fun.
“I used to be good about researching cultural happenings, but…”
“But now you have a baby,” Matt said.
“Exactly. So let me know when you’re doing something cool. I’ll probably say I can’t go half the time, but don’t stop inviting me.”
And they haven’t, thank goodness.
#3 Read (perhaps while you breastfeed!)
My friend Meagan once told me that she did a ton of reading done when she was exclusively breastfeeding her son. But in the first few weeks with my daughter, I couldn’t figure out how to hold the baby and a book at the same time, so I just ended up scrolling through Facebook on my phone while she nursed.
Then I realized, duh, my Kindle. I can easily read on my Kindle while breastfeeding. And I can download books from the library onto my Kindle without even leaving the house. Very useful when even a trip to the library becomes a production.
“So, what are you reading lately?” is always a great conversation starter, but, even with breastfeeding reading, it can be hard as a new parent to find the time (or energy) to settle down with a book.
That’s why you have to set the bar low. Now is not the time to tackle Ulysses. Maybe read something fun, like a thriller or a YA novel. Since my daughter was born, I’ve been working my way through Modern Mrs. Darcy’s list of Unputdownable novels. (So far, my favorite on this list is Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park.) And might I also suggest anything by Jennifer McMahon. Not only are her books unputdownable, but I’ve spent entire dinners with my friend Allyson discussing McMahon’s creepy, paranormal thrillers.
#4 Take your newborn to the movies
Before my daughter was three months old, she’d been to the movies three times. I’d go to a weekday matinee so that, if she ended up crying, we wouldn’t disturb too many people. (There are also several theaters in the DC area that offer “crybaby matinees” especially for parents and babies.) I’d nurse her in the dark theater, she’d fall asleep in my arms, and then she would doze happily while I watched my movie. I actually ended up seeing more Oscar-nominated films this year than I normally do – always great fodder for conversation.
Of course, now that my daughter is no longer a sleepy newborn, I’m not so sure she could handle the movies, but that’s okay. She now goes to bed at a reasonable time, so I can watch movies (or the new season of Game of Thrones!) at home on the couch.
#5 Listen to podcasts
It’s almost embarrassing how often I begin a conversation with “so I was listening to this podcast and…” There are so many good podcasts these days, and thank god because they make driving around in DC traffic much more pleasant. And back when I could only get my baby to nap in her stroller, I used to listen to podcasts while I wheeled her around the neighborhood.
Some of my favorites are Pop Culture Happy Hour, This American Life, Radiolab, How to Be a Girl, Serial (Season 1), Radio Diaries, and Rookie. There are also some good writing-related podcasts, like This Creative Life with Sara Zarr and The New Yorker: Fiction podcast.
#6 Find a news source you like
As a fiction writer, I’ve always had a hard time reading the newspaper – that dry, journalistic writing. And, let’s be honest, the news is often upsetting and depressing. But in adult conversations it does helps to keep up with current events. I enjoy getting my news from The Skimm, a snarky newsletter delivered to my inbox that gives me all the headlines in darkly-funny, bite-sized pieces. I’m a wee bit older than it’s intended audience, but that’s good, too, because it makes me feel young and helps keep me up to date with the latest slang.
I also got a subscription to New York Magazine recently, and I’ve really been enjoying that, too. I’ve read fascinating profiles on Ivanka Trump, Betsey DeVos, Zoe Quinn, and Aubrey Plaza. And the New York Magazine’s recent article on how Pornhub is like the Kinsey Report of our time is definitely a conversation-starter.
#7 Ask more questions
When I was a teenager, I used to think that my job in a conversation was to tell fun stories and say interesting things. It took me a while to realize that to be a great conversationalist you only need to do two things: listen and ask questions.
Maybe all you have going on in your life right now is trying to keep your baby (and yourself) alive and well. Maybe you have nothing to contribute to a conversation besides tales of teething and night-waking. That’s perfectly understandable. But when you need a break from discussing the kiddo, the solution is simple: ask people questions. Ask if they’ve read any good books lately, seen any good movies, eaten at any hip restaurants.
My grandfather, a former journalist, is a master at questions. He once asked me “so, what’s the point of fiction anyway?” At the time I was getting my MFA in Fiction Writing and was somewhat offended by the question, but I’ve come to realize he probably asked me because he knew I’d have a strong opinion – and a lot to say on the matter. He asks my physicist husband questions about black holes. He asks my physical therapist cousin what to do about his bad knee.
I want to get better at asking questions. If you do it right, it can lead to really fascinating conversations where you end up learning something… And then you can take that new knowledge into your next non-baby-related conversation!