Something I learned quickly after becoming a mother is that play dates are never really about the kids.
Sure, children, especially before they’re school-age, will benefit from the exposure to an environment that’s different from home. The interaction with other kids who might — heaven forbid — touch their toys and read their books help children to develop social skills and teach them other intangibles like sharing, generosity and patience. At least that’s the hope of mothers the world over.
But the real reason so many mothers gather their broods together under the auspices of getting their children to play is because they need the social interaction and fellowship. They need to be reminded that they are not alone in their experience.
Motherhood is a blessing, a privilege and a gift. But it can also be isolating, frustrating and exhausting. That’s especially true for mothers who stay home and for whom raising children is a vocation. And the sense of disconnectedness is certainly greater for mothers and children who are raising families in places far from home.
I was thinking about all this Wednesday morning as I drove my daughters to an apartment complex on Fort Worth’s east side. We were attending a play date organized by Catholic Charities Fort Worth, with refugee moms and children from Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we entered the community room where a small group of American moms was busy laying out colored pencils and card games, setting up snacks and trying to corral a bevy of kids anxious for the play date to begin.
When our first refugee guest walked in, my toddler buried her head in my shoulder. My three-year-old clutched my hand. Meeting new people is hard. I saw the same look of uncertainty flash across the face of the refugee mom, a beautiful woman wearing an ornate head scarf and pushing a wavy-haired boy in a stroller. She didn’t speak English, but we exchanged knowing smiles. She held my daughter’s hand. I touched her son’s head.
Some of the moms greeted our guests with hugs; they had met them at the previous play date and the sense of relief at this familiarity was palpable.
My daughters and I were coloring at a table when two women in hijab seated themselves next to me.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” I said extending my hand.
One of the women took my hand in hers. “No English,” she said.
I pulled up a map of the world on my phone, showed it to her and lifted my shoulders inquisitively. “Where?” I asked.
“Afghanistan,” she replied.
I pointed to my two children, then pointed to her. “How many?” I asked.
She held up one hand and two fingers on the other.
“Seven?” I asked?
She nodded, smiling broadly. I wanted to ask about her children. How old? Were they all in the U.S.? What dangers at home had brought them here? But somehow, in that moment, our limited exchange was enough.
One of the host moms started a game of alphabet bingo. A beautiful dark-haired girl sitting across from me quickly filled up her card, a smile fixed on her face. She handed my daughter a tiny stuffed animal. Her mother looked proud.
There were few words exchanged that morning; that didn’t seem to matter. There was a sense of shared understanding and commonality. Motherhood is hard. But none of us — even in the most trying of circumstances — are alone.
As for my kids and me, we’re looking forward to the next play date.
You can learn more about Catholic Charities’ work with refugees here.