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Home on the Range 

Not long ago, I hooked up with a few mom friends for dinner, and things went so swimmingly that we decided to meet up on a monthly basis. My husband, while not philosophically opposed to my right to a little social interaction sans children, seemed less than thrilled about my burgeoning girls’ night out (the eye-rolling, sighing, and harrumphing gave it away). When I confronted him, he got a bit testy. “When do I get my guys’ night out?” he wondered.

I never imagined myself participating in gender-segregated recreation, let alone arguing passionately on its behalf. I’ve always shunned organized, gimmicky fun, and I definitely have trouble with the retro-hokey term “girls’ night out,” which somehow smacks of sad women stuffing $20 bills into the g-strings of Chippendales dancers.

The first time I encountered the concept, I wasn’t ready to embrace it. Perhaps I hadn’t
experienced the isolation of stay-at-home motherhood long enough. A mom at a group playdate floated the idea of getting together to play board games on a Friday night. She made a special point of mentioning that no husbands would be invited and no alcohol would be served. I was stricken — the prospect of spending a Friday evening downing Cokes and playing Monopoly sent me right back to fifth grade, with its Judy Blume books and slumber-party shenanigans. Um, no, thanks.

But two years and another kid later, I was more than ready to fight for my right to girls’ night out. So the husband and I ended up having one of those whose-day-is-harder debates, the kind of he said/she said cliché straight out of an especially unfunny sitcom. I didn’t dispute his early-rising, traffic-battling, stressful-job claims, but countered with a few salient points of my own. Namely that while he was bantering with adult humans all day long — around the watercooler, over lunch at Bohanan’s, in conference rooms and courthouses — I was home explaining the importance of sharing to my recalcitrant 4-year-old and conducting existential colloquies with my 1-year-old about our cat (as in “CAT?” “Yep, that’s a cat.” “CAT! CAT!!”). Whole days were slipping away before I realized the sum total of my conversation with fellow grown-ups had been “Paper or plastic?” and “We’re out of skim — is nonfat okay?”

Before I moved here from NYC, before I had children, I would’ve described my social life as rich and varied. My friends (men and women) from my first job happily hung out with those from my 10th. College roommates mingled freely with high-school pals and the friends of friends I’d known since preschool. We did weekend brunches, expense-account lunches, screenings, cocktail parties, barbecues, and Blockbuster nights. But if spontaneity and variety are the spice of the urban child-free social life, then the key to successful socializing for the exurban parent seems to be lots of planning — and a bit of gimmickry. When I left NYC, Tupperware parties were enjoying a fleeting revival among kitsch-inclined hipsters; out here in the sprawl, book clubs and Bunco nights aren’t ironic, they’re a sanity-
saving necessity.

A girls’ night out is basically an excuse for the mothers of young children to have an actual conversation. No raised voices (except in laughter), but plenty of raised glasses (of Shiraz). A simple pleasure, really, and one that is easily taken for granted if you don’t have little kids. (It’s also nice to go out without needing to tote a purse the size of a Hefty lawn-and-leaf bag.) The evening doesn’t serve its purpose if too much time is spent yakking about preschools and pediatric dentistry. Though, truth be told, our last dinner devolved into an enthusiastic conversation about the virtues of flushable wipes. Well, at least there weren’t any Chippendales — or board games.

So the husband and I reached détente. I
acknowledged that while many of the friendships I’d formed with colleagues began at the watercooler, they were usually cemented over happy-hour drinks at the bar downstairs (that is a beautiful thing about NYC — there’s always a bar downstairs). He acknowledged my absolute rightness in all things and, lo, it was decided that my monthly engagement could continue and he might enjoy the occasional after-work libation with his co-workers.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll start having “date nights,” which, I hear from friends who allegedly have them, are a marvelous, unspontaneous way to keep the overscheduled parents of small children from arguing about stupid stuff like whose day is harder.


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