Tot Mess

It took seven years and a global pandemic, but I’m finally meeting my co-workers’ kids.

After everything shutdown, one of my friends (and co-worker) and I arranged for our little boys to meet over Zoom. They’re just shy of a year apart in age, and very much interested in the same things: potty training fails, Lightning McQueen, and being the apple of their mama’s eyes. Being the deeply social being that he is, Grant adored it.

Fast forward six weeks, and I’m hosting a Zoom every Friday morning (our Friday morning; 1430 UTC) for other kids to meet Grant (and socialize amongst themselves, too, of course). Grant and I have hosted six times so far, and have no plans to stop.

Throughout the week, the twins have class Zooms, often over lunch or at dinner time. These calls are, therefore, quite “public” — Grant knows they’re happening, and he badly wants in on the action. He attends every call I have for work that he’s awake and under-supervised for (while we have a handoff schedule, I have some calls in my morning with folks in Europe and Asia that I refuse to just cancel, and my husband is at the office during those times). He’s become something of a mascot. He demands my headphones, and then I hear “What’s your name?! <pause> GRANT. Grant Ring! <pause> <pause> <pause> OK. Bye.” It’s almost always the same. Sometimes he’ll talk to them about bikes or ice cream or something else that’s top of mind to the toddler set, but lately he’s ringing off after the first exchange of pleasantries. Towards the end of the week, Grant asks me over and over “When do I talk to my kids? Today?” And every day I say “On Friday. It’s (X) days away.” And he counters with “Tomorrow?”

So we hang out for thirty minutes with whoever wants to join us. Sometimes it’s just us and another family. Sometimes it’s four or five families. Our maximum was something like fifteen over the course of the call. Grant doesn’t care. He warms up to being around people virtually, and he goofs around. Sometimes he “co-plays” (playing near the computer while the other kids are also playing nearby, and us parents chat). Other time he wants to have everyone’s attention. We read stories to each other, we show off toys, and we play Eye Spy. Grant really lives for these calls. I can tell he thinks about them a lot. He also has ideas for what he’s going to do on the call; for example, today he dug out an old toy of Henry’s that I personally hadn’t seen in a LONG time ahead of the call specifically to show it off (a Very Hungry Caterpillar that zips inside out to be a Beautiful Butterfly).

I’m so glad that I can arrange this gift for Grant. I’m grateful that other parents at Automattic find value in it as well, and it’s been really cool to meet other A12s who are parents and small talk about our small ones. It’s soothing. It’s a normalcy I don’t have anymore right now. Of course I can talk to parents, like my other parent friends, but there’s something of the “meet at the playground” randomness that’s missing. It’s hard to explain, and I didn’t even know I was going to find it through these calls. There’s a freeness in these calls. I find it refreshing to come to these calls and catch a fellow parent in their jammies, coffee in hand, and just chat kid stuff. There’s a feel of the GM to it, too, (stay with me here) in that you just don’t know who is around the next corner. I don’t require people to sign up, so I never really know who will be there. There’s a pleasing organizational chaos to it.

Ahead of the first call, I was excitedly talking about it in the Slack channel I share with my boss and peers, and when I said it would be a hot mess (and was very pleased by the prospect) my boss, Andrew, said “you mean a tot mess.” And so it was named. Each week I take vast pleasure in naming the Zoom call (which I don’t think anyone but me can see) when I schedule it. So far we’ve had “The Toddler Zoom” (I didn’t name that one, but it’s nice and descriptive), “Tot Mess 2: Electric Bugaloo,” “Tot Mess 3: Escape from Ghost Island,” “Tot Mess 4: Toddler’s Revenge,” “Tot Mess: Wrong Kind of Tot,” and “Tot Mess: The Band Gets Back Together.” Suggestions welcome.

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