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The first kid date: December 2006

When it comes time to introduce your sweetie to the love of your life, it's likely you won't be the only one with performance anxiety. You'll have put it off as long as possible because the implications:
  1. You two are serious enough that it's time to bring your child into the equation
  2. Which means that the person you're seeing has somehow managed to last more than three dates
  3. And you trust (as much as you can) that this person will be around long enough to make a strong connection worthwhile

Are many, and the potential consequences:

  1. Your child can't stand the new joy in your life
  2. The new joy in your life is awful with kids
  3. Your sweet kid and your darling fall in love with each other
  4. Your child is going to tell your ex about it, and you'll have to provide some sort of explanation
  5. If things don't work out, you're not the only one who will be left desolated, and you'll have to explain to your child why there's a big hole in your lives, and you'll have to start all over again, except this time you both will feel the need to be more guarded than before, and who's really going to fall for you and your kid (or two, or three) and all of your baggage and quirks and faults?
  6. You, your honey, and your little goofball do so well that none of you can imagine life without each other, and the three of you become a family, and create an imperfect-but-wonderful new world together, and you and your love watch your baby grow up together, maybe adding a little miracle sibling or two along the way, and everyone feels whole and happy and ¦
  7. The three of you just don't connect, it's no big deal, and you move on.

Are too many and too maddening and too heart-wrenching to think about for very long, but finally, you realize that it's time. Something in your heart says it's right to take that chance; that your child will be okay, and you will be okay, and your new sweetheart will be okay. But that doesn't mean you, your adoring kid, and your adored honey won't feel a ton of pressure.

I haven't done it often in the last four years, but I can still provide a few dos and don'ts for that first special date.

DON'T make a big deal about it with your child. Sure, you can barely contain the rich mix of excitement and apprehension that makes your stomach hurt and your head ache, and your nerves jangle like Rosie O'Donnell's second chin. And, yes, you want your kid to be on his or her best behavior and make the "right" impression. But putting pressure on your baby will only set things on edge. Don't tell him or her too far ahead, and when you do break the news, keep it light. "Hey, my new friend Lenna is going to meet us at the playground tomorrow, so we can all play together." Or, "We're going to have a guest for dinner tonight. Her name is Marie, and she's a good friend of mine."

DO plan something that's fun for your kid, and doesn't require super-human feats of good behavior. Skip the fancy restaurant; have a picnic and bring toys. Don't go to the art museum; visit the zoo. Avoid the library, and play at the park instead. Plan an easy, fun activity, with potential for stretching it (like going to a movie, then stopping for ice cream afterwards). It's only the first outing. Maintain perspective.

DON'T make your child perform. You know he can spell "disestablishmentarianism" or sing all eight thousand verses of "My Darling Clementine." And, yeah, it's freaking adorable when she does that dance move with the little maracas you brought home from Cabo a couple years ago. But you're not an organ grinder, and your child isn't a performing monkey. She'll do the cute stuff when she's comfortable. Let her find her own way. You'll look ridiculous trying to coax some brilliance out of your kid.

DON'T stress. Your sweetheart knows how important this is to both of you. He or she is nervous. Really nervous. This is worse than meeting the parents. Your date understands the implications as well as you do (or should, if you've done your homework and made a good choice), and has decided that his or her behavior and chemistry with your child on this date could make or break the whole relationship. But it's not true. It's only the first meeting, and things are bound to run off the rails here or there. If you're meant to be together, some minor disasters early on will only become fun stories (target=new>www.datingdad.com/the_dating_dad/2005/11/the_first_colum.html) down the road.

DON'T do what I did for the next three days after the latest one of these things, which was: obsess over how it went, and whether the timing was right, and if she really, really understood the implications of the fact that I allowed her into my daughter's life, my heart doing the rumba every time Simone mentioned her name.

It's going to be okay, really.

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