Playdates are a necessary evil of modern childhood. It’s not like the old days, when kids ran wild through the neighborhood with their friends and then booked it home when the streetlights came on.
These days many parents are afraid to let their children roam outside unattended. This is either because a) they have seen too many Lifetime movies about child abduction to think rationally (that’s me), or b) they find themselves stymied in their attempts to encourage a healthy independence in their children by well-intentioned, idiotic bystanders who confuse perfectly acceptable parenting practice with abuse. The woman who got arrested for letting her 9-year-old daughter play at the park without her comes to mind. As does the woman who was reported for allowing her three children to play in their own fenced-in backyard while she did laundry inside.
Thus, for many kids, spontaneous social interaction with their peers has been replaced by what amount to appointments, planned with the skilled coordination once reserved for military maneuvers. (“We have swim lessons at 10 but we could do 11.” “We have a birthday party at 11. How about 2?” “Her brother has occupational therapy at 2 and then T-ball.” “How does November look?”)
Of course, you can always play with your children yourself, but if other households are anything like mine, that involves some seriously weird s—t. My son’s idea of a good time is to chase me around the house pretending to be the ghost of a dead piano teacher. (“You must practice!”) Or there’s the one where we leave mean notes for each other, a game that started one day when he scrawled on a notepad, “Dear Mom, I hope you get fat!”
Pretending to be indignant, I wrote back:
“If I get fat, I’ll sit on you until you barf!”
Giggling, he wrote:
“If you make me barf, I’ll put it all in your bed!”
“If you put your barf in my bed, I’ll wait until you are asleep, sneak into your room and spit into your open mouth.”
Eyes wide, he looked up.
“Are you serious?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Am I?”
As you can see, the need to get my children around normal people is very real.
But the problem with setting up a playdate for your child is that you are often forced into a date too. Since few parents are willing to drop their kid off at a stranger’s house, you and a rough acquaintance are obligated to make conversation while your children bang around the house and occasionally come streaking through the room butt naked in a fire fighter’s helmet.
To be fair, it’s not always bad. Sometimes, you meet the other parent, hit it off right away and think, “Wow, we should have drinks sometime,” or, “I bet you’d be great in a bar fight.”
Other times the whole thing lags, the conversation falls flat (“Have you lived in this house long?”) and 45 minutes into it you awkwardly check your watch and say, “Well, we should get out of your hair.”
The worst is when you know in advance that you’re not going to like the other parent. I recently endured this when my son set up a playdate with a boy we met at the park. To call his mother uptight would be a kindness. What else can you say about a person who screams like a banshee when she catches her 7-year-old scaling the jungle gym and then follows it with a manic singsong, “Sweetie, get down from there! Ladders aren’t for climbing!”
Since they were coming to our house I had the added displeasure of having to clean, which meant shoving every toy, piece of paper, marker and stuffed animal in sight into the hall closet.
When they arrived the boys took off upstairs, leaving me to make constipated conversation with this woman in the kitchen. It wasn’t long before the boys ran in saying they couldn’t find our Candy Land game.
I went to look upstairs while they searched downstairs. Not surprisingly, the box was in plain sight on the book shelf in Jack’s room. The same room the boys had just been playing in for 20 minutes.
“Found it!” I called from the top of the stairs, and then stopped when I saw the boys digging through the hall closet while the mother stood nearby, staring at several pieces of paper. She then looked at me, her expression wary and confused.
Looks like I wasn’t the only one who had found something. In her hands were several of the notes Jack and I wrote to each other.
“Oh, those!” I said, running down the stairs to see her clutching one that read: “Dear Mom, I hope you die soon!” in magenta marker.
“That’s just a little joke we have with each other,” I said, as Jack grabbed the Candy Land box from my hands. “See, in the next one I tell him that if I die I will come back as a ghost and scare him until he pees his pants. Ha-ha!”
Her eyes grew wide.
“It’s really just a joke,” I mumbled. “I mean, like, that other one? I wouldn’t, you know, actually defecate in his shoes.”
To suggest that the playdate ended poorly would be an understatement. To speculate that we won’t be having another playdate with this young man any time soon would be sensible.
At the end of the day, that’s probably for the best. I know at least 10 other moms who are much more fun to hang out with, moms who would have laughed those notes off and maybe even joined in the game.