I want to know how this whole play date thing started. Who coined the term? When? How did it become so mainstream? And, does anyone (who is hosting the play date) actually enjoy them? Because if you ask me, it’s just a lot of work.
Here’s a shocker, I’m not big on play dates. I live in a big town. I don’t know many of the parents from first son’s class, and at seven years old, I’m not just going to let my son go hang out at some stranger’s house. First son takes the bus to school. Our school does not have an open door policy when it comes to class parties and activities, and I am not involved in the PTO. This leaves very few occasions to interact with parents. The parents that I do know well, are ones that I got to know while our children were in preschool, which was a total crap shoot, since again, a big area means a lot of preschools. It was just luck that I happened to meet two women whose children ended up going to first son’s school. Unfortunately, they both have girls.
This is fine with me, though, because I don’t think my kids need play dates. In fact, I don’t think they need anything that connotes the idea that I have to consult a date book to check to see if they are available. Of course, they don’t always agree. So, when one of them is begging me for a play date, I simply say, “God gave you a brother. You’re constantly on a play date.”
This is not to say we don’t do play dates. We have one boy in our neighborhood, whom my sons both play with only because their mom is super nice and let’s second son come along (though I’m pretty sure he’s nothing but a pain in the ass when he’s there), but he’s pretty much it. It’s somewhat easy. He rides his bike over, they play, he goes home. We’re out taking a walk, he’s outside playing, we stop, I talk with the mom, they play, we go home.
This year, though, second son has been asked on three play dates, good for me, but who knows for the other parent, after all, how do I know how he acts when he’s at someone else’s house? And besides the neighbor, we have had only one child over from first son’s class, until today, when we had one of second son’s friends over, reciprocating a play date from a few weeks ago. Again, good for the other mom, who was able to resolve a scheduling conflict, not so good for me, and not because of the play date herself. The girl couldn’t have been any sweeter, or more tolerant. My kids, however, were a mess.
Little lady turned into some sort of manipulating social wizard, hijacking the play date at every turn, shedding tears when she was locked out of first son’s room, evoking sympathy from the visiting little girl, grabbing the play dates hand and leading her down the stairs while the little girl followed uncomfortably, remarking something about how tight little lady was holding her hand. She addressed the girl by name, uttering phrases like, “look at this, play date friend” and “play date friend, look at me.” She even insisted on changing into a dress so she could match second son’s young friend. Can you say Single White Female? You can guess how second son felt about all that.
Furthermore, second son is a boy’s boy, by the end of the play date, she was playing with little lady’s play kitchen and second son was playing cars. What can you do? I don’t know? But, I’ll tell you what you can’t do. You can’t work out. You can’t tell your kids to stop fighting and continue on with your laundry. You can’t stay in your pajamas until ten or jump in the shower while second son is watching a show. You can’t get on the phone. No, you have to actually monitor the play date and resolve any and all conflicts, especially when it involves your own two children fighting over your guest, poor girl.
It was no better when first son had his play date, or when the neighborhood boy is over. Yea, it’s easy because we don’t have to do much to get to each other, but managing the sibling rivalry that takes on a new dynamic when a guest is over, is torture. Second son turns into a jealous mess, pouting, sabotaging or acting like a kitten (yea, I said kitten, don’t ask), even when the boys are trying to include him. The constant chip he wears on his shoulder only gets heavier when someone else is here. Now, little lady has to enter the picture too…this is precisely why I hate play dates. Too much work.
I was utterly depleted by the time I dropped second son and our little play date off at school today, that’s when I started wondering about the evolution of the play date. I never had play dates, we went outside to play. We made do with the neighbors that were there. I’m pretty sure when my mom sent us outside to play it was to get a rest, not make more work for herself. No one had to serve me snack or drive me home. When I was hungry or tired, I went home, across the street. My mom didn’t have to referee our fights or put out fires, sometimes the older two girls ganged up on me, sometimes, they didn’t. I dealt with it. It wasn’t until I got older that I started venturing to other houses, but our town was small, so I could ride my bike. And it wasn’t until high school that I actually hung out with people from other towns.
I don’t want to be one of those people who waxes poetic about the past, but seriously, that’s how life should be for children. They should be outside in backyards, on culdesacs, in driveways playing, not being driven all over town to go on two hour highly supervised play dates. Why did all that change?
I know the answers are complicated and I’m sure there are still places where children can just go outside in their own neighborhood and find someone to play with, but it’s not here. So, my advice, if you can, move into a neighborhood with a lot of children. I wish I did. Then you can skip the play date and let the kids play out in the yard. You’ll feel much saner. If it’s too late for that, declare that your children are on a permanent play date and demand that they thank you for it. If you only have one child and you really want them to play with someone else besides you (and frankly, I don’t blame you), sorry, you’re screwed.