If you are reading this expecting a pinterest-like blog of thematic play dates accompanied by home-made gluten-free snacks and hand-sewn and beautifully photographed craft times with kids in matching clothes, I misled you. Purposely.
The title should read something more like Play Date Pity Party, but I thought that might deter all readers but the introverted, melancholy, recovering-perfectionists-who-never-really-were-perfect types. And that leaves a very small minority of mothers, right? But hey, even the minority deserves a voice. So onward we shall go.
You would think I would have been ready for this day, what with nearly a year of mental preparations and all. You see, play dates in our house begin at least six months in advance in a germinal state initiated by the child or children that goes something like this:
Child: “Mom, we really should have so and so over for a playdate. We met today and we are very best friends for life and he or she has not even seen my house or my bed or my toys or my pantry or the dust on our shelves.”
Mother: “Oh, yes, dear, that is a wonderful idea,” while internally thinking, “Maybe by the end of the school year we will conquer that mountain.”
The germinal state than leads to the perpetual asking state. Often the child is very gracious and sweet and asks patiently when it might work to have the child over, as it has been nearly a semester. Then the mother deflects the question by reminding the child of the litany of things going on in the next few months.
Then the guilt phase ensues. The phase in which the mother realizes that it has been a completely selfish thing to not have had dear old so and so over. Maybe its summer and the mother realizes that much to her chagrin, her children are people-people who need company apart from her, the dog, the mail man, and the stack of library books in the basket by their beds. Who knew people needed that?
Eventually the guilt begins to weigh so heavily on the mother and she moves into the final stage of the play date life cycle: the executing stage. This involves initiating and planning and milking it for all its worth. The latter looks something like this:
One week out: “Honey, we really need to get to bed, we have a big week ahead of us. We are having our play date with so and so. You need your rest.”
One day out:” Honey, we really need to get to bed, we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow”…. You see where this is going.
Now the child cannot sleep and the mother must sleep because the big day is almost here.
There are things to think through that inhibit the mother from getting the rest she will need for the day ahead. Important questions like: What will we do for this long? How will I do this when I can barely do life with my own three kids well? Does this child have allergies? If they are gluten-free, what will we feed them, as everything in our house is most assuredly laced with gluten and its evil cousins. Will they have fun? Will they like me? Will they think I am awesome?
The child arrives, and the awkward interaction between the parents lasts for entirely too long while the children awkwardly try to remember how to relate to one another. They need a play prompt to get into their rhythm. And you must provide this. Once they get playing and hit their stride, someone will have to go to the bathroom or need a snack or a band-aid. This interruption then short-circuits all the creative and cooperative juices that were finally flowing, and the energy shoots out in complete chaos or conflict or indecision about what to do next.
You look at the clock; all is going well. We are now one hour into a four-hour marathon. No major injuries. No breakdowns. The perfect time for the cute picture. This is the picture that will in all likelihood appear on Instagram or facebook. You know, the smiling happy kids eating a special treat with some filters to make it even more awesome. Something like “Summer days with best friends#parentingisalwaysawesome#lookatus#lookatme.” And to the rest of the watching or reading or tweeting world, this is all that is known of the play date. If only Paul Harvey could do his “And that’s the rest of the story” bit on this play date.
But you do need proof for your children that you did, in fact, attempt and pull off play dates because you do, in fact, love them and want them to be socialized and happy and what not. So the picture is a must.
There really are sweet moments of sitting on the couch, watching the children play happily and peacefully out the window. These are the moments where you feel pretty proud of yourself and your kids. You think, “I really should do play dates more often.” But for every session of play like this, there is a decision-making session where the children spend double the time fighting over rules and roles and the exact game to play. You want to be an involved parent and you also want to usher in those sweet play sessions quickly, so you referee these sessions, which brings you off the couch with your book and back into the thick of the play date.
This cycle continues. You feel proud and exhilarated, excited to see the children learning how to interact and play well and freely. Then you make yourself sick, wondering if your bossy child or your passive child will ever amount to anything, while simultaneously vowing to not have another play date until next year. Maybe by then you will be laid back and go-with-the-flow and patient and all things pinterest.
Now you are more than halfway through the play date. There is light at the end of the tunnel. No to mention the fact that you have not used any technology yet, so, if all else fails, there is the promise of a 30-minute lull that should allow you to coast to the end.
The play date continues and now that everyone feels comfortable with each other, you are actually beginning to calm down and enjoy these moments with your kids. Everyone is in stride, you see new sides to your children and you are getting to know their friends. Their friends are smiling and you are smiling, knowing the end is near.
The pick up car arrives, a sigh of relief, children stall and ask if so and so can please spend the night, cordial goodbyes. And that’s a wrap.
You walk into the house. The children say, “Mom, that was so fun. When can we do it again?”
You smile and the cycle begins all over again.
Lest you think I am a terrible momma, I really do love my children. And among the top ten of the best parenting advice I have received is to learn to love (and really love, not just endure or pretend to love) their friends.
For these two reasons, I am a glutton for punishment and will continue to do play dates for as long as my children request them. That does not mean that they will not roller coaster rides of emotion. Let the fun begin!