It’s been a while since I’ve arranged or attended a play date. I know, I know, it’s not about me, right? Except it is. Recently, following weeks of planning and scheduling and reworking a get-together with the awesome mom of my six-year-old’s Montessori school friend – who, by the way, has three children – I cancelled at the 11th hour. We’d exchanged quite a few emails detailing best times, dietary restrictions and suggested activities and it all sounded great until I realized that I was spent before the play date was even set to begin.
I emailed her the night before to apologize for flaking out at the last minute. “I’m so sorry, I really suck at play dates,” I wrote. She LOL’d and replied, “No worries, I suck at play dates. too.” What’s funny is that I could totally read the sigh of relief reverberating through her reply.
Play dates. Ultimate parent sacrifice or pure and simple joy?
What is it about play dates that sends some moms into panicked, nervous-wreck mode, while others have no reaction at all? I might venture to guess that it comes down to what one hopes to achieve. That’s right. In some way, I’ve always suspected that certain play dates were a conduit for certain moms to extend the hallway chatter with a view to showing off pedigree; while others suggested them with perfunctory astuteness as to take all the fun and joy out of playing.
And then there’s my younger sister whose very popular daughter had more play dates than any child I’d heard of. Among the many themed play dates they hosted throughout the year, their gingerbread house-making parties at Christmas were legendary. That’s right, moms not so subtlety dropped hints that their children be invited, and one year a mom attempted to steal my niece’s thunder by hosting a gingerbread party a few days before her annual party. Of course, it tanked and ultimately paled by comparison, but that’s not the point, is it? Yeah, sometimes it goes down like that, too. But, personally, I’m not one for the pressure.
In the early days, I’d done the play-date thing very much feeling like it was exactly like hosting a birthday party. For two kids. The prep and panic were all the same: I would clean the house from top to bottom, and organize the girls’ playroom, only for it to be torn apart a few hours later (yes, I know, this is to be expected, but a mom can dream, no?). I would stop by the grocery store, make a beautiful spread of healthy snacks and drinks and I would totally feel good about doing that. Sometimes an additional sibling or two would be added without prior notice, or a parent would leave mid-play date to run an errand – that’s cool, forget about our play date, I’ll babysit your kid. Sometimes the visiting kid would tear through the house and almost never help to clean-up at the end. Finally, I’d attempt to make guarded small talk with the mom that I didn’t know all that well until the child, who never wanted the play date to end, would go home. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed aspects of doing it; however, my inner gracious host took a beating in the process.
This was about the time I realized, screw the pressure! My children will not become social outcasts if they do not participate in strategically-timed play dates, and I, their mother, will not be blacklisted from the Mommy Klatch.
I decided that I’m actually good with talking to moms at drop-off or in between lessons or after school, and I don’t necessarily have to plan elaborate play dates in order to feel like I’m a good parent. My girls have plenty of time to socialize with their friends at school, at birthday parties, of which there are many, and through various extra-curricular activities. Truth be told, play dates are an optional, additional treat in the grand scheme of things.
Soon I loosened my expectation in thinking that the play date should be reciprocated – which never was, given the juggling gymnastics it took to organize the first one. I also realized – with light bulb moment clarity – that a play date that consists of an impromptu get together at the park is okay and more often than not, is actually preferred.
In the past two weeks, my social-butterfly daughters attended an everyday swimming class where they easily made friends with two sisters. They shared snacks and laughs and the mom and I had great conversations, too. Each day my daughters would say, “Mommy, can we have a play date with S and I, we really like them.” To which I replied, “We’ll see.” As our girls continued to persist, the other mom finally said, “We should get together. I like you, and I’m tired of organizing play dates with parents that I don’t like.” Ha! I thought. Well said. Perhaps a play date doesn’t have to be an adventure in sucking after all!