I look at my phone for what feels like the 80th time.
“No. Not yet.”
As if I’d miss the loud, annoying tone I set to alert me to any new texts.
Now that it’s summer vacation, my son and I play this game almost daily when he’s not in camp. He – an only child at almost eight- is really great at playing by himself. He can get lost for hours in his play with Legos, action figures, books or building blocks. But, without fail, there is always the siren call of “Can I have a play date?”
Oh, the dreaded playdate.
It’s not the play date itself that I dread. In fact, play dates are awesome. If they’re at somebody else’s house, they provide me much needed time for myself. As someone who works from a home office, summer can be a tricky balancing act and play dates are huge helps. Even when they occur here, I’m still able to get in some work as the kids amuse themselves, playing really well 99% percent of the time, only surfacing to request a snack or two. My son is happy, friendships blossom and strengthen, and a fun time is usually had by all.
No, it’s not the play date itself that causes my stomach to knot up.
It’s the scheduling of them. Because somehow, when my son pipes up “I’d like a play date please,” it transports me back to a middle school mindset. The type where uncertainty rules and any semblance of self-esteem crumbles.
My son isn’t usually picky when it comes to play dates. At times he’ll have a particular friend in mind, but for the most part, he’s just happy to have a buddy to hang out with who is closer to his age and not “super old” like me. So, we begin with the texting.
Much like pitching a magazine piece, I only query one parent at a time, for fear of accidentally doubling up. So I toss out a text. And wait. And wait some more. At some point, I share the patience of an almost eight year old and wonder when we’ll hear back. That’s when the insecurity floods me.
One of the great aspects of smart phones is that you can pretty much do everything with them. And, one of those is see if somebody has read your text.
They read it. They haven’t responded.
A logical person might think, oh maybe they quickly read the text while stopped at a red light, but can’t respond until they are in a safe space – how responsible! My brain doesn’t work that way. I immediately start to create scenarios in my mind.
Is it me? Is it my kiddo? Are they trying to figure out a kind way to reply back no?
Of course it’s none of those. In the rest of my life I’m usually not so high strung and fairly laid back. My kiddo’s all sorts of awesome. I try to breathe and push those thoughts out of my head. But it’s hard, man. It’s like sitting at that cafeteria table and wondering why your friend didn’t call you back the other day (despite the fact that your mom was on the phone all night long with her friend and call waiting wasn’t a thing we had).
Then, the kid compounds it.
“Did you text?”
Yes, I texted.
“Why don’t you call?”
How do I explain to my son that not only do I hate to be “that person” who can come off as pushy, but I’m just not a huge fan of speaking on the phone. For all my public speaking and TV appearances, I am the worst when it comes to small talk. I mean, the worst. The most awkward non sequiturs come out of my mouth that I swear some fellow parents must think I’m self-medicating with Windex or something.
So, I dance around it.
“I just texted, let’s give them some time to respond.”
I use it as an opportunity to discuss manners and boundaries while my insides roil around and I wonder why the hell haven’t they texted back. Chill pill time.
Eventually they write back and because it’s summer and people have plans, they can’t do a play date when we’re free. But that’s the second or maybe third time they’ve said no so now my brain is coming up with all manners of reasons why they actually can’t do a play date because “visit to Grandma’s” sounds just a bit too convenient.
Of course I keep these ridiculous thoughts in my head.
So we text another friend, and eventually another. I wonder if there is a cabal against us that I’m unaware of. Or perhaps everyone is hanging out together having a grand old time while we sit here twiddling our thumbs (and coming up with absolutely fantastical scenarios worthy of any C-grade soap opera). I hop on Facebook – oh, Facebook – and see one of the parents I texted has posted an update. She had time for that but not for responding to my text?
It is way past time for me to get a grip – I’m fully aware. There are no longer enough chill pills in the world for me to back off this precarious, borderline pathetic ledge. My son is none the wiser as I try not to let my own neuroses filter out to him. And, eventually we do schedule a play date and everyone’s happy and I’m able to let out a breath and relax.
I wonder how scheduling play dates – of all things parenting-related – has become my kryptonite, the one thing that can truly bring me to my knees. Was it years of conditioning in middle and high school? Did I just have one too many mean girl interactions that I assume the worst of everyone? Or, do I just live in my head more than others?
Feel free to tell my I’m not alone. That I’m not the only one who dreads making plans for fear of what the response might be… if there’s one at all. And then, how to relay that to my son? I’m okay with him experiencing disappointment. Life happens, shit happens, and he needs the skills to cope. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to play dates, I feel like the pressure is on. One day I’ll work through this and get over myself. Until then, I’ll continue to chew my nails ragged each time I hear “Can I have a play date, please?”