The Play-Dating Game
The mall? Tonight? Sure, I'd love to! I just have to ask my parents."
Ah, yes, those were the good ol' days, the days of my youth, when the world revolved around school and friends and boys and the delicious anxiety of new and potential relationships. The only downside was that the fate of my entire social life was in the hands of people who really, it seemed, couldn't have cared less about my happiness.
My parents had the power, all right. They could make or break a Saturday night with a simple nod or shake of their powerful heads. I remember thinking on more than one occasion that someday I would be the parent, and the power would be mine--and my kids had better watch out. I was going to have a lot of pent-up denied requests by then.
Turns out I was wrong. Somewhere between my parents' generation and mine, a little ritual popped up that once again puts my social life in someone else's hands . . . hands that are, as we speak, finger painting with yogurt on my dog's back. This ritual is, of course, the play date.
Now, before I start being singled out in the grocery store as the Mean Mommy Who Doesn't Like Play Dates, let me say that I am completely in favor of creating opportunities for our children for play and social interaction. But I cannot be the only one out there who finds them, at times, just a tad stressful.
They're stressful because they're not always just about the kids. They're about us, the moms. They provide an opportunity for us to make new friends, with whom we will automatically have something in common. Play dates are the singles bars of motherhood. We're not trying to meet men, obviously, but meeting women can be just as hard.
In fact, it can be worse. Play dates happen in broad daylight. There's no dimmed lighting to hide the flaws.
And that's not all. Dating men, in retrospect, was easy, as long as they met my keen personal standards: Is he cute? Is he healthy? Does he have a brain? Does he have a job?
"Dating" moms is somewhat trickier, because the kids are involved. I have to pay more attention to detail, making my checklist slightly longer: Is she nice? Is she friendly to my kids? Are her kids friendly to my kids? Do my kids like her kids? Is she clean? Is she intelligent? Does she have a sense of humor? Does she live close by? Does she drink coffee? If not, can I have hers? How does she discipline? How will we mutually handle the occasional hitting, kicking and biting? And here I mean the kids, obviously.
Play dates are also about the kids. I understand that. If your child makes friends in preschool or daycare, or if a friend of yours has a friend with a child the same age as yours, then it's fun to get the kids together. Introductions are made, phone numbers exchanged, and a date is set up. It's that easy.
Or is it? What exactly is play-date protocol? For instance, what do we bring? Snack? Drink? Toys? Gift? Is there a standard time and/or time limit for such a date? Does the parent stay for the duration, and, if not, wouldn't it be construed as the host mom babysitting? What happens if the children don't get along?
And insecurities never fail to kick in somewhere along the way. Why are we here? Does she like me, or my child? Does she want us to be friends, or our kids to be friends? What if my kid really likes her kid but she's not really my type? What if I like her but my kid doesn't like her kid? Or--gasp--what if my kid likes her kid and I like her but she doesn't like me?
My husband thinks it's easy, of course, because he hasn't had to impress a woman for 10 years. A new one, I mean. At any rate, he finds it nothing short of amusing that the reasonably intelligent, well-educated mother of his children can have what comes close to a nervous breakdown over what to wear to another mom's house.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked one morning as I sat on my closet floor in a heap of clothes.
"I have a date," I said, exasperated.
"A date?" he asked. "Wasn't that one of those things we pretty much agreed to give up when we got married?"
"Not with a guy," I retorted. "A play date. With another mom and her kids. And I have nothing to wear!"
"Ohh-kay," he replied, backing slowly away and leaving me to my breakdown. He just didn't get it. He doesn't understand how nerve-wracking this can be. Suddenly my social life is being determined by people whose sole criterion for friendship, as far as I can tell, is eye contact, and whose interest, I'm quite sure, is not my happiness. And I'm right back where I started.
"The mall? Today? Sure, I'd love to! Let me just ask the kids."
Maggie Lamond Simone is a book author, award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.