“Say, say, O Playmate” ...

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As a kid growing up in the 70s, when we wanted to play, we went next door … or across the street to find another child to play with. Once in a while … heaven forbid … we even played by ourselves. (Gasp!)


Fast forward thirty-five years and you will find the thought of merely going next door or across the street reprehensible to most parents. No—playing cannot be something spontaneous and fun. Playing must be entered into Mommy’s Blackberry. A suitable playmate, time and date set—Mommy must proceed to transport the child across town to said suitable child’s house where the two children (usually same age, same gender) will play happily (or maybe not so happily) until either A, Mommy returns from running her errands, or B, Mommy has stayed for coffee and the pre-determined sentence has been served by the child.


When did the very simple act of children playing become something that had to be scheduled, timed, and arranged? Is there some sort of applications one fills out to be sure that the child is playing with the “right kind of kid”?


During my childhood days of play, our neighborhood had a variety of children, different ages, both boys and girls, and we all played together. We learned to get along, we learned to be both leaders and followers. We learned teamwork and cooperation. Sometimes we played in twos, sometimes in large groups, but it was always spontaneous and no one had to be transported in to make our play complete. The only time I remember being transported to someone’s house would be in the case of a birthday party. Other than that, school friends were played with at school … and neighborhood friends were played with at home.


Am I somehow lacking in social graces? Did I suffer because my Mommy didn’t schedule me to “play-up” (sort of like “marrying-up,” only just playing)? I’m pretty sure I survived quite well and I never remember lacking for fun.


Over the past seven years of my children’s schooling, I have never felt the need to buy into the “playdate” mentality. Having a friend come over for Collette is not what I consider to be a traditional playdate because she really needs to be play with other special-needs kids and there are none in our neighborhood—she needs someone who will accept her as she is. But even then, we don’t do that too often. Lauren has the playdate mentality ingrained, having been in private schools for going on four years now. She’s always asking if “Suzy” or “Joanie” can come over for a playdate, and I always seem to find an acceptable reason why that would not be such a great idea this weekend.


During her four-year-old’s preschool year, however, I was somehow wrangled into a playdate with a little girl we’ll call “Claire.” It all started innocently enough—Claire’s Mom invited Lauren over for a playdate. Lauren was so excited I just couldn’t say no, so I agreed. I take her halfway across town, check out Claire’s house, chat with Mommy for a few minutes—all looks good. I’ll be back in two hours. Two hours later, playdate over, I retrieve my child only to realize that I am now obligated to “return the favor” and have Claire over to play now. Why didn’t Mommy just call it what it was—a Babysitting Co-op?


We fulfill our obligation and have Claire over to play. Claire only wants to run around the house at full volume and full speed screaming like a banshee. Nothing we have for a snack is acceptable to her and I can hardly wait for her Mommy to come and retrieve her! Now Claire’s Mommy has a very important job and all of a sudden, I’m getting phone calls asking if Claire can come over after school or on one of our weekdays off from school because Claire’s Mommy has some really important stuff to do at work and daycare can’t take her. At first, I oblige, not thinking much of it, but it begins to come to the point that when I see her name on my caller ID, I simply don’t answer the phone. This was our very last attempt at playdates because, sooner or later, I will be called upon to babysit again because I am a stay-at-home Mom and have nothing better to do … (Yeah, right!) I have things to do, too—none less important than what people like Claire’s Mommy had to do.


Yes, when did everything have to become so complicated? Why can’t Moms just say “go out and play” without filling up with gas, driving on the interstate, and checking their Blackberries? Why can’t kids just play?


By Liz of Pink Lemonade

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