Last week my 7-year-old daughter invited a friend over for a playdate after school. My daughter and this child aren’t close friends, in fact, they aren’t even in the same class at school but they did play on the same town soccer team last year and the child has invited my daughter over a few times—including to her 7th birthday party—so we were due to reciprocate.
This particular little girl comes from a family of four children. She lives nearby in a large house in a posh sub-division and with four kids in her home, they have a lot of toys and things to play with.
Furthermore, her mom is one of those Alpha moms, who runs various nominated volunteer positions at school and who always seems to have her stuff together: pressed and polished at morning drop-off and calm and controlled when you see her in the pick-up line at the end of the day. You know the sort.
Anyway, beyond extending the invitation to have this child over, I had no idea what types of activities she enjoyed doing. Did she like playing board games? With dolls? Dress up? Sports?
I feared that, beyond soccer, she and my daughter might actually have very little in common. I fretted that I had no idea what the child liked to eat. I worried that she would arrive at our home and pass judgment about it. More precisely, I was concerned that she might report unfavorably back to her mother about it when she got picked up.
You’d think I worried in vain.
I fancy myself a clean and organized person…tidy, perhaps not, but clean and organized for sure! Our home isn’t very big. Our kids share a room and we aren’t the type of parents that indulge our children in the latest fads and trendiest toys or fashions.
I knew the same was not true for this particular girl and should have preemptively struck by coming up with a neutral playdate option at a local craft zone or playground but I didn’t. I convinced myself that I was over thinking things and should just trust my daughter to entertain her own guest. All would be fine.
But it wasn’t.
The first words out of this child’s mouth upon stepping in to our entry way were: “This place is a mess!”
Followed by her further revile of our mud room by degrees: “This is a mess” (pointing to tote holding a small collection of lap tops and key boards waiting to be dropped off at the high school technology recycling day).
“This is a mess” (pointing toward our tennis racquets and ball basket stored in the corner).
“And this is a mess” (referring to our shoe racks arranged fairly neatly but out in the open in our entry way).
Great! Welcome to our house kid…there’s the door.
And then I wondered: My God, did our mothers have it this hard?! Did they even have to deal with this whole play date nonsense?!
As a child, I remember having friends over as well as going to friends’ houses but I have absolutely no idea about the politics involved behind setting up those get-togethers.
I remember some of my friends had much bigger houses than mine but some of them had smaller ones too. Regardless, the size of their home or number of toys never seemed to matter as much as whether or not the friend was fun to play with.
And this whole Play Date issue…was this word even a part of our vernacular in the 1970’s? Didn’t we just call it “going to a friend’s house?” Or “having a friend over?” Didn’t many of us just go outside and rustle up some neighborhood kids to play with?
Having my daughter’s “friend” over, this child, who I was unfamiliar with, made me realize how complex childhood has become and continues to get. In this era of over-scheduled-kids and taxi-cab-moms, even “play time” has to be planned.
I wanted to leave the entertaining of my daughter’s guest in my daughter’s hands but that was setting her up for failure and I’d already set her up for the playdate. I knew this kid was high-maintenance and difficult to please and I wanted to spare my daughter the frustration of suggesting every activity in our home only to realize none would satisfy.
In the end, we split the time between half-started activities at our house and playing at with a soccer ball at a nearby playground. The girls had a perfectly fine time and left on pleasant terms. I, on the other hand, was exhausted and needed a drink.
Will we have her over again? I think both my daughter and I have fulfilled our obligatory duty. The answer is no.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to shut down my computer and send my offspring outside to play with the neighborhood kids.
Are setting up playdates this complicated and anxiety ridden where you live? Ever experience a nightmare playdate of your own?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our Senior Editor and mother of two, Kyla P’an, of Boston, MA.
The image used in this post is credited to WoodleyWonderWorks. It carries a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.