All parents want their kids to thrive. They want nothing more than to raise a child who becomes a sociable, well-mannered, and captivating member of society. Okay, I am exaggerating a bit. But, you know what I mean. We want our kids to have friends – get along – have fun. With that in mind many parents will go out of their way to encourage a current friendship, strike up a new friendship, or add to the friends their child already has. An endeavor well worth the effort, but there are Things You Didn’t Know.
I am certain that every parent can give me a story about the playdate from hell. This is the playdate that didn’t turn out quite the way you anticipated. Some of you knew about this right on the spot. It was obvious because someone was crying, bloodied, or begging to go home. Then there are the playdates that you thought went quite well. From everything you saw a grand time was had by all. But wait – there were Things You Didn’t Know. For your amusement (oh, who am I kidding, for my amusement…) let’s recollect some of the high points of a playdate from hell.
~ Your son has a best friend. They play together all the time. You routinely pick up your son and his friend from school so they can play together in the afternoon. Nothing special going on here. Why would you think that anything at all could go wrong? Well, today your son’s friend decided to egg him on to pull out every dam toy in his room. No kidding – EVERY toy. It’s quiet in there and you just breeze by so you have the opportunity to give the room a quick peek to see what they’re up to and low and behold… Your son’s room looks like a tornado went around and around and around inside. The board games are open and all of the little pieces are spread out on the floor. Ditto for the puzzles and the Legos. Oh, the Legos… the joy of a mother’s life… so many Legos – so little time. Anyway, you are quick to feel the burn in you chest as you try to find the best way to let both of them know that someone had better clean this up. Ah, but this is just about the time that your son’s friend decides that he’s had enough and he wants to go home. Depending on your relationship with the other parents you might be able to push the issue a bit and make them pick things up. For sure you’re going to have to have a talk with your son. He can’t be doing that again. Period.
~ Your son has his friend over again. They are playing outside in the backyard. You can hear them up in the treehouse. Playing ball. They’re on the swing set. It sounds like they’re having a grand ‘ol time. They stop to have an ice cream. For that moment they are the picture of best childhood friends. Sitting on the porch, ice cream melting down their arms, and the dog by their side. Such a sweet moment in time. Yeah, that’s what you thought. The boy’s mom comes by to pick him up and the kids say goodbye like they always do. It’s dinnertime now and the phone rings. “He did what?” That phone call is the best friend’s mom calling to let you know that your son bit her child when they were playing out in the yard. She can prove it too because he has teeth marks on his side. What the heck happened here? You didn’t see a thing, did you? Well it turns out your son and this boy got into an argument when he hit your son with the baseball bat. By accident, but that didn’t matter. It turns out they were rolling around on the grass for a bit and out of frustration your son gave him a little peck. Now that you know, you have to resolve the situation. You apologize to the boy’s mom and proceed to yell for your son to come downstairs. “I have to talk to you!” Once you get to the bottom of this you come up with a suitable punishment and life goes back to normal. You thought things were going great in your world, didn’t you – but there were things you didn’t know.
~ You daughter has a small group of friends in school. They all take turns going over one another’s house after school. For the most part they always find something to do. The time passes quickly. Rarely do you have to ask them what they’re up to or get in the middle of things. Today is a different day. In school today one of the girls supposedly said something not so nice about your daughter. It got back to her quickly because we all know how important is is to share everything with you best friends. Even the stuff that will hurt their feelings. Even the stuff that might not actually be true. Today your daughter is having a friend over after school. Lucky you, it’s the girl who dissed you daughter in school today. This playdate was set up a week ago. The other parent has an appointment or something so canceling it is not an option. Once you pick the girls up from school the fun begins. My, the aura in the living room is a bit weird. How come the two of them aren’t begging to play a video game? Why aren’t they dumping their backpacks out and doing homework together? No mention of needing a snack. Come to think of it – they are hardly looking at each other or talking to one another. Hummm, something is up here – wonder what that is??? You call your daughter into the kitchen to have a quiet little conference and find out that she’d rather play with her brother than have “that girl” in the house. Oh great. Now what do you do? You’re sort of forced now to participate in some group activity in order to pass the time until she goes home. And you thought you’d have some time for yourself this afternoon. Ahhh, but there were things you didn’t now.
~There’s a new kid in the neighborhood. In order to welcome him you’ve invited him over to play with your son. As long as they’re outside they have tons of things they can do. Even if it rains you figure you have enough games to keep them busy. It seems like they’re having such a great time together so you decide to invite him over for dinner that night. It would be such a shame to cut their fun off right now. You get the o.k. from his mom and proceed to make dinner. You have your meals planned out already. This is a pretty basic meal. We’ll barbecue tonight. Chicken and a salad and a baked potato. You even have dessert figured out. You manage to whip up some brownies. You sit down to eat and it takes maybe ten seconds to find out that your guest is a bit of a picky eater. And on top of that, not shy about asking for something else. He doesn’t like chicken. He hates salad. A baked potato is ok, but only if you smother it with sour cream (which you don’t have). He asks if you have hot dogs. Everyone has hot dogs in the house, right? You answer nicely that yes, you might have some hot dogs in the freezer, but the family is eating chicken tonight. You know very well that if you were to offer a hot dog to him the rest of the kids in your family will want one too. In you mind you’re thinking “we eat as a family” and “I’m not a short order cook.” Okay, he strikes out on this and goes right for the jugular. He will be happy to skip the meal and go right for the dessert. Now you know that that’s like going straight to double dog dare for a parent. Nobody gets dessert without eating a meal first. Period. As politely as possible you explain that you cannot accommodate his request at this time. He has to eat a little something, whatever that turns out to be, before dessert is remotely a possibility. Unfortunately in this situation you have no way to win. That boy is going home hungry and you know he is going to say so the minute he walks in the door of his house. Can’t win ‘em all. At least you tried.
~ There are two girls that live across the street from you. They come over on occasion to play with your kids. It’s part of living in a neighborhood filled with kids. You seem to have someone over most of the time. If your kids are home, there’s another kid in your house or yard. There’s a hairy four-footed member of your family. Actually, there’s two. One barks and the other one meows. Both are loved by your entire family. Both are well behaved and are allowed to run both inside and outside at will. Today you have the neighborhood girls over to play. The older one is busy with your daughter making bracelets that they like to share. The other girl is running around the backyard with your daughter and your son. Your kids like to play stick with the dog and throw a ball and have him retrieve it. They will occasionally roll around on the floor with him too. All in good fun. They’ve learned how far they can push this kind of play with their dog. Seems like loads of fun and so the neighborhood girl decides to get in on the action. Unfortunately she doesn’t listen to the instructions your kids gave her. “When my dog has the stick in his mouth you can’t grab it and try to take it out”. The reason you don’t want to do this is because if you do happen to get the stick away from him he will quickly try to snap it back up. In the process of doing so you are going to get snapped too. In the blink of an eye, the girl grabs the stick, it pops out of your dogs mouth, and tears. Lots and lots of tears. Lots of screaming, lots of kids yelling for you. Lots of tears. Turns out it isn’t all that bad. She is more stunned that the dog caught her hand than actually hurt. It’s a lesson learned for her. It’s a nightmare for you. Ah… but there’s more. While everyone has been distracted with the melee in the backyard, at that very moment the younger neighborhood girl has summoned up the nerve to try to pet the cat. She reaches over to grab her and is met with a less than pleasant response. You see, the cat didn’t see it coming. All the cat knows is that she was looking at the commotion in the backyard and scoping out where to hide when someone decided to grab her by the belly. Instinct kicked in and she is all claws. Right down the little girl’s arm. Instant replay – tears. Lots and lots of tears. Lots of screaming, lots of kids yelling for you. Lots of tears. All you can do is take her inside to put some cold water on the scratches. Clean it up and offer a bandaid. At this point the girls decide that it’s best if they go home. You offer your apologies again. Tell them they will be okay and that this won’t happen the next time they come over.
~ Most playdates during the school year happen after school. Simple matter of availability. It makes sense too because parents can help each other out with pickup from school and babysitting. A routine event after school is the “after school snack”. A small little something tasty to tide your kids over until dinner. Sounds like a simple gesture and it shouldn’t be any different whether your are offering it to your kids or one of their friends. Unless, of course, it is the one friend who is always hungry. I won’t categorize this a something bad, more like unusual. I’m not quite sure why this kid is always hungry, but it does seem like it every time they’re at your house. The minute they walk in the door, before the backpack hits the floor, they are asking for a snack. They will eat anything. You offer a banana. Gone. You offer a few cookies. Gone, and they would like seconds. You offer a glass of milk. Gone, and they are holding up their glass for more. You offer an ice pop and they want one of each flavor. You get the idea. I’m not sure if it’s because you’re offering things they don’t get to have on a regular basis or if they are truly starving. I don’t know, maybe they don’t eat lunch at school. All you know is that from the moment they set foot in your door they are ravenous.
Being hungry is not a bad thing. If you’re on a budget trying to feed your family of three, four, five, six, or more you are trying to make the food last. In this respect a friend who is a bottomless pit can impact on your pantry. Again, being hungry is not a bad thing. I guess you need to be sure to buy an extra box of granola bars or a few more apples on the week you’ve scheduled playdates.
~ The playdate that never happened. It can occur in two ways. First up is the child who arrives all bubbly and ready to play only to turn sullen and impatient as they profess their desire to go home. Now. The circumstance they find themselves in has not turned out to be what they had set up in their minds. The switch has flicked off and they are all about going home. Your kids have no idea what happened. All you know is that you are standing in a room with a child who is showing every visible sign of distress and begging to go home. Tears are apropos. It’s all wrapped in a nice little package for you to deal with. If you’re lucky you can call their parents who will come to pick them up. If it’s possible to get everyone back into the car you can drive the child home yourself. More than likely though, the playdate gods are frowning on you at this moment and you will have to wait until this child’s parents are available to claim their son or daughter. Like I said before, playdates can be a great help if you need a babysitter. It’s not uncommon for the parents of the child to be unavailable. This is when you have to summon all of your skills and figure out how you are going to placate this child for what might be a very long time.
As I was saying there are two ways a playdate may never happen. The second way is when everybody drops the ball. And I mean everybody. Two weeks ago the mother of your son’s friend called up to ask if you could let her son play with your son after school two Wednesdays from now. No problem. You’ll gladly pick up her son from school when you get your son. They’ll have a great time together. You mention this arrangement to your husband that night. He nodded or grunted or something so you assumed he actually heard you and it registered. Two weeks go by and it’s Wednesday. Life’s been really busy lately. It’s a wonder you remember to get dressed in the morning. The day begins and you find out that you have a last minute meeting in the afternoon. You call your husband and ask him to pick up your son. Did you get that – pick up your son? No mention of the other kid. No problem, your husband can do that. He leaves work and proceeds to go to school to get his son and bring him home. There’s only one thing wrong with this scenario. Today is Wednesday. Playdate Wednesday. And worse yet, everyone has dropped the ball. The boy’s mom never followed up to make sure you still could pick up her son. She never informed the school that her son should not be taking the bus home that day. You forgot to remind your husband about this arrangement. Heck, you forgot about it too. Nobody ever thought to inform your son. Nobody ever thought to inform his friend. From beginning to end everybody dropped the ball. What happens when the stars align in this way you ask? A little boy gets on his bus like usual only to arrive at home to find the house is empty. Luckily he knows where the key is to let himself inside. Luckily for everyone he’s a great kid who manages to keep himself occupied and out of trouble until his parents come home. A lesson learned for all here. Hopefully this will never happen again. Cut yourself some slack – you’re only human.
Any of these stories sound familiar? If you think you recognize yourself or someone you know, trust me – it’s not you. I want to be sure you all understand that it is not my intent to talk smack about anyone’s kids or their parenting skills. I see it more as a walk down memory lane and a chance to recognize that sometimes life gives us a bumpy ride. Better to reminisce and say “Remember when…” followed by a smile or a chuckle than to dwell on any less than perfect childhood/parenting experience. There is no script for being a parent. We all improvise. I’d love to hear from you. Can you recall a Playdate From Hell? Let’s hear your story. No need to give real names. The focus is on sharing a common experience and acknowledging the fact that life as a parent is rarely a life filled with perfection and peace. So… what’s your story? I need a chuckle!
By Gret Boyd