My Aversion to "Playdates" September 24 2010

I'm on a kids listserv for my neighborhood. Mostly, I'm a lurker. Just slog down the email when it hits my inbox, take in other people's carefully collected info about schools, petty crime, nanny shares, clothes swaps -- but I don't ever participate. Sometimes I want to chime in that I'll take that free tricycle, or scream at the person selling their three year old well-worn stroller for $500 (I know the economy is ailing but if you could afford it in the first place, don't be pinche--pay it forward).

Every few weeks a new string pops up about a playdate some parent is interested in setting up at their house or the park. There's usually some hand-wringing about snacks that comes along: Regular or sugar-reduced juice? What about the children with food allergies? It has a start and end time, and sometimes, a parent will just throw out there that their wonderful bilingual nanny will also be there. Let me not even get started on that one.

So, from what I gather, the playdate is just like a little party with no cake, gifts or birthday child but full of awkward conversation with passive-aggressive, competitive adults you don't know but who are secretly judging your child against theirs. I probably have my sister-in-law to thank for my strong aversion to playdates, with her horror tales of other mothers at the park and their breast-pumping talent wars and over-sharing and sizing you up.

So the truth is, I can check off damn near three-fourths of the list on Stuff White People Like, but playdates is something I just can't swallow. The fact that you have to make an appointment for your children to play is just super weird to me. I say this even though my husband and I are total work/tech nerds who fire Outlook Calendar Requests to each other all the time for things like doctor's appointments; dogga, dad or mom grooming; dad's "I have to attend this" happy hour with co-workers; mom's "pre-paid therefore I can't miss it" yoga; etc.  Officialish stuff. But scheduling play time for your kids just seems to cross a boundry I don't want to even tread near. Like Canada.

I asked my mom the other day if she ever set us up for playdates, and after a long pause she was like, um, well, my friends would bring their kids over or I'd take you over to their house and we'd talk and you all would go outside to play.

Exactly!

Outside.

I was out of her watchful eye. I was able to shenanigize freely. Run around the house playing hide-n-seek. Climb up a tree and nearly break my leg jumping back down. Shoot cans with a beebee gun (no, seriously). Take a Coke from the frig and guzzle it down while she wasn't looking. Not that my mom cared about that -- I distinctly remember drinking Coke from my baby bottle at 2 years old. And Tang. Ah, the innocent days before all this corn syrup spoiler crap.

I was a free child! No parents sitting around watching my every move. And when I was a toddler, well, I toddled around the house and played with my three brothers or multitude of cousins. A-ha, and there it is. Yes, us Mexican-Americans and other Latinos do have that advantage of large families, huh. The built-in playdate that lasts 'til you turn 18.

Every time I see a new playdate message I think about how I wish I lived closer to family--to my brothers and their kids. I know playdates are the new reality of the modern family who lives far from family, or safety and all that. Yeah, yeah. I read. But doesn't mean I'm not going to lament about the way things were, when you didn't have to think so hard about your child playing. I'll still opt for getting together with friends I already know or co-workers with kids and just say "let's hang out." Let's lose the formality. It spoils the fun.