The Preschool Dating Set

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Playdate Do: Make plans with children your child enjoys playing with in school.

Playdate Don't: Make plans with child just to see what's inside mother's medicine cabinet.

Playdate Do: Serve nutritious, non-messy meal that features all four food groups.

Playdate Don't: Offer up a Valium around 3 p.m. Then laugh somewhat hysterically as if you've told a joke, but also crinkle your eyes as you try to discern where the other parent falls on the drugs-to-numb-the-noise continuum.

In addition to starting preschool two weeks ago, we have also entered into a rotation of playdates. It's not that the twins weren't participants in many a playdate prior to this point--like The Other Shoe's baby on board, they even had a few in-utero.

But prior to this point, the playdates were extensions of my own friendships. They were long-time friends having children or people who were peripheral friends who became closer because we were in the same circumstances. Every once in a while, they were a new person we met at a library story time or the park where I clicked with the parent and I informed the kids that they would click with the child. Sometimes, the ages matched up, but other times, since many of their friends were the children of fellow board members from our multiples club, they were playing with children half their age or considerably older.

In other words, their circle of friends looked somewhat like the dinnerware and cutlery on our table: a fork from this collection over there, a spoon from that collection over here, a plate or two that we inherited from my parents, a bowl that we somehow ended up with from his sister's house. A mismatched, colourful, happy yet disorganized crew. The anti-Martha.

Preschool brings with it the chance at uniformity as well as this new choice--suddenly, playdates are about who they are interested in from school. It means that I am calling up random parents that I've seen once or twice in the hallway and asking them if they want to come to my house for lunch and perhaps a romp in the ball pit. Which is...well...frankly awkward.

Perhaps I'm the only parent who feels embarrassed about the way playdates occur during the preschool years. But it feels very much like the potential friend list I created in middle school, when I called a bunch of kids one evening and asked the painful question: "do you want to be my friend?" Because that's what you're asking when you set up a playdate: will your child be my child's friend? And subsequently, will we be friends?

Because there are four ways playdates seem to be going: (1) The children don't get along and the parents are having an awkward conversation. (2) Both preschoolers and parents are singing Kumbaya together in three-piece harmony while they link arms and skip around the room, driven by the joy of finding one another in a random preschool building. (3) The parents are getting along swimmingly, pretty much ignoring the howls from the preschoolers in their excitement to have found a kindred spirit while the children are beating each other senseless with a Little Tykes bowling pin. (4) The children are screeching and laughing with each other, shouting out exclamations of "me too!" while their parents uneasily watch, unable to think of a thing to say to one another.

The first situation is a no-brainer. You simply don't have a second playdate and you get relegated to a story that is told in a blog post a few weeks later (just so they can nervously deny that you are the subject of the post if you read it later on and uneasily recognize some details). The second situation is also a no-brainer: you start a commune and begin raising your children together complete with organic vegetable garden.

But the final two situations are a difficult land to navigate. I want to have friends too and see adults during the day. When I don't, Josh gets a souped-up version of me, chatting through the Daily Show in an effort to fit a day's worth of conversation into a half hour before bed. And then there is the inverse--I should pull myself together and suck up a bad conversation or two for the sake of the children. So what if my mind is deconstructing last night's Brothers & Sisters episode or I'm trying to reduce my thoughts into 140 character tidbits so my playdate can later be Twittered? The point is that I'm there and enduring a mismatched friendship for the sake of the children and they should do the same for me from time to time if we're truly the team we claim to be.

Of course, this problem will be solved with age: at some point, they will be going over to a new friend's house on their own and I will be dropping them off at the door, only to return once their minds have been warped by random older siblings and they've sneaked a peek at some father's copy of Playboy. And I'm terrified of that day--terrified when I can't piggyback my new friendships on theirs as well as the thought of my precious little babies corrupted by copies of Playboy.

Many parents across the blogosphere were discussing playdates this week:

Secret Agent Josephine met up for a playdate at an unlikely location: the laundromat. She wrote of the experience:

 

Laundry day was a dream! The kids loved the washers and depositing the coins. It was a game! They had discussions about what was swirling around in someone else’s washer. Was it a wet sheep? It sure looked like a wet sheep...I would have taken more photos of them being adorable but I was too busy blabbing my heart out because for once I could have a real conversation with another mom without being interrupted! The bliss! Who knew!?

 

Tess at Jonas Adoption Journey had her first playdate with a friend who is entirely her own--a non-family friend who she met in first grade. While the two girls were still navigating that friendship, they were brought together by the universal unifier--sugar.

Momerabilia's son had his first playdate where he wasn't a tag-along with his older sibling. She wrote: "It was both of the boys first time to do this, and it was pretty funny. They weren’t too sure of what to do. Owen was excited to show off his toys, but his friend was more interested in Lucy (our cat)."

My question to you is at what age did you stop accompanying your child on playdates with new friends and inversely, what age do you think (if any) is too old for mum to be hanging around in the house for the duration of the playdate, ears perked to catch the sound of naughty magazine pages being ruffled?

Melissa is the author of the infertility and pregnancy loss blog, Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters. She keeps a categorized blogroll of over 1450 infertility blogs and writes the daily Lost and Found and Connections Abound, a news source for the infertility blogosphere. Her infertility book, The Land of If, is forthcoming from Seal Press in Spring 2009. She is also an editor at Bridges, the awareness consortium and the keeper of the list for IComLeavWe (International Comment Leaving Week). This is the final sign-up day for the September list and all are invited to join the conversation.

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