Play-Dates. From Benign Neglect to Manic Management–Longing for a Middle Ground
Not long ago I asked Connie, the woman with whom I have been in a serious “play-date” relationship for a couple of years, if she had any regular play-dates yet for her three-year old son. Sighing, she said, “It’s really about seeing if you get along with the other mother, and seriously, I’m just tired of auditioning.”
With Connie I’ve scored that perfect hat-trick in the play-date game. Our daughters like each other, we live only houses apart and Connie and I are now good friends. This is only my second serious play-date relationship in the course of raising five children. My previous steady and I lasted almost 10 years until she and her husband divorced and he got custody of our family.
In my current relationship with Connie I have, as one does in long-term relationships, become complacent. I have not seriously pursued other play-dates for my very extroverted fifth child, Harper. Recently I discovered Harper with her kindergarten directory on her lap, serial calling every child in her class.
What she was doing, I realized, was the modern-day equivalent of running from house to house to scare up some activity. Something every kid in my neighborhood used to do growing up in 1960’s suburbia. It was an era where children navigated the social scene without parental buffers. Long summer days were spent getting a street-smart education on how to roll with the shifting alliances of elementary school-age politics.
The only consistent parental involvement happened around dusk. Moms (with a vague awareness of the whereabouts of their offspring throughout the day) would hang out front doors backlit by the flickering blue light of the television and call their kids home. Yodeling names–oldest to youngest, holding the vowels like opera singers, or, if there had been no response after the first call, a father’s booming bass that meant business. The most devastating call, however, was the two fingered whistle from the house of the Catholic family. Whole packs of siblings’ heads would suddenly tilt like prairie dogs and half your team would run home. Game over.
I realize I am romanticizing what might have been borderline neglect, but the swing to manic management of our children’s social calendars has me longing for that place where the pendulum swings to a comfortable center between the two.