I will hold my hands up right now and admit that I am terrible at play dates. The thought of someone else’s child coming to my home to ‘play’ fills me with horror and it is something I try to avoid at all costs.
Why do I hate them so much? After all, it’s only a play date, what could possibly go wrong? Oh, so many things!
In my time, I have had some awful play date experiences. I have lost a child on the walk home from school, had a child break their wrist in my garden, and unintentionally fed a vegetarian child beef stew and a Muslim child a bacon sandwich.
In similar times, say, the 1980’s we didn’t have the word ‘play date’. You just brought a friend home after school and your mum carried on with her life, knitting, watching TV or chatting on the phone to her friends. There was very little parental input, bar the shouting up the stairs to keep the noise down or else. These days, the pressure is on to create an almost fairy tail experience when your child has another over to play.
Gone are the days when you turned up at home with a friend in tow and had a jam sandwich thrown at you if you were lucky –these days, its all arranged by the parent via text and Facebook with military precision and involves a week of planning cup cake making activities – either that or you will be caught completely of guard in the playground and coerced into hosting a child that you have never seen before in your life.
This is the most irritating scenario as you cannot say no without looking like a complete arse and making your child cry in front of his classmates. From the second your child comes bounding out of the class room with his new ‘bestest friend in the world ever’ surgically attached to him (bear in mind that you have never heard a mention of this best friend before now and your child hadn’t even noticed their existence until that lunchtime) you are already making excuses in your head as to why little Johnny can’t come and play this evening or ever.
So what do you say to the children? You smile sweetly and say “not tonight darling, we are busy, and I am sure its far too short notice for Johnny’s mummy and daddy”.
Phew, game over. Until Johnny’s mummy comes bounding over, beaming at you saying, “oh, it’s fine! Johnny would love to come and play!”
Instead of asking her which circle of hell she was sent from, you agree to the impromptu paly date, swap telephone numbers and trudge home with two overexcited children trying to get themselves run over at every opportunity, while replaying the scenario on your head and coming up with a million things that you could have said to get yourself out of this mess.
Approximately ten minuets after you arrive home; your house looks like a cross between the aftermath of a music festival and an explosion in toys r us. And here’s the best bit; the children are no longer bestest friends. They now hate each other and you are forced to spend the next 45 minuets going back and forth between the to two, negotiating like a UN peacekeeper to try and get them to play together again.
Feeding your three foot tall guest can be a stressful experience. Forget about the myriad of lifestyle and religious eating habits that you have to navigate, the truth is, that most children will turn their nose up at whatever you cook for them. That’s if you are lucky. Sometimes you will have food thrown back at you or told it’s disgusting and you are the worst cook ever. Instead of defending your, your child will turn into a traitor, him too accusing you of serving up ‘poo’. This is because the excitement of having a friend over turns your sweet little child into the spawn of Satan.
Its like someone has replaced your usually placid child with a Tasmanian Devil. But how do you discipline your child when his friend is acting twice as horrible? We all like to think that we, as adults, are in charge, but the truth is, when faced with two pint sized hooligans in our own home, we turn into gibbering wrecks, counting down the seconds until we can open the wine.
There are some parents who are comfortable with telling off other peoples children, but I have never been one of them. I did it once, and the child cried and cried and asked if he could go home. I was then the bad guy, even though he had meticulously coloured in my black and white wedding photos with neon crayons.
So, when the clock finally strikes 6 o’clock and the door bell rings signaling that the paly date from hell is over, what do you say when the other parent asks “Was he good?”. Are you honest? Do you reply “No, he was a little git. He nearly got ran over twice on the way home because he refused to listen to me, he broke half the toys, flushed Lego down the toilet, threw the cat out of the window, drew on the walls and pee’d on the carpet. Oh, and I’ll bill you for having to clean my work coat – he’d filled the pockets with pasta bake”.
Or, do you say “It was great! He was an angel, good as gold!”. Yep, me too. It’s the coward’s way out. Smile sweetly and add the child’s name to the list of children who will never darken your door again.
There is a third scenario which will strike fear into the hearts of all who have experienced it; when the child reaches the front door before you and starts a diatribe of what an awful, boring time they have had and what a terrible mummy your are. There will be a meticulous breakdown of your non-existent cooking skills and a monologue on how bad you interior décor is. All while you have to stand there and smile while willing the ground to swallow you up.
But never mind, the clock has struck six. The child has gone (never to return) and you can sit and survey they carnage with a large gin while writing a screenplay staring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a frazzled father in your head based on the afternoon called Playdate:Armageddon.