When I was growing up, we didn't have playdates, we just played with whoever was available. Dates were things teenagers went on, and there was no need for them in our world beyond those we staged for Barbie and Ken. The first time I heard the term playdate -- long before I had children -- I laughed; I scoffed; I'm sure I declared (at least to myself) that no future child of mine would ever have one ... or if he or she did, we certainly wouldn't use that stuffy, formal term. We would just play.
Well, fast forward about eight years and two kids later, and "playdate" has crossed my lips more than "another martini please" used to. And I love them, truly I do. My children always have fun (okay, usually), and I get a chance to chat with other mothers, which is generally a good thing except for the requisite whack-a-doodles in the bunch. It's nice to have something to look forward to, and frankly, they serve as a great bribe/threat looming there on the calendar.
But it seems more and more playdates aren't just about playing, they're lavish affairs that consist of planned activities and catered food (okay, maybe not catered, but a lot fancier than some string cheese and grapes) for kids AND adults. Houses are spotless, and it smells as if something has been freshly baked ... usually something has. Planning one seems almost as stressful as planning a small wedding.
So as life gets busier, I avoid them more and more because I just don't have the time to orchestrate such an event. Of course, not everyone expects the pomp and perfect playroom, and many people will be secretly relieved when it's void, so it's mainly about setting our own expectations and standards and being okay with them no matter what the "other mothers" do. So here are a few tips for moms who want to ditch the "date" and just play.
Forget the Three-Day Cleanse Don't worry about how clean your house is. Many a playdate have been skipped because parents don't want others to see their less than House Beautiful version of a home. Easier said than done I know, but the kids don't care, and as long as your house isn't potentially hazardous, not many adults will either. They'll just be glad for an invite and won't feel the pressure to clean for you next time either. And if they do care, do you really want your kid playing with theirs anyway?
Have Emergency Supplies on Hand Second perhaps to a clean on my list of reasons for not inviting someone over after a class or chance encounter is that I haven't been to the grocery store in days. Let's face it, snacks are pretty important to a good playdate, but they don't have to be fancy. I try to keep a stash in a high cupboard to use only in case of impromptu playdates -- things like popcorn kernels, a brownie mix ( it will make your house smell good too), some raisins or other dried fruit, and crackers.
Playdates on the Fly
All too often there I sit with my children at the park or museum or wherever we end up any given day wishing we had invited some friends, and my son asking why we never have playdates. *Sigh* And then when I mention to someone "I was going to call you to meet us the other day, but figured it was too late," they tell me how they were in the area and totally would have met us ... if they had known.
If only there was a tool for lazy, non-perfect playdate planning mommies like me .... oh, wait there is. Or to use a completely overused phrase, " there's an app for that."
Kidpopolis was developed by a mom with many of the same playdate problems. It allows you to create a list of playdate friends and then locate them at anytime via your phone. When they're in your vicinity and you want to play you can then text, e-mail, or call them to see if they're up for it. It uses a password protection system, so it's much more secure than using some of the other big location-tracking services or just posting where you are as your Facebook status. And what a nice spontaneous way to play!
Meet Somewhere Else If you like a little more planning, but still don't want the pressure of inviting people to your house, suggest a meet up at a park, museum, mall, or indoor play center. You can set a time and offer to bring snacks and/or drinks. You get "credit" for organizing a playdate with very little legwork or pressure on your part.
The bottom line is kids just wanna play, and too often we get in the way of their opportunities to do so. So ease up on yourself and your expectations, and call up some one and just say, "Hey, we want to play."
Do you find planning playdates stressful?
Image via wlashbrook/Flickr