If you were happy to be out of the world of dating, bruchim habaim to the almost as complicated world of playdates. Unlike in the world of dating, no one really cares anymore if you’re cute or learned. On the plus side, awkward silences are rare. On the negative side, so are free dinners.
So let’s delve in when most children usually do–around the age of 3. Potty training accidents can soil (pun intended) your child’s reputation for a long time. It usually begins with your child actually mentioning the name of another child, rather than the ambiguous references to everyone else in his/her class. So, you go through the class list and search for this child’s name and try to arrange the “shidduch” with the other mommy. If you’re not big on small talk, you’ll still need to find some in order to get through this stage, as well as the drop off/ pickup stages. The usual Jewish geography, discussion of professions, and other children usually does the trick. The “dates” usually last around 1.5-2 hours and you need some sort of snack time at halftime. It gets tricky here.
You need that fine balance between the health food that parents usually want versus the junk the children usually want. Out of pure laziness, I once struck upon the ideal solution. It was Yom Kippur and the last thing I wanted to hear about was children being hungry. So I laid out a snack bar of 4 bowls on the table and filled them with a mix of sweet and salty — one bowl Froot Loops, one whole wheat crackers, etc. The children loved it. It kept them busy and not complaining and actually requested I do this on future dates. It’s a deal. One final tip for this younger set: if the weather is nice, set them free. As much time in the backyard, the better.
Moving on to the 4-5 year olds…I will never forget the first time I heard a squeaky little voice asking for my daughter. It was the first time a phone call was not for myself or my husband and it felt like my phone had been hijacked, but in a good way. I felt proud that she had friends and that they were getting more capable of doing things for themselves. On the other hand, it gets confusing when children make playdates up on their own and you’re not sure if it’s legit or not. If you can’t reach the parent easily to confirm, you sometimes wait around wondering if it will happen or not.
The same rules for snacks and outdoors apply but the playdates can last as long as 3-4 hours at this point. Sometimes they become more focused on the latest toy, which may have lured the child to your home in the first place. I try to not allow television on playdates, especially short ones, as it defeats the purpose. I have used it as a last resort for bad ones though.
So, at 6-7 years old, for better or worse, the playdates are not so much random anymore and the friendships are usually set. There’s some more real talk going on at the dates. It’s funny to hear children confiding in each other about issues that affect them, like how their mommy won’t let them watch a certain show or how their daddy promised a certain toy for their birthday. The dates can last even longer, perhaps even extending to full fledged sleepovers if scheduled as such. The parents feel more comfort with each other as well at this point.
What are parents to do with these young guests? Sometimes I feel like Alice on the Brady Bunch, at their service, with a smile, but discreetly not around when not wanted. This is why the snack bar idea usually works well but other issues that need a grownup’s involvement are the dreaded “what should we do?” question; fights that may arise and need settling; and chas vshalom medical issues, even on the very minor side like a scrape. You can never really retreat into your book and always need to keep one ear open.
But once in a while you strike gold — the other day, without any real planning on my part, 3 of my children had outside playdates and I found myself alone, with only the baby, and a whole day to do what I wanted. I usually try and schedule playdates for all my children at the same time, either all in the house or all at someone else’s house but I had never had it work out as well as that one day. I will try and do it again, and I suggest you try it for yourself as well.