Friday, April 25, 2008


Laura loves to have people over to play, especially now that the weather is so nice, and she is spending hours at a stretch in the backyard. She would prefer to have a playmate every single day for at least some period of time. As she gets older I find that I’m spending daily mental energy helping her with social engineering—scheduling playdates with school friends, welcoming neighborhood friends who don’t need scheduling, and dealing with other kids who tend to show up here, some we’re happy to see coming, some not so much. This is now part of the actual daily work of parenting for me. I don’t mean it takes a LOT of mental energy, but it’s not nothing, especially when you’re as miserly with mental energy as I am. And then there’s the slight additional work of monitoring extra children (though, when she’s with her age mates, they don’t need looking after), and the parent pick-up and drop-off thing means I want to keep an eye on how the house looks, lest they think I’m slatternly or not perfect or something. ‘Cause we can’t have that. This is truer with some parents than others—some get major extra tidying and some get none.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately—what social rules I’m imparting to Laura, and the way adult social relations impact children’s relationships with and access to potential playmates. I know that some things seem mysterious to her—the way I’ll say, “We left a message for so-and-so’s mom yesterday inviting her; we don’t want to call today because that would be pestering.” Meaning, the ball’s in their court, we don’t want to seem desperate. Or, “I think so-and-so is busy on Thursdays, and it’s getting late anyway.” Meaning, I cannot take the assault to normalcy and good sense that having a conversation with that child’s mother would be, so not today, kiddo. And then there are my (occasional) attempts to influence her choice of who to invite over, usually without letting on the reasons behind my suggestions. I wonder about the ethics of this—how far does my right to control who she plays with extend? Is it ethical for me to consult my own preferences? So, in my mind, her playmates are ranked by type. If you’re saying that this is way too much thought to give to this issue, uh, yeah, it is. Nonetheless, I think the scale would go something like this:

1. Top of the list: the kids who she has the most fun with and finds most engaging, regardless of who their parents are. (This is a dilemma because one of her favorite playmates in the neighborhood has THE freakiest, Amway-sellingest mother. This woman is seriously like an alien trying to imitate human behavior, and she will no doubt feature in future blog posts.)

2. Kids whose parents I really enjoy: these are all too few, and it seems like we just don’t see enough of them. Their kids range from great to okay as playdates.

3. Kids who are the easiest to have over, because they live close by, and their parents are easy-going, or both. Some of them don’t set the world on fire as playfellows, but they come over, get their play on, and do it with a minimum of fuss.

4. Kids who I wish would move. We don’t invite them over but they show up anyway, bringing unpleasant behaviors and/or parents with them. I feel sorry for them so we don’t turn them away. More below.

We’ve had a variety of playmate experiences this week—the good, the bad, and the batshit crazy. The best was a child from category 2, who could easily make it into category 1 on her own merits as a great kid, but I really like her mom so I put her under 2. I adore this girl’s mom. She’s got a big personality, she’s Canadian, and she too used to live in Silicon Valley. The playdate occurred one afternoon early this week, after a flurry of advance emailing and calling to establish a time. She’s not a dropper-offer (I think her kid likes her to stay on the premises), so we took gin-and-tonics down to the sandbox and got drunk while the kids ran around the backyard. I am somewhat short on quality social interaction, so this was a great playdate, and it didn’t end until after 8pm. I totally wanted her to stay over so we could spend all night giggling and watching Bravo.

The worst was yesterday, and it was a humdinger. Two little girls, very near neighbors of ours, love to wander over and play with Laura. One is 4 and her sister is 2-and-a-half. (How long would you let your two year-old go “play” at someone’s house, uninvited, without your being there?) Basically they need to be babysat, either by Laura or me. Sometimes Laura is happy to shepherd them around the backyard, but eventually, it grows wearisome, so my usual policy is to let them play for thirty minutes and then we walk them home. They both stay home with their dad all day. He is a sad sack—that’s just how he strikes me—and he told me that they’re “starved for attention,” which is why, he says, they love to come to our place. None of this would be so annoying if he weren’t such a weirdo—he has a giant “Ron Paul Revolution” sign on the back of his SUV, which is the tip of a very tiresome iceberg.

But they are sweet little girls, if a tad whiny. So yesterday, here were the highlights of the visit, in bullet form:

· They wander up the driveway looking hangdog. I saw them standing on the porch and let them in. I didn’t see their dad outside at all.

· They immediately ask for snacks and drinks, which the four year-old spills. A lot.

· The two year-old is only kinda potty trained.

· As we’re all sitting down by the sandbox, the dad appears from around the side of the house, and takes a seat to chat for a while. Ugh.

· He explains to me that the US Air Force crashed planes into those buildings on September 11, as part of a massive government conspiracy. Also flu vaccines are part of a massive government conspiracy. And microwaves alter food to make it toxic to humans, which is why microwaves are illegal in Russia.

· I made that last part sound more interesting than it really was. Plus it took 45 minutes.

· After they were gone, he sent the littlest girl up to the door with two conspiracy nutjob DVDs for me to watch and “tell him what [I] think.”

· And finally, while the dad was sharing his worldview, the four year old was in my sunroom, filling Hank’s toy train with sand that she’d brought up from the sand box. All over my hardwood floors, which I am admittedly a little freakish about. (One of my favorite bloggers—and my BFF though she has never called me—Heather at, was once asked what product she used to keep her wood floors looking so great given that she has a kid and a dog. She answered, “It’s a product called I Have a Mental Illness.” I can relate.)

So, that was that totally awful. Awful, like if I were the queen of the world and had my own religion, that guy would be heading straight to HADES. Am I overreacting here? I am sorry I am such a bitch but I was born this way.

Here’s wishing you many double G&T playdates.


Bren said...

Mmmm. I gobbled that up! Gimme more. I'm really craving more of the alien- mom.

Amy said...

I wish I had more G&T playdates! Or any. Or even diet coke ones. too many bottled water drinkers around here!