On Her Way

My daughter has reached the age at which I formed a consciousness.

We all have snippets of early childhood, maybe even earlier; bits and pieces of memory.  Sitting on grandfather’s lap to create a painting.  Banging on the ledge above the backseat because you couldn’t sit quietly in mass.  How much is real memory, spotty because of time elapsed, and how much is fabricated from photographs and family story?  And when does the real narrative begin?

I remember all of third grade.

I remember playing at friends’ houses, sleepovers, sitting under a desk goofing with a classmate.  That is the year I think of as starting true friendships and forming my own separate identity (though I didn’t know it at the time).  That is the year my eldest daughter has just begun.

Four days into school and she asked for her first ‘play date’, though I’m sure that term has fallen out of fashion with her set.  She and her friend had already arranged it on their bus ride home one afternoon; it was just up to the adults to assent once they’d filled us in.  She’d had her first sleepover at this girl’s house last year (her one and only thus far save relatives’ houses and no – I wasn’t ready for that), played there once this summer, and gone to the beach with her once.  This was the friend’s first time at our home.

I later realized that I adopted the always-appreciated (on my part) mode of parental supervision my mother employed whenever I had friends over growing up.  There, but not.  Seen, but not noticed.  Moving through, not hovering.  Accessible, but not in your face.  My mom always joined the conversation when drawn in – and usually made some fun comment – but never horned in.  She always made sure we were safe and having fun, but in such a way that made us still feel like we were on our own.  Similar to my mode of relating to young children, which I think I also adopted from my mother: let them come to you when they’re comfortable; don’t force yourself on them.

As my daughter and her friend’s conversation floated in from the adjacent room and later the porch window, I heard the exchanges and tenor of my own third grade days; the way kids talk when there are no adults around, the free and easy language and grown-up cadences because they are the big kahunas with no one else around.  My daughter introduced her friend to her way of life on her own turf; her likes and dislikes, her favorite activities and special belongings.  Her friend got to see how she interacts with her sisters and me and my husband.  She welcomed her into her home, her nest, a secret club of sorts – a level of friendship that can’t be reached at school.

A level of friendship that can’t be reached, I don’t think, until this age, this magic number where our little kids morph even more into distinct little beings.

My daughter and her friend played so nicely.  They were polite.  My daughter didn’t even goad her friend to join her in tormenting her little sisters.  But I sense the shift.  One more step in her leaving the home, one more layer of my baby shed.

I know – not because I’ve mothered a child this age before, but because I’ve been this age before.  I remember it as formative, solid memories in my experience.

She’s on her way.

It’s All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an I

Play dates are for moms.  Contrary to popular belief, they are not for kids.

It is moms who drive this runaway train off the tracks.  While children like to play together, they would not give a crap if they did not organically meet Suzie at the playground.  They would not cry if Sven didn’t come to their house for a tea party.  They would not be scarred for life if abstract murals were not painted at the museum with the ‘it’ kids in kindergarten.

The moms would lose out.

On the opportunity to:

I'm not looking for a mate - just a partner in crime

I’m not looking for a mate – just a partner in crime

  • have adult conversation
  • to coax their ego into believing they’re doing a good job parenting
  • to drink wine
  • to make friends themselves
  • to keep their sanity intact
  • to keep the little monsters off their back for ten minutes or more
  • to make sure their kids are as popular as they want[ed] to be

And while all this is already over thinking, there’s even more to the psychology of play dates.

Remember, mothers are just grown-up kids.

We worry about making friends just as much as we did in our younger incarnations.  What will we talk about with these new moms?  Will we get along as swimmingly as our children?  What if we hit it off with a mom at drop-off or pick-up and she has a child in another grade or – gasp – of the other sex!?  Sometimes a compatible mom friend just doesn’t have the right kid to hide the real intent: that moms want to make friends, too.  [Perhaps more than their kids because they need an ally in this crazy road trip called parenting.]

New situations make us nervous, too.  What is the play date etiquette?  Do I invite myself in?  Do I drop-off and ditch?  How much do I discipline my kids in front of this other parent?  Will they follow the kids-will-be-kids approach or think I’m lax if I don’t?  Will they think I’m horrible if I don’t make my kids clean up before they go?  Or will they be appalled if I walk up the stairs into their child’s bedroom looking for the toy tub?

Peer pressure, though less crippling than in junior high, still exists.  Do we share our deepest, darkest bad mom moments?  Will she understand and share her own?  Or will she judge?  Will we commiserate over this shared, easier-said-than-done existence?  Will we build each other up or tear each other down?  Will we be able to have a real conversation as two people who happen to be mothers or as two women trying to fit the textbook model?

“Play” dates are really just a lot of work.  Our kids would get along just fine if we sent them to school; if we took them to the playground and let them chat up little Sophia on their own.  What intrinsic need does it fulfill in us?  The need for human [read: adult] companionship?  To keep them busy before their idle hands find the devil’s work?  To make it easier for ourselves?

When I was a teacher, we used to tell particularly snarky students that we didn’t need them to like us because we had enough friends.  As moms, do we?  Are we using our kids as an excuse to make connections for ourselves?  What is it that we are lacking?

And for what else do we use them as an excuse?

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