anyone for a Playdate..?

OK, some words to begin:
1. I just wrote this for a magazine, so I probably shouldn’t be publishing it here. But hey, you’ve very sweetly made the effort to come and read my stuff, so you are duly rewarded with a scoop! My pleasure…
2. I don’t mean 90% of what I say. That’s very important to remember when reading these blogs. It’s also important to work out which 10% I DO mean…
3. none of my kids has ever killed a pet by electrocuting it. Probably.

So here’s the piece:

There are many things a parent of school-aged children dreads. Nits. Forgetting to turn up for the Xmas show because you were washing your hair. Having a child who becomes the teacher’s pet. Having a child who accidentally kills the teacher’s pet by introducing it to the light socket. Fancying the Head master. And so on.

But none of these compares even remotely with the sheer terror, the horror, of The Playdate. Because the Playdate is fraught with more potential for social disasters, ruined carpets and bad influences than anything else your child will ever suggest. It is also something that you cannot possibly avoid.

Here’s how playdates start: Child A likes Child B. They play together every day, without spitting, hitting, biting or calling each other ‘Fuckface.’ Child A’s Mummy likes Child B’s Mummy, because their mutual children seem to get on so well and because she has nice shoes. One fine day in the playground, Child A says to his Mummy: ‘Mummy can Billy come to play?’ Child A’s Mummy and Billy’s Mummy both scrawl through their mental diaries, trying desperately to find one day in the next six months that works for both parties, and finally agree that next Tuesday is a good day, because there is no swimming/ballet/football/cello/drama/drinking before 2pm…..and so it’s arranged.
Next Tuesday there will be a Playdate.

Barring a fresh outbreak of swine flu or an Act of God such as a plague of locusts (start praying for one now…) you are now committed to this Playdate. And that’s Rule 1 of Playdate etiquette: you cannot cancel. Ever.
Cancelling a playdate is like returning the birthday present your Mum bought you, because you’ve just realised that you look like a hippopotamus in it. If you cancel it gives a clear indication that something else is more important or more desirable than Child B. And Child B’s Mummy isn’t going to like that, least of all because it means a diary reshuffle.
It also means three days of misery, as your own child mopes about looking deathly, picks holes in the wallpaper and tells you he hates you.

Rule 2, concerns authority: have some. Playdates almost exclusively take the same form: tired, overexcited kids come home from school, throw their bags, coats and shoes all over your hallway, eat most of your food, leave the table without clearing it and run upstairs to empty every toy cupboard onto the floor. Whether you survive the next two hours depends entirely on how you handle this first ten minutes. If you play the Kind Mum Who Lets Visitors Get Away With Murder card, you’ve had it.
Much better is to make it clear from the get-go, that in this house we have rules, and we stick by them so that we avoid killing each other before bath time. “Tommy, would you like to hang your coat with all the others please?” is one way to try this. Another way is, “Tommy, if you don’t want me to call your mum and ask her to take you home RIGHT NOW, then how about you hang up your coat? Here. Now.”
The first way is best if you can manage it.

Manners, or rather the lack of them, is a HUGE bugbear of mine. I’ve had kids sit in my house, on my chair, breathing my air while I’m offering them my food, and not once – not ONCE! – have they said either please or thank you. Not even when I subtly add these niceties after every single ‘yes’ or ‘no’ they utter, do they cotton on. They simply won’t say it.
These children get the mouldy end of the cheese and hamster droppings in their juice…

When the playing kicks off in earnest, Rule 3 comes in: establish a screen time limit. This can very tricky when Child B is used to a lot more screen time than yours. My kids have very little screen time, mainly because I think it’s important for them to learn how to invent things, use their imagination, listen to music, and, you know, actually TALK to me once in a while, rather than spend three hours a day blasting the living crap out each other’s Lego Star Wars characters.
So it depresses and frustrates me beyond measure when my child wants to build a huge fortress out of cardboard boxes and egg cartons, and his Playdate friend sits there looking glum, hands in pockets mumbling, ‘When can we watch telly?’ every two seconds.
Rule 4 is implemented here: be a bit like their mum. You don’t have to pander his every wish. Sure, he’s a guest, but his wish is to draw dinosaurs all over your walls in crayon – you going to say yes to that as well? No, because you’re not certifiable, so you allow some things and don’t allow others, just as his mum or dad would. Kids don’t mind this too much. They understand. They just call you Mrs Shitpig behind your back. It’s all healthy…

When it’s time to go home, follow this Golden Rule: get all of the coats, shoes etc ready early, give a five-minute warning that it’s almost time to go home, and when the time comes and Child B is screaming on the floor saying he doesn’t want to go, make a subtle exit and let his mum deal with it. This is one time when you can be of no use at all. Your work here is done.
Just as soon as you’ve put all the toys away and cleared up after tea or course…have fun.

Playdate nightmares:
Mute child. Says absolutely nothing despite your best efforts at coaxing out what she’d like to do/eat/play. Best to just let your own child get on and play whatever she likes. And maybe next time take the Hannibal Lecter mask off too…
Fussy eater. Unless there’s an allergy you need to be aware of, fussy eaters are right up there with mosquitoes in the night and dandruff. They cannot be tolerated. If your Playdate guest doesn’t like pasta, or rice, or pizza, or tomatoes, or peas, or cheese, or bread…explain that she’s just going to have to be hungry then, because that’s all we’ve got. Tough. This isn’t the Ivy, you know, darling.
Attention deficit child. Good luck. If your child’s friend cannot concentrate on any game for more than 2 minutes, suggest he finds a new friend.
Bored child. Some kids cannot find anything they like to do. Put them to task vacuuming the entire house and folding away the laundry. That ought to work…

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