They say that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. I don’t know who these fabled ‘they’ are. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are a group of renegade fairies, chucked out of Fairy Forest for repeated dope smoking and flashing their tits at the hedgehogs, who now spend their days hanging out in the air vents of fast food outlets, making up crap adages that dissolve like fairy wings over a naked flame as soon as they are held up to even the most fleeting scrutiny.
Anyway, probably enough fairy chat (now there’s a phrase surely deserving of a wide audience). I used to think I could choose my friends. And then I had children. And, it turns out, they get to choose them for you. Because no matter how much you really like Mum A, because she is funny, and down to earth, and doesn’t seem to notice that you have turned up in the playground with the same top on all week, your child does not want to play with her child. No, your child wants to play with the child of Mum B, who seems to have a team of stylists coiffe her to perfection every bloody morning and whose child would not be seen dead with a dried snail’s trail of snot on their coat arm. Unlike mine.
And nowhere does this become more apparent than on play dates. As my son is in reception year, we are getting right into the swing of play dates. And there is a lot to be said for a play date. Let’s make a list, shall we?
1. It is a great way to fill that yawning chasm of time between the end of the school day (which, let’s face it, is pretty much a half day anyway) and bed time. Or to put it another way, it lets me off the entertainment hook.
2. It is a grand old excuse for sitting on your arse with a generous supply of tea and nattering, an activity which otherwise is far too indulgent given how much work I have to do and the size of my washing mountain which is directly inversely proportionate to how full the food cupboards are.
3. Occasionally, you get to meet another mum who is also prepared to admit that they can be a little bit crap when it comes to parenting and it is a pleasure to be in their company and to be honest about being a mum. “…and then, we turned round, and he had fallen in the sea…oh, how we laughed…” (Yes, this did happen, but no, it wasn’t that amusing at the time. However, we laugh about it now, mainly to keep the panic that still gnaws at our insides at bay).
4. I will admit, I do love a good nose round other people’s houses. I mainly marvel at how tidy they are, to be fair.
5. Oh, and I suppose there should be something here about how nice it is for my son to play with his friends, blah blah blah. Blimey, anyone would think play dates were for his benefit.
But there is a dark side to a play date. It’s not all bloody harmonious laughter wafting down the stairs as you sip your delicious tea.
1. The unaccompanied play date. Now, in theory, packing your kids off to someone else’s house without you is genius. However, I do feel, given that my son is only five, that I would probably want to go with him for the first one. A mum asked my son round for play date once, and her chin nearly hit the hop scotch when I asked to come with him. How do I know she doesn’t have a rabid Rottweiler who likes nothing more than to chew on strangers’ legs? How can I be sure there is not a pentagram chalked on the kitchen floor and a faint smell of goat’s blood lingering in the hallway? I don’t think I am overprotective as a parent (cf. Point 3 above, my son’s unscheduled dip into the sea) but perhaps I am.
2. The Play Date Ninja Mum, who prepares a number of activities in advance of you and your child turning up – you know, she has actually given some thought to what the kids might want to do. And then serves up a nutritious, homemade meal. And not bloody fish fingers and waffles. Note to self: up your bloody game on the food front, you lazy bitch. You are letting yourself down. Well, and your son. And his friend. And his friend’s mum. In fact, you’re letting pretty much everyone down with you ‘meal on a grill pan’ approach to life. You disgust me.
3. But despite my self-confessed crapitude on the meal front, things can get a little tricky when there is a clash of snack cultures. We rocked up on a play date where my son was given a chocolate bar, followed by the offer of a whole plate of biscuits for himself. Not just one. A whole plate. Call me a snack snob, and each to their own, ya-dee-ya, but I am just not convinced about consuming half the biscuit aisle an hour before tea. Luckily, he said no the biscuits, so I loved him a little bit more after that.
4. When play dates turn sour. Sometimes, after a long day at school building misshapen space ships from Lego and painting your shirt cuffs and shoes, the kids are a little tired and irritable. So rather than spending an hour playing nicely with your friend, it turns into the Shitbag Olympics where both children try very hard to win a gold medal in Stropping, Shouting or Pretend Crying that is all Noise and No Tears. This is a lose-lose scenario for all concerned. If you are round someone else’s house, you feel your kid, as the guest, should behave. If you are at home, you feel your kid, as the host, should behave. Either way, I am shit out of luck.
5. Play dates at your house are just a little bit rubbish, because you run around in a flat panic trying to tidy up a week’s worth of mess in ten minutes, shoving things in cupboards that have no right to be there whilst scrubbing a dubious stain off the table with a wet wipe, just so the visiting mum doesn’t volunteer you for the next series of a Life of Grime. Then after the play date, you wade through a tsunami of toys and discarded drinks cartons and wonder why you ever sodding bothered.
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