Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dating Sucks

I hate dating. No, I’m not talking about that painful social custom whereby two people who may or may not find each other attractive arrange an appointment during which they can get to know each other and explore their potential romantic feelings for each other. Although that kind of dating is fairly hideous, too, as I recall. Memories of those days are forever tattooed onto my psyche. But now, as a 40-something mother, I can tell you, that particular form of torture has been replaced by a new kind of torture/date; they call it the play date.

If you are like me (and by “like me” I mean someone who grew up in the 70s or earlier) then you remember the way play time sessions were arranged way back when. It may have started with you wandering aimlessly around the house, complaining to your mom that you were bored, that there was nothing to do. And your mom responded by telling you to go outside and play. Quite frankly, this never made a lot of sense to me as a kid. I mean, if there was nothing to do inside and I was feeling bored, why on earth was that going to change the instant I walked outside? Outside was not inherently interesting to me. If I was so terribly lacking in creativity that I could not come up with a decent way to entertain myself indoors, how was the fresh air supposed to suddenly spark a brilliant, innovative idea for play activity? Of course, I realize now that my mother, in reality, did not give a rat’s ass about how I entertained myself. She just wanted me go outside because then she wouldn’t be able to hear me complaining of boredom and, more importantly, she would not have to see me looking bored. And in the mind of a parent from that generation, child out of sight equaled child adequately cared for. Oh, they were so lucky back then with that laissez faire-style parenting…

So you’d go outside and somehow you would, miraculously, scrounge up something to do. Often this involved a chance meeting with another child who had also been banished from his or her house and together you’d come up with a game, ride bikes, play house, or, in my case, you would encourage your best friend to act out some really unacceptable behavior while promising her it was really okay to act in such a manner and then your best friend would get caught and you would act innocent even though everyone could see through your act and knew that you were obviously the bad seed. But the point was you were engaged in “play” with another kid who was referred to as your “friend” and it involved almost no work on the part of your parent, other than the initial energy expended when mom barred you from the house. It seems to me that past about my fifth birthday party, all of the inviting of friends to “play” was done by me. My mom didn’t “set up” “play dates.” I had two choices in life: either A) follow my mom around the house learning about how to scrub the toilet or how to make hospital corners (truth is, I liked that lesson and perhaps my mother recognized how unnatural it was for me to conduct lessons with my 8-year old pals on how to tuck the sheets in properly and that’s why she drove me out of the house) or B) go “play.” How I played was up to me. If I wanted other kids to play with, I had to do my own bidding.

Nowadays, however, from what I can figure out (which is precious little), it is one’s parental duty to arrange “dates” between your own child and others’ children for the express purpose of the two children engaging in “play” activities together for a specified period of time. No one ever actually told me this and the page on how exactly the arranging of play dates is conducted seems to be missing from my parenting manual so I’m unable to provide any more insight than this. I guess that’s what you get from the garage sale edition of Parenting for Dummies. Which is why, as my child lies writhing on the floor lamenting her boredom, I can do nothing more than hold up a finger and say “hold on, it’s supposed to be on page 131… right – here, no wait, next page. Oh damn it, it’s not here! The page has been ripped out! Goddamn garage sale book… Now what do I do? Would you stop that whining for Christ’s sake?!”

Okay, so, it’s not really as bad as all that. But here’s what really sticks in my craw. A week ago, my daughter came home from school saying her friend wanted to see her (my daughter’s) upcoming violin recital and could friend come with us. I said sure. Well, it was more like, “uh… ok, sure. I guess so. I guess I’ll have to call friend’s mom and make sure it’s okay.” And I called, but friend’s mom was not home. Instead, 8-year old friend answered, I identified myself and the purpose of my call and I told her to pass this on to her mom. Friend may or may not have communicated the info to her mother. Later, I saw friend’s mom at a birthday party drop-off and I asked her in-person about the possibility of friend coming with us to the violin recital. She checked her calendar and agreed to drop friend off at our house an hour before the big recital. On the night of the recital friend does not show at the appointed time. I was hesitant to call friend and/or friend’s mother at the time because it seemed rather awkward and besides, my attention was required for the official Dressing For the Violin Recital Ritual. The violin recital was attended, sans friend, songs were played, enthusiastic clapping ensued, bows were taken, children and instruments were collected and schlepped home. End of story.

Fortunately, my daughter did not make a big stink over her friend’s absence. And I should clarify, this is not a rant against the friend or friend’s mom. Families are busy, things fall through the cracks. I understand that. It’s more just a rant about the situation and me wondering what I should have done differently to achieve the desired outcome. Admittedly, I freak out a lot about my daughter’s ability to make and maintain friendships. I’ll forego a lengthy analysis of why this is, how my own childhood friendships affect my perspective of my daughter’s peer relationships. Because really, as far as Martha’s development goes thus far in life, I would offer the enthusiastic if somewhat spartan assessment of “so far so good.” I might even go so far as to offer a “thumbs up” gesture to go with. My point being that I don’t think this incident will have any adverse affect on my daughter’s overall well-being. It’s just an annoyance. I’ve had similar experiences with other play-date attempts, which leaves me wondering, how the hell do these things work? How come I don’t seem to have acquired the proper play-date-arranging technique? I’ve tried, I really have. Ok, I’ve tried half-heartedly, but still… I’ve tried. It’s this kind of thing that makes me really pine for the “olden” days when I was a kid and I just went outside and bam, play date. Life was so much simpler back then. If only I had had the nerve to give birth to about 5 more kids, then I’d really never have to pay attention to them. Live and learn.


  1. Ruth and I too learned "how a nurse makes a bed" and I was quite popular in college assisting others in making hospital corners.

  2. To this day "how a nurse makes a bed" will still make Debbie and me hysterical. It is one of our code phrases for determining whether we've been replaced by an evil twin.