“I am not social in the summer. This is not a play date and my mother is just babysitting you.”
Those, believe it or not, were the not-so-subtle words coming out of my daughter’s 10-year-old friend as they sat in the car on their way to an outing. More puzzled than upset, my 9-year-old narrated the exchange as I felt a wave of nervous laughter come over me. That is, the kind of laugh that disguises guilt. I’ll never know if the girl’s words expressed her true feelings or if she was just repeating what she heard her mother say. One thing is certain. She was not enjoying my daughter’s company. She was not having a good time, and I felt horrible. Ouch. Thanks mija, for letting me know. No more play dates more with Miss “I am not social in the summer.”
I know that while school is out, I’m not the only parent who welcomes a play date for her children. For the kiddos, it’s an opportunity to visit with their favorite classmates, the ones they only see at school, this time in a different playground, with no homework! For us parents, it’s an opportunity to nurture their social skills, make memories and – why not have them burn some energy! But it is also a tool to build relationships with parents and caretakers we will most likely see at future school events.
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So, you may think, how important can a play date be? Not life or death, right? True, but in the summer, things change and sometimes a play date is almost like an important business meeting. Planning, scheduling and logistics are in order. It is only when a play date fails that you realize its importance — after you wipe your child’s tears away and tend to their hurt feelings.
Circumstances evolve as children grow, even with play dates. What you may think is as simple as “let’s meet up somewhere, play and have a good time” is not so. Not just because children begin to develop their personalities and begin to decide who they want to associate with, but also because there is an unwritten, ever-evolving protocol between parents; a protocol that involves respect, sensitivity, compatibility, reciprocity and clarity, among other factors.
Case in point: A few years ago my daughter went to a friend’s house for a morning play date. The girl lived with her grandparents, an elderly, lovely, and apparently responsible couple. Imagine my surprise when I picked up my daughter, and grandfather gets up and starts walking towards the door instead of calling for my daughter to come down. Bizarre. Turns out the girls were at a house… down the street. Whose home? God only knows. All I remember was seeing a large group of children and a teenage girl, not older than 14, taking care of them all. So much for the elderly, lovely, and apparently responsible couple and their granddaughter.
Another experience: A “meet in a public place” play date. The problem was our friends did not think much of it and invited other parties; several other mothers with children. “What am I doing sitting here with people I don’t know and have nothing in common with for the sake of a play date?” I kept asking myself. I was hardly able to share a few words with the friend with whom I had originally planned this outing.
As an immigrant mom, perhaps finding the perfect play date represents the quest to help my children form life-long childhood friendships. One thing is for sure. This is a journey with good experiences and bad ones. And I’ve gotten better at learning from the bad ones and relishing the good ones.
“Your child is such a delight!” said a recent text I received after a play date. I’m happy to report that most children are social in the summer.
The journey continues…
Former journalist, NBC Latino contributor and current CEO and President of Deschamps Communications, a public relations and media consulting firm in Texas, Claudia Deschamps is also the mother of two small children.