Any parent who is or has been on maternity/paternity leave can attest to the (sometimes surprising) fact that it can be a lonely gig. After you get a few weeks (or months) with a newborn under your belt, you will become pretty skilled at packing the appropriate items into the diaper bag, wrestling your baby into its carseat, and hooking up the portable coffee IV so you can leave the house and play the part of a semi-functioning human as you interact with the rest of the waking world. At the risk of sounding like a total a-hole, I have to tell you that this is as easy as it gets. Once that sweet, portable little babe learns how feet work, it’s game over. This is why second time parents push their kids over when they’re learning to walk (after filming the precious first few steps for Instagram, obviously).
As the days of sipping lattes while getting a pedicure with your girlfriend while your baby sleeps peacefully next to you in his carseat are long gone, you are likely to find yourself desperate for adult conversation in a more manageable setting. It seems like a no-brainer. Enter the playdate.
One parent invites the other into his or her home for a morning or afternoon filled with smiles and laughter from the children and meaningful conversation and steaming cups of coffee shared by the adults. The boredom of spending another day inside “alone” are vanquished and souls are refreshed after an enjoyable day spent in the company of your friends. Upon returning to your respective homes, both parents will smirk triumphantly at the black screen of their television sets as they congratulate themselves for being so attentive to the emotional and social needs of their children.
There is one part of the above scenario that is true, and that’s the part when one family goes to the home of the other. The rest is a more or less a fairy tale. Now, you may be one of the lucky parents who gets to enjoy the peace and serenity of a playdate similar to the one described above. If you are, congratulations, I hate you, and please tell me what magic spells you had to cast to make this happen. If you aren’t, also congratulations. Welcome to the club. It’s not the best one, but at least you’re among friends.
In my experience, the typical toddler playdate has more or less looked like this.
Step 1: Acknowledge the fact that if you spend another day without adult conversation, your brain might melt into a puddle of Elmo-induced goo.
Step 2: Summon your courage to text a friend to suggest a playdate. Get nervous about the idea and delete text midway through. Shake head and complete text. Delete entire text before sending. Wait 20 minutes and repeat. Wait 20 more minutes, write text and send.
Step 3: Solve the Rubik’s cube-like puzzle of trying to find a time to meet where all children’s nap schedules align. Realize that this is impossible. Choose the child who is least likely to derail the entire playdate if they miss an hour of sleep and plan your meeting during this time.
Step 4: On the day of the playdate, start preparing 2-3 hours beforehand. Make sure all of your children are fed, dressed, and toileted at least twice. If you are hosting the playdate, put all decorative machetes on the high shelf and turn on the coffee machine. If you are going to your friend’s home, pack your diaper bag with at least 14 snacks, 6 diapers, wipes, a sippy cup, a blanket, a first aid kit, and 3 more snacks.
Step 4: Bribe your toddler to get into the car. Forget your diaper bag by the front door. Make sure none of the neighbours are looking while you run back inside to get it.
Step 5: Beg your toddler to “hold it” when they inevitably announce that they have to go pee as soon as you are one block away from home.
Step 6: Arrive at your destination. Smile and wave through the window at your companions who are waiting to greet you.
Step 7: Enter the home. Remove shoes. Referee toddler fight #1 which erupts because your child’s playmate is wearing cool sunglasses that your child claims are his.
Step 8: Rush your toddler to the bathroom where he will refuse to use the toilet.
Step 9: Accept offer for coffee which you know in your heart will be received piping hot, but consumed at room temperature .
Step 10: Take first sip of coffee. Put down on the highest possible surface as you referee toddler fight #2.
Step 11: Start a meaningful conversation. Get three words in before your baby needs a diaper change. Realize you only packed toddler diapers so ask your companion if you can have one of theirs.
Step 12: Return to your coffee and conversation. Your toddler will announce that he is now hungry. Feel proud that you have planned ahead and brought snacks. Feel annoyed when your toddler only wants to eat the banana that he saw on your friend’s counter and no other snack will suffice.
Step 13: The children are playing nicely. Give yourselves a pat on the – oh, never mind. They’re fighting again.
Step 14: The children are digging up the garden. Maintain your cool as you pry shovels from their deathlike grips and try to redirect them to the sandbox. Meltdowns will ensue.
Step 15: Children will request to “Watch a show”. Tell them that you came over to play, not to watch TV. Redirect them to the overflowing toy box/super fun play structure/awesome craft bin. Children will reluctantly oblige. Children will fight over a weed in the garden that they both want to play with.
Step 16: Look at your fellow parent and telepathically agree that you’ve both given it your best shot, and sit the kids in front of the TV.
Step 17: Kids will argue over what show to watch, so you choose a random Japanese cartoon that no one has ever heard of. Silence falls upon the room.
Step 18: Enjoy your lukewarm coffee and talk as fast as you can to attempt to finish the conversation you began 42 minutes ago.
Step 19: You and your friend can both agree that your playdate has been a success, because, while you may have done the same things you would have been doing if you’d stayed home, you at least got to do it in the company of another adult.
Step 20: Pack up your kids and head home, taking comfort in the fact that this is the basic anatomy of a toddler playdate. Later this week, repeat steps 1-19. Enjoy.