Play dating / by Susie Lubell


I have an afternoon problem. I pick up my kids from school after lunch, my daughter goes down for her nap, and my son and I are left to kill each other softly, one nerve at a time. We can't leave the house. We don't have much in the way of a yard, not that he wants to go outside. And there's only so many times a day I want to play (insert Zingo, Candyland, What's Gnu?, Guess Who?, War, Memory, Go Fish or Hungry Hippos). I mean if Candyland is not the most insipid game ever created, well then my name is mud. It gets to me. Sometimes we paint which can be nice. Sometimes we do a puzzle or a project. We often bake for part of the time. My thighs can attest. Sometimes he sorts the recycling when I'm really desperate.

And the thing is he has had plenty of play date invitations - to friends' houses, to the pool, to the zoo, to the library. He's in demand. But he won't go anywhere with anyone unless I drive and his sister comes. Two impossibilities since she's napping and I'm watching her.

The other day my daughter was fighting her nap so I decided to call our neighbor and invite her son, who's in kindergarten, to come with us to a park to ride bikes.  I could nearly see her beaming with delight through the phone. So we piled him in the car and threw all the bikes in the back and set out for the park. Keep in mind my son and her son have barely ever played together. I'm not really sure why. They're perfectly nice people. The kids are basically the same age. But that's how it is around here. We're all just too busy coexisting to be in each other's lives. It's the grown-up version of parallel play.

But the minute we got to the park and started to ride the boys were best friends. They only stopped gabbing long enough to sneak up on a squirrel and send it running up a tree in sheer terror. On the way home my son invited him to spend the night. We decided to save that for another day but I could tell the tides had started to turn. Solo playdates might be in our near future.

And as it happens, yesterday, after much persuasion, my son agreed to go to the library with his friend from school and then over to his house. And he LOVED it. He loved the library. He loved scanning my card. He loved driving in her fancy mini-van. He loved his friend's remote control train. He wants to go there again tomorrow by himself and every day forever. And I want to send a personal thank you to the patron saint of play dates for smiling upon my family.