We didn’t have playdates when I was growing up. We just went to our friend’s houses. Our mums often didn’t even check if that was ok with each other… or if they were even home. I’d leave the house on my bike [without a helmet] and say “I’m going to Liz’s” and Mum would say “ok” and that would be the entire logistical arrangement for the visit. Then when I arrived at Liz’s, unexpected but welcome nonetheless, we would tell her mum “We’re going to Allison’s” and she would say “ok” and off we would go. And at some stage [before the street lights came on] we would all end up home again. Tired but happy and already wondering what and who the next day had in store for us.
Kids from the neighbourhood would turn up at our front door, bold as you like and say “Hi, is Tania home?” and if Mum was in the mood, she would welcome them in and direct them to my room or the backyard or wherever I was and we would just hang out. There were no activities. There were no pre-prepared snacks. If we complained about being hungry Mum would tell us to have a piece of fruit or make a sandwich. Chips and packaged snacks were party food so there was never any of that in the house and if there WAS some, it was for special guests. Not bratty kids just dropping around hoping to freeload the ‘for special guests treats’.
When we were kids, fronting up at a friend’s house uninvited was so normal that we didn’t care if we were welcome or not. If they weren’t allowed to play that day, we accepted that and moved on. We then decided for ourselves whether it was worth trying another friend nearby or whether we should just head home. And every day we developed resilience. Being turned away from friends’ and neighbours’ homes were gentle and appropriate rejections that strengthened our emotional muscle. I never understood the importance of those rites of passage. Until today.
My eldest took himself off to his own playdate today. For the first time. In his ten years of living.
When I watched him ride off down the street, with nothing but his tennis racket on his back I felt a twinge of anxiety. I’ve written about letting go before so these feelings are nothing new. Except they are. Every time he takes another step toward independence there is a new feeling in my heart. Every time he makes another decision without my counsel I see his chest grow with the breath of the man he is becoming. I watched him overcome his own anxieties too. He did a dry run before the main event earlier in the morning and yesterday he asked me to drive past his friend’s place so he knew exactly where it was and how to get there. As he was preparing to leave at precisely the time we had worked out he needed to in order to arrive punctually [VERY important to this child] he ran through his own checklist with me “So Mum, this is the way I’m going to go [explains, in detail, his route]. It should only take me about 3 minutes [yes, he's THAT precise] shouldn’t it? And then I’ll come back the same way… but how will I know it’s time to leave?”
Whoa. At that moment I understood that there are so many important lessons in independence that our ‘new’ way of parenting is robbing our kids of. How can I expect my boys to make the right choices, when they are not given enough opportunity to make any at all. If I am making all of their social arrangements, for example, without their involvement what are they learning? Until today, I would tell him when we need to leave, drop him off and tell him when I would be back. Until today, I’m certain he paid no attention to any of that. He just went on his merry way until such time as I returned to collect him or his friend’s mum brought him home.
The way things were done when I was a kid weren’t altogether right, by any means, but I don’t reckon the way things are done today are either. I’m looking for the sweet spot in the middle of the two for my lot.
So today, for the first time ever, I made arrangements with his friend’s mum ENTIRELY by text. I didn’t send him off with a drink and BYO snacks. I didn’t settle him in and tell him when I would return. I texted the mum when he left home and she texted me when he arrived. It was ALMOST like the way we used to do ‘playdates’ back in the day. Almost.