I have this small problem. My friend’s children also happen to be my four-year-old daughter Hayden’s best friends. Obviously, this was going to happen. When you spend all your free time with your good friends, your kids tend to hang out together — especially when they’re all the same age. Since a few of us are so close, it was natural to send our children to the same pre-school. I didn’t see a problem with this until parent teacher conferences. That’s when I was politely told that Hayden was very kind to other students but would only play with her “good girl-friends,” aka, my friends kids.
Well, duh. She’s been hanging around these other kids since birth. They spend summers at the pool and beach together, hours upon hours playing with each other while us Moms sit around the kitchen table and gossip, and go out to restaurants in groups with all of them cornered at one end of the table yielding crayons and paper while we sit at the other end with a glass of wine. They’ve relied on each other for, well, ever.
The teacher’s had a simple solution. Play dates…with other kids. This seemed like a simple enough idea. Find out what other kids were around and pretty much force Hayden to play with them without the safety net of the friends she sees every single day. I assured them that I would do that… and I did. In my mind, I thought it would be a challenge for her to remove herself from her comfort zone to engage other children, but it turned out the challenge was really for me.
Here’s the thing — I’m really close to my good friends. It’s the kind of friendship where if you’re driving by their house and need a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon, you just reach into their mailbox and shoot them a text hours later letting them know you took one. I rely on my circle of girlfriends to remind me about special events at the school so I don’t look like the bad mom. I rely on them to help me with childcare when I’m stuck at work late. Most of all, I rely on them for good laughs and a sympathetic ear. Nevertheless, Hayden’s teachers said she needs to socialize with other kids, and I needed to socialize with other parents.
Play Date #1: The Neat Freak
“Susan” was sweet enough. She was always dressed well. She had a great laugh. She lived conveniently down the street from me. Oh, and she had a kid Hayden’s age. Perfect. I casually e-mailed her and suggested the kids hang out. She invited us over the following day. I patted myself on the back for being so proactive. We arrived to their beautiful home and as we stepped in the door, she smiled and pointed to a sign on the wall that read “Please remove shoes." Assuming it probably had something to do with religious beliefs, I quickly obliged by awkwardly unzipping my boots and pulling off Hayden’s sneakers. We entered their playroom and I noticed that everything was labeled. I mean — everything. Every container read “BLOCKS”, “BARBIES”, “MISC. TOYS”. In my mind, I thought it was a bit strange, but hey — to each her own. I sat down and she offered me a bottle of water which she quickly placed on a coaster. Holy crap, her dining room chairs had plastic wrap on the seats. She must have seen me stare at them because she commented “You can’t be too safe." Then as I settled to start a discussion, she didn’t sit beside me, she calmly stood behind the girls and picked up every single toy after they played with it and placed it back in its labeled container. We left an hour later and I made a mental note to never invite her to my house out of fear of judgment. Play date #1 = awkward.
Play Date #2: The Screamer
This time around I figured better to meet another mom and kid out at a park. I wouldn’t have that initial feeling that I had to make friends with a stranger mom and it would be easier to lose her at a public place if she turned out to be a freak show like Neat Freak. “Karen” met me at a park in the Cranbury section of Norwalk. Her son was the same age as Hayden as well. They immediately began playing and I sat on a bench next to “Karen." We started out with a normal conversation and as I finally relaxed and started to believe that this playdate would be a success, it started… “BRANDON, GET DOWN!." I figured her son had done something dangerous and quickly looked up. He was standing on about three stairs. A far cry from doing anything dangerous. Hmmm. Two minutes later, poor Brandon ventured up to the top of the slide. More screaming: “BRANDON, WAIT, MOMMY’S COMING!” The lady literally climbed up to the top of the slide and put him on her lap to slide down with her. He was four-years-old. I’m pretty sure he could handle the slide just fine. She came down, wiped the dirt from her jeans and looked at me and sighed “Boys.” I nodded in feigned agreement and stared in disbelief. It continued just a few minutes later, more obnoxious shrieking: “BRANDON, DON’T PLAY IN THE SANDBOX, YOU KNOW THERE’S DISEASES." Okay, that’s enough. As if it weren’t alarming enough that her voice was piercing through the park, now we’ve alerted the children that there could be possible contaminated sand. I made an excuse that my husband had texted and I needed to run and get him from the train. Clearly a lie. He works in Stratford.
Play Date #3: The Bully
Although I thought at this point that Hayden should be hanging out with more girls, I was simply on the hunt for a cool mom. I had been eyeing a woman at the gym that I knew had a young son. She took the same boot camp and weight training classes that I took. We normally worked out next to each other. We had the same style in work out gear. I figured maybe she would be a good option. I casually brought up during one of our sweat sessions that Hayden needed to hang out with some different kids, and as if she read my mind, she suggested we get together one day. We got together about a week later. So far, I had failed at another mom’s home and dealt with a crazy person at a park. I figured I would go in a totally different direction this time — lunch. My parent’s own a restaurant in Westport called Via Sforza, so I invited them to meet us in the lounge area and have lunch there. Finally, my home turf. Great plan, she said. “Lydia” and I sat to eat and I noticed that her son sat uncomfortably close to Hayden. I didn’t think anything of it at first, and then Hayden cried out in pain. “Mommy, he pinched me.” I looked at her disbelievingly. Lydia ignored the comment. I assured her she was fine. Then he took the piece of bread right out of her hand and shoved it into his mouth. Hayden’s face got red and she grabbed another piece of bread from the basket. I looked over at Lydia, she smiled at him and checked her iPhone. When Lydia got up to run to the bathroom, the son of Satan wound up and slapped Hayden across her face. I grabbed her as she burst into tears. Lydia came out of the bathroom and I explained what happened and she offered a half-sincere apology. She didn’t say a word to him. I sat with Hayden on my lap for the rest of the meal and vowed never to ask her to hang out again.
You know what I missed throughout this whole experience? My friends. The familiarity of not having to brush my hair or put on makeup. The comfort of knowing that I can wear my shoes in their home, or that they won’t scream awkwardly in public, or most importantly, their kid won’t beat up my kid. With that said, this was a learning experience. But for me, not for Hayden. She’s only four. She has plenty of time to make other friends. I, on the other hand, don’t have to.