Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Etiquette of Playdates

The etiquette of playdates fascinates me.  Much like dating, or indeed that very first client meeting, you quickly seek to establish common ground, share view points and assess chemistry or 'brand fit'.  Over the course of a few hours you establish whether the new Mummy is your sort of Mummy.  Of course, with dating and client chemistry meetings, you don't tend to have toddlers present.  Thus, in those cases your careful preparation and cheery warm welcome is unlikely to be thwarted as soon as the door opens by a small person declaring "Oh no, Mummy, I didn't want you to invite THIS James, I meant the OTHER one..."

Anyway, the inaugural playdate is booked.  Assuming that you're hosting, there's prep to be done.  Firstly, whether or not you think it's ridiculous to clean the house before double the usual number of marauding small people run through it, you will inevitably try and tidy to some sort of universally acceptable standard.  Apparently being too clean can inhibit creativity and play, but no-one wants to be the Slummy Mummy, so somewhere between OCD and E-Coli, you should be good to go.  Next up, snacks.  If etiquette is about making others feel comfortable, then it makes sense to take your snack cues from whoever is coming to visit.  Some Mums are fruit only, others will happily break out the Bakewells.  If you don't know where they stand on the snackage spectrum, then you aim for somewhere in between and hope the kids don't rat you out for never usually having organic flapjacks.  Oh, and the juice vs water debate, that's another thorny one.  Basically, so long as you don't offer Coke (yes yes, of any kind), all should be fine.

Your playdate companions arrive.  Your kids were well dressed when you last saw them but are now either naked or wearing superhero costumes.  You go with it.  Snack time hopefully passes without incident.  You now face the final hurdles: Discipline and CBeebies.  Telling off your kids in front of someone you don't know very well is always a bit uncomfortable.  I always wonder if the other parent thinks I'm being too hard or not nearly hard enough, but - much like horses - the boys can smell fear, so I tend to put indecision to one side and go with what feels right.  When they are old enough to be threatened with being embarrassed in front of their friends, I suspect that's an area that will resolve itself.  The question of whether you can tell off the playdatee is a whole other issue.  I think on a first playdate it's probably out of the question unless the child and parent are so awful you plan never to see them again.  After that, there are probably gentle ways and means, but it's a minefield. The last decision is whether or not to put on the TV.  For some people, it is absolutely unthinkable to put on the television during a playdate.  For others, the commanding tones of Captain Barnacles are infinitely preferable to a soundtrack of squabbling kids, and the TV is put on without hesitation.  As with snacks, when it comes to TV, I tend to take my cues from my guest.

Again, much like dating, by the end of your time together you'll have a fairly good idea of whether it's ever going to happen again.  The Mummy circuit is remarkably intertwined, so to some extent you can never quite shake someone off, but equally there seems to be an understanding that some people just click better than others and no offence should be taken if you happen to see some Mums more than others.  Which is just as well as there's a real mixed bag out there...

Anyway, today the children and I had a second playdate with some people we've known for a while.  We had in our midst 2 Spidermen, 1 Spiderwoman and a Superman.  No-one bit anyone or wet themselves, and everyone enjoyed the hot cross buns.  That, my friends, is a playdate match made in heaven.

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