Last year, an unprecedented event happened in our house: my then-5yo son had a playdate … with a GIRL. This is huge for a couple of reasons. First, whatever your feelings on gender stereotyping and all that, it’s an undeniable fact that when you have a house full of boys, testosterone takes over.
Our house is usually loud. We have nothing pink. We have one gender-neutral stroller and a doll that spends most of its time naked in the bottom of the toy bin. Despite my best efforts, we have lots of weapons. Light sabers, foam swords, squirt guns, ball-shooters, you name it. There is a lot of talk about girls vs. boys. There are sometimes “No gurls alowd” signs taped to doors. (When I point out that *I* am technically a girl, they say, “You don’t count, Mom.” They mean this as a compliment.)
My boys play with cousins and neighbors who are girls, of course, but it was still a bit of a shock when my kindergartener asked for a playdate with a particular classmate. All the more so because this was the first classmate he’d invited home. Possibly because of my anti-playdate stance.
I’ve told you I’m not a huge fan, right? I mean, that’s what siblings are for. No, seriously, it’s not because I am against kids having fun, but because playdates are potential minefields. It could go beautifully, blessing you with an uninterrupted hour or two to do housework or catch up on email, or it could go horribly wrong, leaving you arbitrating fights over who’s cheating at Uno and whether the guest should have free reign over all the toys in the house. And if you get a whiner or a picky eater or a can’t-wipe-himselfer? NIGHTMARE.
Anyway, I agreed to host the playdate. The girl’s dad dropped her off – LOVE the drop-off playdates. No hours of awkward small-talk with a stranger and less-intensive cleaning required – and I liked her right off the bat. She strode into the kitchen, plopped down at the table, and declared that, all evidence to the contrary, she actually HATED pink and was only wearing this outfit because her aunt had given it to her and her mother made her. Within 10 min. I learned more from this little girl about their class and teacher than I had from my son all year.
The dad left and my younger son was still napping then, and the kids went off to play. They colored, they built forts, they pretended to be animals. I observed quietly from the sidelines. I find that kids do much better when parents are nearby, but not involved unless someone’s bleeding. Playdates are the perfect time to fold and put away laundry, prep dinner, and sort the mail. Anything that you can half pay attention to while eavesdropping.
I DID notice some differences between boy-only and co-ed playdates. There was a lot less weapon-play and a lot more talking, for one thing. Specifically, there was a lot of talk about marriage. “Who do YOU want to marry?” the girl asked my son as they colored.
“Umm… I’m going to marry Joe*.” (*His best male friend; not his real name.)
“You can’t, he’s a boy.” (Maryland has since passed a same-sex marriage law, but NO WAY was I getting involved in that!!)
“Then I’m going to marry my cousin Kate*.” (*His female cousin; not her real name.)
“You can’t. At least, I don’t think you can… I think it’s against the law or something.” (I darted behind a door, so desperate was I to avoid getting drawn into this conversation.)
“Then I’m going to marry Gracie*!” (*His girl dog; that is her real name.)
At this point I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer and had to interject: “You guys are WAY too young to be thinking about marriage. What about going to college first?” God, I’m such a mom.
All in all, the playdate went beautifully. And it prepared me for this year, when my 3yo son asked for his first playdate with a classmate – a girl, naturally.