Before I had my daughter, I remember cringing every time I heard a parent say the word “playdate.” Like “silent birth” and “attachment parenting,” it sounded a little too new-wave and high maintenance. When I was growing up, silent births happened when a woman screamed so loudly she lost her voice, and attachment parenting was more aptly named “you can’t say ‘No’ to your child.” Likewise, we never had playdates. When the neighbor kids knocked on the door, Mom didn’t offer them handmade cupcakes on coordinating napkins. In fact, they weren’t even allowed inside. My sister and I were shooed away and told to “go play.” We made do. We dug in our old-school sandbox (the cat’s litter box) and we’d mix up mud pies if we got hungry, pretending they made us full. We weren’t allowed back inside the house until the streetlights came on, indicating dinnertime.
But times have changed. Today parents are afraid to let their children play outside for fear that they’ll be victimized by everything from the creepy guy with the conversion van to the lawn with freshly spread fertilizer. Danger lurks around every corner, in every blade of poisonous grass. Playdates offer our children the opportunity to socialize under our watchful eye. Playful moments becoming teaching ones as we remind little Billy, “We don’t use the cat to mop the floor.”
I got on the playdate bandwagon almost immediately. In those early years, it wasn’t so much about socializing my daughter as it was about socializing me. Hardly sleeping, changing diapers, and using your body as a human trough for months on end takes it toll. You get to the point where you forget that it’s not okay to employ the “dipstick” technique to check for a soiled diaper. You forget yourself. So a little organized interaction with other children and their parents goes a long way to preserving social standards.
It never occurred to me that I was no good at hosting playdates until I read one of those parenting magazines whose sole purpose is to make you feel like you’re the suckiest parent in the universe because you didn’t hand-squeeze peas for your child or dress her in the latest fashions from Petite Bateau. I fed my daughter processed babyfood in non-recyclable containers and allowed her to wear non-organic T-shirts emblazoned with Disney Princesses, complete with crunchy glitter. And I didn’t host playdates with preplanned activities and snack options that extended beyond Frito-Lay.
That is, until this week, when I decided to host the playdate of all playdates for my 5-year-old daughter: a Barbie Fairy Secret party. Of course, I had a little help from my friends here at ModernMom.com. As a ModernMom Insider, they sent me three Barbie dolls, wings, Barbie magazines, craft supplies AND the new "Barbie: A Fairy Secret" DVD (a gaping hole in her otherwise extensive collection of all things Barbie). So I figured we could host a viewing party with some of her friends. You know, popcorn and juice boxes. But what began with an innocent Evite quickly spiraled out of control. We ended up getting party favors, cupcakes and popcorn to round out the experience. I knew I’d gone too far when Ava said, “I’m so excited for my birthday party!”
“It’s just a playdate, honey.”
Clutching her three new Barbie fairy dolls to her chest, she looked confused. My bad.
By 5-year-old standards, the party–er, playdate–was a success. The girls played dolls, put glitter glue on paper wings and admired their heart-shaped plastic bracelets (except for the one little girl who lost hers in the toilet, which is also why I’m in the market for new salad tongs). They smeared cupcake frosting onto their faces, ground popcorn into my carpet and watched a better part of the movie.
When I woke the next morning my nerves had split ends, my teeth ached from the sugar, and between the popcorn and sparkle shrapnel, my bag-less vacuum had reached maximum capacity.
I had a Barbie hangover.
Again I’m reminded that most of the mommy stress in my life is self-inflicted. This afternoon, my daughter and I crawled into my bed and watched the Barbie DVD in its entirety. Alone. Together. Every now and then she’d look up at me adoringly and snuggle in closer. And that’s when I discovered the recipe for the perfect playdate.