Chicago mom: Navigating the world of play dates

When you have a 3-year-old old, the play dates tend to be less about who your child truly enjoys spending time with as opposed to who you, the parent, have selected as a match. In the preschool world, we set up play dates mostly because we like the other parents; we pray silently on the car ride over to the date that the children will at least appear to get along. “Please do not bite Timmy,” we might plead to our oblivious kid. “Please do not push or shove or hog all of his toys. Please don’t beg to go home. Please act angelic, and maybe when we get home, you can have pudding.”

There are, of course, many exceptions, and as my son gets older, he is starting to select his own friends based on common interests (playing with trains, riding on trains, and/or discussing trains) as opposed to who I basically tell him to play with. So far, Andy and I have had a fair amount of luck with our budding friendships. He does tend to be friends with the kids of the mothers that I am friends with. However, I am aware that there will come a time, likely in grade school, when Andy starts making friends, parental connection be damned. I can only hope that Andy’s tastes in friends are better than his taste in shoes, as Andy is currently drawn to the clunkiest, brightest, ugliest shoes I have ever seen, and it’s all I can do not to throw his yellow light-up Avengers sneakers into the trash while he sleeps.

Play dates now are everyone getting together – kids plus parents. We go to the park, the library, the gymnasium, and the moms sit and gab while the children either play semi-nicely together or just all-out ignore one another. Occasionally, there’s a fight between the kids, and the moms are quick to get up and make reprimands and apologies, perhaps offer up a packet of fruit snacks as a quick distraction.

At what age, I wonder, does the play date equation subtract the gabbing, refereeing mothers? When am I going to just drop my kid off at somebody else’s house after perhaps a brief introduction and handshake with a mystery mom whom I am expected to trust with the most perfect and precious aspects of my very own DNA? How many questions can I ask this mystery mom since we are not hanging out together and getting to know one another? Guns and vaccinations, carbon monoxide detectors, religious beliefs, second-hand smoke, television habits, history of arrest, ingestion of Yellows Number 5 and 6? How many questions are too much for a two-hour play date? What exactly is the protocol for this sort of thing? Would it be weird if I deposited my kid in her house and then just sat down the street in my car and waited?

I have no idea. And if I’m going to go all stake-out style in my car, then I’d better remember to first pick up a foil-wrapped beef sandwich, just like a real, honest to goodness TV detective.

For now, while I am present during play dates and can exert a considerable amount of control, I am definitely trying to steer my kid towards friends of my liking. Kids whose parents seem to have a similar ethics system and/or come from a family that I personally enjoy hanging out with. Surely, there is no shame in this. This is what I am supposed to do. Hopefully, my influence will be great in these early years so that once Andy starts making his own friends in a world absent the gathering, hovering parents, he will find himself drawn to the very kids I might have picked myself.

That’s probably what will happen, right?

Anybody know a good beef sandwich place in the area?

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