July 20, 2007

First Person:

Play Dating Is For Democrats

By Al Carlos Hernandez

I was getting drilled at the dentist the other day, musing over the fact that my lower lip felt like a rubber boxing glove, when I found myself in the middle of a conversation with the dentista on the right talking with the assistant on the extreme left about taking their kids to play dates. They used my stomach as a coffee table for the tools, and I suspect a scone, but was sedated, so they thought I wouldn’t mind. The jokes on them, being from the seventies the Novocain wasted my time.

Up until now, I understood a “play date” to be a low budget affair where you didn’t have to shave, didn’t have to iron pants, and wouldn’t get raked over the coals for wearing tennis shoes and a beanie. As usual, I was wrong. It pertains to young kids who are scheduled against their will to interact with the kids parents feel will help them get a job or into a prestigious University someday.

Heidi Murkoff author of “What to expect on a Play Date” explains, “Playing with another child is always fun, but it isn’t easy. Play dates provide a wonderful opportunity for small children to practice their social skills, work on their p’s and q’s (I’m guessing protest signs and quiche), and learn how to be a good friend. We’re here to help you answer your child’s questions about play dates and friendship—what a play date is all about; why sharing, taking turns, and ‘playing nicely’ make a play date more fun for everyone; and what to do if a friend does something, ‘unfriendly.’

Like most of you, as kids we never went on a play date. Our parents used to schlep us over to other people’s houses, usually relatives. If mom took us then she would sit at the table with the other ladies, drank coffee, and talked about how lame their husbands were, while we ran around with our cousins or whomever trying to break their toys, hoping someone would get knocked out.

If dad came with us he would bring his guitar and a house party would erupt, live music, salsa dancing, et al. We would not run freely with Pop’s around until after the third song. Then he would forget that we were there, unless someone started crying. Then we all got benched.

The point is, anytime significant effort was made for us to be taken anywhere to play with other kids. It was because the parents wanted to visit other adults. It never occurred to anyone that kids formally wanted to visit other kids, especially the nice ones, because they didn’t.

My adult children will tell you that, we have traditionally held that any structured play time, aside from recess, should be avoided like a root canal. The most fun times are unstructured and spontaneous.

What modern palm pilot mama’s do now is schedule play dates with other like minded mom’s, so the kids can spend structured “fun” time together while they go to herbal therapy, on a “play date” themselves.

The danger here is that, it is usually the mom or stay at home dad who picks the friends to play date with. Anyone who doesn’t aspire or presume to be politically correct knows that the best kids to play with are the ones your parents don’t like. Sometimes they marry them to get even with you.

What we have here is the seeds of pre-school classism, like minded parents, finding like minded parent’s hoping to produce like minded kids. You never hear of play dates in the ghetto with Shaniqwa and Jovan, or from the barrio, having La Gata and Lil Rascal over to play leap frog.

A review of Murkoff’s book went on to say that, “Your kids want to make friends, and they should-but they’re not born knowing how to be friends. Sharing taking turns and playing nice, for example, may not come naturally to your 3 year old. Questions addressed as, ‘Why do I have to share my toys, and, what if my friend does something I don’t like?’ may help pre-schoolers ideally learn these lessons in actual life. The book serves as a springboard for discussion that may lead to more enjoyable less cranky play dates.”

I am happy to report that I now have pearly white cavity free teeth, and understand why lots of kids at the mall talk to their parents like punks.

Apparently it takes one to play with one.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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