Playdates were invented in 1995. Before that, they were called coffee mornings. Round about that time, I was busy getting my nose pierced, so this passed me by. But it’s not just the name that’s changed. Forget about just comparing sleepless nights whilst keeping a vague eye on the kids, who have disappeared off in search of their own entertainment. There’s now a clear and present danger that you’ll be hoodwinked into turning up on someone’s doorstep and find that you’ve unwittingly signed up to Organised Fun. It’s like hostage-taking, only with more singing. On my first ever playdate, I brought cakes and magazines, even though the text message said ‘Bring your favourite timpani!’ I didn’t know what a timpani was, but I thought that Image, Hello! and some fondant fancies covered all eventualities.
‘Oh!’ said the other mother when she opened the door. ‘I’m not really eating cakes at the moment. And what’s a Kardashian?’
‘Oh!’ said I, opening the door to the living room, where other mums-and-babies were sitting in a circle. On the floor. Cross-legged. With bongos in front of them.‘Bongos!’
‘Timpani, actually. I’ve got extra for you and Baby.’
‘Fantastic. Just fantastic.’
(I’ll never get those two hours back. There was even a collection at the end, so I’ll never get that fiver back either.)
Unfortunately, there’s always the danger of the activity playdate, even when it’s not telegraphed in advance. You spot someone across a raucous playgroup and you start chatting. She seems normal enough. You agree to come around on Tuesday morning. You’re starting to relax into things in her kitchen, with the kids happily eating plastic underfood, whilst you eat a gingernut and wonder if now’s the time to produce the glossies. But then the announcement. Please note – the clap of the hands and bright smile should be your cue to leave immediately.
‘So! I thought all of us could do some finger painting! Crafting! Water play! SINGING AS GAEILGE!’ And you can tell from the gleam in her eye that she really does mean all of us.
‘Why bother? Let’s chat about missing developmental milestones and Kate Middleton’s fringe. Look at all those delicious plastic toys you have! It’s child-led learning in motion! Oh, did that go down? He’ll poo out a Lego man, no problem.’
Save your breath. Give in and spend another couple of hours trying to overcome your deep aversion to Playdoh, or trying hard to feign an interest in the benefits of a Montessori education.
The only solution is total disclosure. Keep bumping into the same faces at the supermarket? Making eye contact across a crowded playground? Shout out ‘Stop there, friendly looking co-mother! We can only progress this parental flirting on the strict understanding that there’s no organised fun!’
You and your kids may get invited to fewer playdates, but on the upside you’ll never have to do potato printing again.
Jenny Coyle @missmitford