This column originally ran in the August 2012 edition of Southender magazine.
Before having children, I was never a social butterfly. I was more like a social ant, who kind of plodded along, doing their work — occasionally hanging out with a few other ants on the farm.
Trust me, no one understands the importance of a playdate like someonea work-at-home mom in a one-vehicle family. Without the miracle that is the playdate, I would be penned up in this house like a wide-eyed ferret in the pet store. They are often the highlight of my week, and an essential key to maintaining my sanity.
You have to find the right balance between having your home perfectly company-ready, and having your home look the way it does around 4 p.m. on a Sunday (i.e. like a bunch of toys, sippy cups, and stacks of laundry threw a rave in your living room). Let’s face it — the kids will still throw toys around and get crumbs everywhere, so it doesn’t need to be perfect. You’re striving for “a comfortable, inviting home that welcomes children and encourages fun.” So sweep the floors (or vacuum if you have carpet), wipe down the counters and tables, and do a quick tidy.
If there will be babies who are just starting to snack, have some fruit, dry cereal, or puffs available for them. Toddlers tend to be grazers, and they also tend to be extremely picky. Instead of putting out a tray of food for them to attack and destroy, leave the snacks on the counter and provide little plates for doling out individual servings.
Supply sippy-cups for anyone who doesn’t have one in their diaper bag, and offer juice and milk. Put out large stacks of paper napkins, and a stash of baby washcloths for wiping sticky hands and faces. Make sure everyone knows where the changing table and the potty seats are located. If we’re having fruit or raw veggies, I leave out a small cutting board and a knife so we can chop things up into appropriately-sized bites — every parent has a different comfort level when it comes to choking hazards.
The kids aren’t the only ones who will be hungry! Our playdates are always in the morning, so I sometimes make muffins or miniature cinnamon buns. But I also make a heavenly chocolate-chip cookie, which has been jokingly (or not-so-jokingly) called my “friend-making cookie.” Yes, they’re that good.
I try to remember to put the kettle on just before everyone arrives, so the water can be quickly reheated for tea — regular and decaffeinated, since most of my friends are pregnant or breastfeeding. Sometimes the playdate snack actually serves as our breakfast, if we’ve all been too busy wrangling our kids to eat.
It can be hard to carry on a meaningful conversation in the middle of kiddie chaos, but you know what? We’re used to it. Yes, we often have to stop in the middle of a sentence to ask someone to share, or take a too-small toy away from a toddler, but we still find a way to chat and laugh and get caught up. Anyone holding a baby can’t drink their hot tea, so it gets cold and needs to be reheated. We keep an eye on each other’s kids, pass babies around, and keep the conversation flowing. We’re used to being flexible and trying to make time for ourselves however we can.
It can be hard to figure out what to serve at a lunchtime playdate, because of Extreme Toddler Pickiness (see above). Grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken fingers usually go over pretty well, but I find the winning menus seem to be make-your-own mini-pizzas or quesadillas. Putting out a bunch of ingredients and just letting parents put together their child’s portion is usually the most successful, because you don’t have to worry about who likes what.
We don’t always have lunchtime playdates, but they’re a great way to extend the morning’s play and spend more time together. At the end of the meal, the kids are exhausted and ready to go straight down for their afternoon naps — and that’s the sweetest reward of all.