It was during the first kids’ birthday party I attended, four months after becoming a stepmother, that I realized there was another ritual of parenthood I needed to familiarize myself with, pronto. As several moms chatted away, and I began to wish that cocktails were served at kids’ parties, I became aware that not only had I never set up a playdate — I had missed the whole social hierarchy of this practice.
“We have a playdate next week at the Fabulous house,” said one pretty mom, mentioning one of the coolest families at my stepsons’ school. “Do you know their house? It’s the one that has all that land, and … ” Unfortunately, the kids’ cake-fueled yelling drowned out the rest of my eavesdropping, but I knew I needed to get out the school phone directory as soon as we got home. Not only were our children missing out on a critical part of socialization, so were we!
Alas, it was much more complicated than I had hoped. I decided not to call only cool families, but the kids the boys said were their favorite friends. I left nervous messages, and got … no response. Dashed were my dreams of dozens of children romping in our yard and, eventually, a playdate for the boys at the Fabulous house. Instead, I invited my best friend and her three little girls over, and while the kids played, we had a cocktail.
“I feel your pain about parents not returning your phone calls,” says a friend in Gladwyne. “With those moms, you have to be very rich, a famous persona, or a socialite in order for their precious ones to rub elbows with your child.” Maybe we should have gone to that Art Museum dinner, I fretted — then we might be getting callbacks. Or perhaps the playdate ship had sailed, and everyone else’s kids were on it.
“It’s not casual anymore like it was in our day; my mom didn’t know where we were half the time,” says one Rittenhouse Square mom. True: I don’t recall ever hearing the clanging term “playdate” when I was young. Plus, there were always the boys next door to play with, even if a slow weekend for them was burning down their barn.
But then, one day, we got called back, and our first at-home playdate happened. We had pizza and cupcakes and general craziness. We did another one the following month. And yet — still no invitations back. I was crushed, instantly transported back to the rampant insecurities of seventh grade, but never said a word to the boys, who didn’t seem to notice. At least no one canceled on us. “I once scheduled a playdate in advance, and the mother called that morning to cancel because something important had come up,” says the Gladwyne mom. “Later on, I found out she had another playdate with a much more important child. My daughter was so hurt.”
Then, one weekend in January, we had a breakthrough: Tyler was invited over for two playdates. When I picked him up on Sunday afternoon, the parents were among the nicest I’ve met, and their house a kids’ fantasy: It had a basement filled with every toy imaginable, like a subterranean FAO Schwarz. And then the Fabulous son came over — scion of the very family that was being name-dropped at birthday parties! He was sweet, and we all felt like we’d had a fabulous playdate. Or should I say, get-together. “After the age of 10,” says my Gladwyne friend, “it’s no longer cool for boy get-togethers to be called playdates. My son gave me a long lecture on just how prissy that sounds.”