Monday, February 26, 2007

Play Dates

Yesterday, we had a playdate with a toddler Z. met on the street a few weeks ago. At the beginning of that day's shopping expedition, we parked our car in front of a house that had a passle of diggers in the front yard. We admired the diggers and went on our way. We returned just as the diggers' owner and his mom were coming home. We said how much we admired the diggers, and Digger Mom invited us into the yard to play with them. The kids played together wonderfully, and we exchanged phone numbers. Z. has been talking about it from time to time since then, so when she brought it up again on Saturday I found the phone number, called, and--instant gratification!--we had our play date Sunday.

It went more beautifully than I could have hoped. I knew it was going to be good when Digger Dad came along--dad coming along is a good sign--but then it turned out I actually knew Digger Dad from when he and I walked our dogs together when we both lived downtown a lifetime ago. His best dog-owning friends were also my best dog-owning friends, all of us having the same breed of dog, so even though human social interaction in the dog park is kind of circumscribed there actually had been a circle of people there, so we had a little reunion.

The kids painted together and then ventured outside in the snow to dig, which was the passion that originally brought them together, after all. Sharing was seamless and the only tears came when Z.'s hands got cold from not wearing mittens in order to dig better. She was so thrilled by the whole event that even after processing it all through dinner and pre-bed preparations, it still took her three hours to get to sleep.

This was Z.'s second official play date. The first one was at the house of a brother and sister who are respectively one year younger and one year older than Z. The older sister was in Z.'s infant-toddler class last year and the younger brother is in her class now. Z. was enamored of the sister last spring and was quite forlorn when she came back in the fall and found the sister had moved up to the "transitional" room (older toddlers, no infants). However, our older dog also died the evening before school started so Z.'s forlorn-ness had many sources. (Yes, the same dog from my dog-park days.)

The brother-sister play date was my first chance to see how these things work. Z. loved their basement play room and from her perspective it was a wonderful day to be repeated often. From my perspective it was a reckless encounter with a different lifestyle that left me off-balance at best. I felt discouraged by how clean their house was (they can afford to pay a housekeeper, I cannot afford to pay myself) and impressed both positively and negatively by the kids' rooms.

On the up side, this mom had put a lot of effort into decorating the rooms, she has a great eye, and they looked really wonderful, with many cool things she had found or made. I put a lot of effort into Z.'s clothes so I fully understand the room-decorating impulse even though I have put zero effort into Z.'s room because she doesn't have one. (Z. sleeps in a bed in our room. Some day she'll have her own bedroom on the third floor, but she has to climb stairs more confidently first.)

On the down side, as brother-sister bedrooms they showed a complete investment in the hyper-gendering of babyhood that -- child of the 70's that I am -- I have found shocking since Z.'s impending arrival first sent me to a baby store. At first I was irate that after all the feminist effort put into deconstructing this crap, we're back at the beginning. Girls are offered only pink, purple, and flowers, while boys get various activities and animals. Dinosaurs playing sports, dogs driving vehicles, that kind of thing. Green and yellow zoo animals are available for parents who don't know what they're having, but this option disappears once they grow out of the layette stuff. After that it's just flowers, flowers, flowers and cartoon butterflies--nothing active, just prettiness. Then I spent more time on the boys' side, poaching, and realized that even though the appliques were better and the boys had more colors to choose from, the palette was somber and dull. Navy. Forest. Burgundy. Dirt brown. Maybe a dash of orange. Just like grown-up men's clothes, the boy clothes are a better value (both sturdier and bigger), but their cut is blocky and purely functional. How deadening to be told from birth that you should wear dark, ugly clothes. I read a piece in Brain, Child about a boy who wanted beautiful things to wear and my heart broke for those little boys who want beautiful things and are told they aren't allowed to be beautiful.

What are we afraid of? That our kids will turn out queer?

That's pretty much where I wind up every time I get on this topic, and that's pretty much the thought I was trying not to have while I was a guest in this other mom's house. I don't actually believe she's homophobic, but it's just better not to be thinking that way. Then there was an incompatibility in feeding routines (Z. comes home and snacks, then plays until regular grown-up dinner, these kids play and then eat an early kid-only dinner) and I just wound up feeling like the whole visit was awkward. Z. had a marvelous time. We returned the invitation but the brother got roseola so their visit to us has been indefinitely postponed. It's birthday season now (brother, sister, Z., and two other kids from their cohort all have birthdays either last week or this week) so I'm off the hook a little longer.

1 comment:

Phantom Scribbler said...

My son is one of those boys who loves brilliant colors. During his toddler years, he was completely obsessed with rainbows, such that his room was stocked (I won't say "decorated" because that would imply some sort of deliberate design motif as opposed to "a bunch of proximate stuff") with items that we bought online from vendors who usually do gay pride festivals. We've gotten comments about it from some visitors and playdates. And we've found that discomfort with that it is a pretty accurate indication that we will not go on to be best friends with those people, no matter how well the playdates go.