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Confessions of a Serial Playdater

4/11/13: I have to laugh at my naivety. It only gets more complicated past age 4.

~~Confessions of a Serial Playdater – a Writing Mamas Blog

By 2002 it had been 14 years since I was ‘fresh off the boat’ from Australia. Halloween was my favorite holiday, I ate pancakes with bacon, hosted a dog party, TiVo’d the Super Bowl, even registered for gifts. I was employed, acclimatized and smugly assimilated. Any of life’s puzzling issues were conveniently attributed to a small town upbringing and my not-so-small town California life.

Then came the journey to new-parent land.  No passport required.

This land came with confounding limitations, and a whole new vocabulary. With time, I learnt to embrace ‘tummy-time,’ ‘Ferberizing,’ even ‘transitional objects,’ and ‘time-out.’ It was the social mores, in particular the enigmatic ‘playdate,’ that stumped me.

What is a play date? Who is it for? Does one or both expect a new friendship to develop? Who decides if you have a second date? Does someone get hurt? How is it different than adult dating? And how you get started? Sadly, not all of us live in an archetypal village from which perfect children emerge.

It was 2003 and we were newcomers to Los Angeles. With Baby Bjorn and false courage in place I ventured out to carouse, sippy-cup style, the most happening toddler hot spots.

The results were pitiful.

In fact, the whole experience took me back to my equally-as-pitiful single days, when both dating parties creatively avoided the possible entanglement that a second date portends. Finally, I had to admit to myself – I had become a serial playdater. Where were my scruples?

I discussed this at length with a fellow Aussie who had stalked unsuspecting mums in the parks of Sydney and London. She confirmed that mothers are using and discarding mothers all over the world (the fathers – well I just don’t know, perhaps they are better at parallel play). “It’s perfectly normal,” she told me, and “you need that first date to really check it out.” It was humbling, as the first playdate expert I had become, to learn the rules of sustained engagement.

What did I learn? In the end it’s all about chemistry. Those first play dates are just like adult dating. As a single, you endure the awkward torture of small (or over-puffed, grandiose) talk, and learn to recognize kindred spirits. As a parent, you endure the uncertainty of the first playdate and learn about yourself, your boundaries, your child, and the foreign culture of your new-parent world.

It is 2007 and turns out I have a social almost 4-year old girl who loves my friends, single or otherwise, and has the perfect taste in kids (my taste) making play dates a cinch. I am employed, acclimatized, assimilated and sort-of socialized – wondering which land is next, and what visa to apply for.

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