Sunday, November 20, 2011

This is not a playdate, this is free babysitting

I must be sending out some sort of childcare pheremone, because my phone has been ringing off the hook lately with requests for playdates. Playdates at my house.

I've offered to host playdates, of course. I do love having kids over, love to have the house full of laughter. But I wasn't expecting all of my casual "we should have a playdate sometime" offers to be called in at the same time. This weekend our cup, it runneth over with friends who want to play. Here. At our house.

Our sudden popularity began at 8am Friday, when I got a call to ask if I wanted to host an after-school playdate. The mom who called was thrilled when I said yes, because she'd "be able to get some work done!" Hey that's just gr-wait. What?

By 9am I had gotten another call from another mom (which went to voicemail and was not retrieved until much later) asking me to give her child a ride home. The request was cushioned by the "let's ride share and be eco-friendly!" approach, and suggesting I do the driving "since I was already going that way". Except, I wasn't. It wasn't my day to drive carpool.

Just a few hours later, on Friday afternoon, I was completely bamboozled. When asked casually by a friend whether I had plans for the next night, I replied that Sam was working all day Saturday, and we were planning a quiet night at home after that. Maybe lie on the sofa in my underwear reading a magaz-....her eyes lit up. Oh good! I was going to be home! So, could I have their kid over for the evening? Because they really needed a night out alone. Since we didn't have any plans, it shouldn't be a problem, right? And because the alternative was too awkward to contemplate, I agreed to facilitate their date night by providing free childcare.

You know, since I didn't have any other plans.

After all, I could relax at home with the family Friday night in my underwear, and leave Saturday night free and clear for babysitting a playdate! Yay!......yay?

Honestly, it would have been fine, except I went out Friday night. Selfish, I know.
About 7 hours after I climbed into bed late Friday night early Saturday morning, I got a call inquiring about another playdate - also hosted by me, because the other mom had been out late the previous evening (unlike myself *yawn*) and they lived a minimalist lifestyle (as opposed to my cluttered home) and didn't have a lot of fun stuff to play with (I think it was supposed to be compliment?) Only, her kid had sprained his foot and couldn't actually do much playing on the playdate. The one I was hosting at my house. Apparently. So, no hiking, or bike riding or skateboarding....She could drop him off right away! (Yay?) To do what, I have no idea.

But hey, at least she was straight with me. She was tired, and her kid was stuck at home bored.

S. Oh. fucking S.

I get it. And I felt for her. Through my mind-numbing exhaustion, I totally got it. Hell, I would have been asleep when she called, except I was already on the road, driving Lucy to ballet. And so I agreed to the playdate since we had another one already scheduled anyway - now both kids would be occupied and maybe I could lie on the couch with a magazine. I would have to keep my pants on, but it could still be relaxing. I picked up a gossip rag for the occasion.

The first playmate was delivered at 11:20 (This was an hour after our planned drop off time. The planned drop off time that I had rushed home from ballet to meet. Yay?) Before she ran back to her car  left, the mom informed me that her daughter had been up late the night before (join the club, kid) and was tired, and the mom hoped she wouldn't be cranky. She then outlined signs of sleepiness I should look for, before reassuring me that her child would revive quickly, and that fatigue and/or crankiness should not mean the end of the playdate. (Yay?) Let the good times roll. About 10 minutes after her mom drove off, the girl came into the kitchen to inform me that she was hungry. I asked her what she wanted to eat. She didn't know, she told me. It was hard to think, she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.

She proceeded to eat for the next 6 hours, which eliminated my dream of reading a magazine on the couch. As I was loading the kids into the car to bring our guests to their homes in time for dinner (Yes, I deliver! Full service childcare playdates!) she asked if she could have a snack for the car ride. I didn't have time to make another snack, however, because I had to get everyone home in time for our evening playdate.

Does this sound like I am complaining? I don't mean to complain. I am happy to host playdates. I love having kids over here to play, I love setting up tea parties and making popcorn and I am thrilled that we have fun things for the kids to do here. What I don't like is being made to feel that I am being used. And I don't like being tricked into watching people's kids simply by admitting that I have no other plans - having no plans doesn't mean I am available to babysit. I don't think you should call to arrange a playdate and then expect that other parent to host it. Whatever happened to waiting to be invited? And for crying out loud, if you have to drop your kids off with caveats about injuries and fatigue, don't plan a playdate. Rent a movie and let them chll at home.

The truth is, I felt terrible not being excited about having all of these kids over, and actually considered driving all the way to school Friday afternoon JUST SO I COULD GIVE OTHER PEOPLE'S KIDS A RIDE. The very thought of saying "No" to someone was too awkward to even contemplate. It's a sickness: I have a pathological fear of saying no and having someone be disappointed in me. I know this. I'm working on it. Years of being "odd man out" in school compell me to say Yes to every request and invitation.

But I am shy about issuing them myownself.

When I need to get work done or have a date night, I hire a sitter. When my carpool falls through, then I bite the bullet and drive the kids myself. And if my kids are bored, I invite friends over to play - I don't try to find a parent willing to have them over. Playdates are not a substitute for childcare or parenting, and I don't suggest them unless my intention is to invite the other kids over here. If I can't deal, or I am too busy, my kids don't have playdates unless they are invited over. Maybe this is my hangup. Maybe I shouldn't be so shy about asking for help in the form of a playdate. But it makes me feel uncomfortable to call and ask someone if I can drop my kids off with them so I can get stuff done. And if I do need that help, I am always very direct about it. I don't call and ask for a playdate, I call and ask for help. It's not easy for me, which is probably why I don't do it very often. Over the past few months I have had to ask for help a lot - it was hard, and I was so grateful to my friends (Jerz, I am looking at you in particular) for being there when I needed an extra adult.

Here's the undeniable truth:
As hard as it can be to ask for help, being asked for help (and being able to help, and then thanked for it) feels good. It's easy to make asking for help - and helping - a win-win.

Bottom line, in addition to the fact that I was overwhelmed by getting all of these requests in a 24 hour period, each of these phone calls and interactions made me feel that the other parents were somehow busier or more important than me, or that I could provide things for free that they didn't want to spend the money on. Because of that, because no one came right out and said "Can you please watch my kid?" and no one said "thank you" when I agreed to do so, I got pissy.

And then I realized I was being a total bitch. This was my hang-up. The parents didn't know my phone was ringing off the hook. I had offered to have their kids over sometime. And clearly, that time was now. I needed an attitude adjustment.

I decided that rather than sitting around feeling like a doormat (because I guarantee no one had that intention - this is definitely my issue and I could easily have said no at any time) I needed to clarify when I was available. I took some control over the situation, and my day, and suddenly it was on my terms, and I felt good about it. The after school playdate and ride home were not convenient, so they didn't happen. I had errands to run before I could host a kid with a bum foot, so his mom brought him over when we got back from town. I needed a haircut, so one of our playdates involved a trip to the barber. And if you want to go out to dinner with your husband while I watch your kid in the middle of our evening routine and family time, you are going to have to do that when I am available.

So I clarified - in my own head, and then with each parent - what I was able to do, and what I still needed to get accomplished during the day. And you know what? Telling the other parents what I was able to do was okay! Except for the mom who needed a date night. When she texted me to ask if I still wanted to have her kid over for a playdate, I set my boundaries. (Aren't you proud of me?) I responded saying that we were going to be home by 7pm, and the kids would be awake until 9pm, if they wanted to go out to dinner between 7 and 9pm in the little village a short walk from my house. I raced in the door at 6:50pm with extra dinner so that I would have enough for a 3rd kid.

They never showed up.

And I spent the evening on my couch in my underwear. I totally earned it.


Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. Except, my issue was only with one mom. Her DD and mine are close friends, the same age. She also has a teen DD that's 3+ years older than my DD and not very nice. She didn't instantly start using me as a sitter. After we invited the friend a few times for a sleepover, she started texting the day of with "I don't think I'm letting *** come unless (the teen) can, just isn't fair because she doesn't have a friend to stay with".

My mistake, saying yes once. After that it was both her kids most of the summer and I was their free sitter. Note, these kids are at their dads at least 1/4 of the year. The mom doesn't work, so what she was doing with ALL that free time, beyond me. When the kids weren't at their dads, my phone was ringing. I finally put my foot down and told her the teen couldn't come anymore because all the 3 of them did was argue. The teen isn't a friend of my dds, yet I was allowing her at what was supposed to be fun nights. I felt bad for my DD. It hit me, the other mom isn't thinking of my dds feelings or what's "fair" to her at all. What if I told her DD "unless all my kids can come every time, then your friend can't". Seriously? We've since stopped inviting the friend as often because the mom seems to have constant issues that she expects others to "fix" before allowing her kid to come play. The joys of parenthood!

Anonymous said...

yeah, my daughter has a friend who is only available to play when her older sister has a swim meet and since those last for hours, the play dates are long and sometimes over night and ALWAYS at our house....all but 1 a LONG time ago. My girl began to get tired of having them at our house all the time and then began to notice3 the pattern....and began to resent it. Her friend is never available for a day camp or anything really unless her sister has a meet. When the mom asks if I can have her girl for a playdate, them there is always the promise of having mine over on such and such day-never hear anything and those dates go by...I have contacted her about those tentative dates, but they have had family plans every time-EVERYTIME. I didn't do much abut it at first because my girl was having a good time, but when she noticed the pattern and it began to bother her, we talked about it and put up some boundaries and began saying no....and the expected outcome occurred, they don't see each other outside of their scheduled activity anymore.

The latest is this summer she wanted me to watch her girl 2 days a week while she was working and then take them to the activity so she wouldn't have to pay any one-her words exactly-I declined, 11 weeks of tying our time up 2 days a week? no thanks...the one time my girl was at their house was January and it is now August....pretty sure I made the right did end up being a nice door to talking about the basis and of friendship and what does friendship look like.