Friday, April 26, 2013

The Playdate Panic

A couple days ago I shared about my fatigue with friend-dating, so it seems appropriate that I also address another activity that I find scary: The Playdate. Don't let its name fool you; playdates can be just as nerve-racking as other forms of dating---especially when one goes on blind playdates.

Being a first-time mother, I'm not sure what toddler playdating is like back in the USA, so I'm not certain to what degree my readers have experienced what I'm going through. Does it usually involve meet-ups of strangers making small talk and comparing milestones while trying to coax their children to interact with their new playmates? Do you ever get set-up on playdates? Do you also have running inner monologues coaching yourself on how to determine the social norms of the group in order to pass the unwritten acceptance exam?  Back when I was preggers and visiting family in Indiana, I went to hear my cousin Cherie, The Queen of Free, speak at a MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) meet-up.  It was great to see my cousin in action, but I went into a bit of multi-layered culture shock during the event, so I suspect that I'd find playdating anxiety-producing no matter where I lived.  

Recently Evelyn and I were the lone Americans at a birthday party/playdate hosted by a well-established local family with high social status.  This was not the first time since arriving in Djibouti that we have been invited to the house of a complete stranger to celebrate the birthday of a child we have never met.  The invitations come based on recommendations and because we look good on paper (Evelyn passes the initial checklist with her age, gender, nationality, language, and diplomat parents).  As long as we are still liked after our in-person auditions, we can be assured to be on the party invite list of several elite families in town with female toddlers.

I don't mean to sound judgmental/cynical about this; I'm simply stating my observations of how this process works.  In a country that has the third highest tuberculosis rate in the world among other deadly contagious illnesses, I need to balance my bleeding heart with pragmatic protection of my child; When both the embassy medical unit and the USAID folks warn me to keep Evelyn's social life within 'the bubble,' I pay attention.  (And since Djibouti doesn't really have a middle class....) 

Over the years I've come across several articles discussing how elite families in the USA maintain their social status over generations by micromanaging their offsprings' social circles; I'm still wrapping my head around the idea that I've on some level joined that world. Come to think of it, I now wonder if me never getting invited to the much-hyped parties of the wealthy kids in my middle and high schools had more to do with my family's socio-economic status in the community than my lack of coolness [Insert giant forehead smack]. 

Not sure if I really have a point to this post other than to say that I'm sure glad I've got my favorite wing-gal at my side to remind me to Keep Calm and Carry On.

Chill out Mom; it's just a playdate.

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