Between my wife and I, I am obviously the “fun parent” to our three-year-old daughter. After all, I’m the one who will heave a laughing JJ precipitously over my shoulders, pretending that she’s a heavy sack of potatoes to be tossed wildly onto the back of a truck (aka our king-sized bed).
I’m also the one who will play guitar to her while mangling the lyrics of some popular children’s song that she learnt in school (“…If you’re happy and you know it / And you wanna be ironic / If you’re happy and you know it /CRY BOO-HOO!!”).
And I’m the one who will indulge in all her gross games, games like Peek-A-Booger. (To emerge a winner in a round of Peek-A-Booger, you’ll need to surprise your opponent by depositing a clammy booger unsuspectingly into his… okay, okay, I admit it: There are really no winners in Peek-A-Booger.)
In other words, I often play with JJ like a somewhat reckless friend, instead of a careful, sensible adult parent. It’s all fun and games, until my wife – aka Not The Fun Parent – decided that JJ, as an only child without siblings to play with, needs to socialise with children in her own age bracket, children with normal, children-sized boogers.
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, and back then as a child, I didn’t have playdates. My parents didn’t arrange or host play sessions with other children in a bid to heighten my social skills – they probably didn’t even think that playing with other children was an actual skill that needed any sort of developing. It would be like trying to teach a fish to swim or a child to play with boogers.
So without any playdates, I would play with whoever was in my immediate vicinity. Sometimes it was my older brother, and sometimes it was an inverted mop pretending to be a stick-thin, dirty-haired girl. Most of the time, I played all by myself – which might explain my lack of social skills and predilection for booger-themed contests.
So when my wife mooted the idea of arranging for playdates with other children, my very first thought was: Woohoo! More boogers!
My second thought was: Does this mean I have to socialise with their adult parents??!
I know, I know – playdates are usually so much fun for the children, and it gives them an opportunity to hone their social skills by interacting with someone other than their own overgrown child of a father. But is it just me or is there frequently an excessive air of “politeness” whenever parents get together for their children’s playdates? We often seem to go out of our way to accommodate the whims and fancies of the child that’s not our own.
For example, if during a playdate, my daughter JJ whacks her playmate on his head with Thomas the Tank Engine, the right and noble thing for his father to do would be to challenge me to a death-duel, so as to avenge this locomotive assault on his son. But instead, the father would more likely excuse JJ’s bad behaviour by asking his offspring: “Did you try to take away JJ’s Thomas the Train? Is that why she’s upset and hit you with it?”
Or, if the playdating boy does indeed wrestle Thomas the Train from a hapless JJ, I still might feel compelled to jump to his defence, exhorting such motherhood statements like “It’s ok, JJ, let’s share.” Or, “JJ, sharing is caring.”
(Aside: I never really understood that phrase – Sharing is caring. Because sharing is not always caring. Sometimes sharing is just plain evil. Like when you have the Hand Foot Mouth Disease.)
Parents also have a knack of not acknowledging the abilities of their own children while in front of another parent. We often dismiss our children’s developing skills and talents when other parents praise them. If someone were to remark that JJ’s sense of speech is developing so well and her vocabulary is so rich, I might quickly fashion it into a downside: “She’s so talkative and she just won’t listen!” Or I might employ a humble pivot by redirecting our attention back to the other child: “Yes, her enunciation is remarkable… but I wished she could bounce up and down on the sofa non-stop for 20 minutes like your little boy can!”
Perhaps it has got to do with our Asian aversion to anything remotely boastful or confrontational. So much so that while our children are thoroughly enjoying their playdates – including those painful but passing episodes of train snatching and head smacking – the parents would often spend those same hours playing awkwardly nice. We would spend the whole time treading gingerly around the happily playing children, ready to pounce at the first instance of a potential brawl or brag.
Playdates really doesn’t have to be such a stressful affair for us. Which is why I’m on a personal mission to try and make playdates more relaxing and fun for parents. I’m starting a club to rally like-minded mothers and fathers together. We’ll connect with each other via a virtual network, in a safe and virtual space where we can be loud and quarrelsome with other adult parents should we feel wronged or harassed. We can also use this same space to praise our children freely, showcasing videos and photographs of every small feat they accomplish.
I think I’ll call it: Social Media.
Raymond is the publishing director of SPH magazines. Everything written here is based on his own personal experiences.