I have resisted playdates for the past couple of months.
Obviously they’re great when you’re off-loading your kids to another parent with the words: ‘See you later. Good luck!’ ringing in their ears. But hosting them is a different matter.
Or hosting boys is a different matter.
I’ve always thought of my seven year-old son as a boys’ boy. He likes to get stuck in, charge around like a maniac, and scream at the top of his voice pretending to be a velociraptor or Kung Fu Panda. And his mates – as well brought-up and polite they are – are the same.
Chaotic. All that dormant testosterone, pent up, waiting to erupt. Mini-Vesuviuses.
But lately, I’ve noticed he’s started to withdraw into himself. And on the odd occasion I’ve seen him in the playground, he has seemed even more reserved.
‘I’m worried about him,’ I told his Mum. ‘He won’t talk to me about what’s up. Can you have a word? Take him out for a hot chocolate. Prise it out of him.’
And so she did.
What she found out made me feel rather lacking in the parental stakes: he has no friends.
Now this isn’t a deliberate act on my part. At school pick-up I see other kids strolling off to other kids’ houses, but Tom is never invited. I also found out that he hasn’t been invited to a couple of birthday parties, either.
He used to be invited, but because of the complicated logistics of our domestic set-up (I have to pick my boys up from one school, then shoot off as quick-as-a-flash to another to collect their sister, my stepdaughter) it’s difficult to host other people’s children, what with the demands of homework, teatime and bathtime.
Which is all very convenient for me – but at what cost?
I’m starting to learn that as much as my son loves spending time with his his big sister and little brother, he also needs playmates his own age. And so, this week, based on his Mum’s inquisition, I decided to grasp the nettle and sod my cushy convenience.
So what if the house got trashed? So what if a door panel got kicked in, as it did on one playdate? So what if I’d spend the rest of the evening mopping up spilt juice, picking up spent snack wrappers, hoovering biscuit crumbs? So what if I developed tinnitus from the racket?
It would be a price worth paying.
On Sunday, I said to my son: ‘Who would you like to come over for a playdate?’
He looked at me with a ‘What’s The Catch?’ expression on his face.
‘A playdate? Really?’
‘Yep. Anyone. Pick a classmate and I’ll make it happen.’
‘Ohhhhh-K then,’ he said. ‘Sonia.’
‘Sonia? Are you sure? I mean, she’s…’
‘A girl? I know, Dad.’
An exchange that said far more about me and my Seventies working class upbringing as the eldest of four boys than it did about him.
A day later, Sonia was round at ours. At least I think she was. Because I didn’t need earplugs. I didn’t dig my fingernails into my keyboard when I heard the clatter of glass on tiled floor -because there was no such clattering. I didn’t hear anything, in fact.
I peeped round my son’s bedroom door, a little concerned, a little ‘Is everything OK in there?’ to find my son and his classmate playing a very civilised – and quiet – game of Guess Who?
And when I rang the bell for teatime, they both appeared, after first washing their hands.
‘Can I help with anything?’ said Sonia, at which point I thought I was going to need an ambulance after the heart attack I’d just had.
She ate her chicken, chips and peas. She took her plate to the sink. She said ‘Thank you’.
And then she and my son strolled – not ran, like the proverbial bulls in a China shop – back to his room to continue their game.
The 90 minutes flew by before it was time to walk Sonia home and drop her off at her parents’.
‘Thank you,’ Sonia said.
‘No. Thank YOU,’ I replied.
She can definitely come again.