Turns out I’m not really a stay-at-home mom. I’m actually a personal assistant and social secretary. For my four kids. And I want out. I don’t know when I applied for and accepted this position because I’m not even particularly well-suited to it, but somehow I’ve ended up managing eight color-coded iCal calendars that sync on five devices. Seriously.
I’m probably not the only one who is bewildered to find themselves in their current situation. Like so many moms (and not as many dads), I book all my kids’ social engagements, organize their schedules, make sure they have what they need for said activities and remind them of their plans. Lucky devils. Why don’t I get an assistant like me?
It was one thing when the kids were little. But now my older kids have passed the single-digits, age-wise. Although I’m still content arranging playdates for my two little ones, I’m having a hard time continuing this for the big(ger) kids. But in the current parent culture, perhaps especially in New York, it feels hard to stop.
The other day, I started texting one of my friends to ask if her son could “come over for a playdate” with my son. Then my finger paused over the tiny iPhone keyboard for a minute. Is it even called a “playdate" anymore? Isn’t that a little bit creepy? These boys are almost as big as I am. Instead I rewrote it to ask if her son could “come hang out” with my son instead. That sounded better. Unfortunately, the prospective friend only had a few minutes at home between soccer and a family event, so he couldn’t do it. Of course.
I would kill to live in the suburbs (or at least, the suburbs of my imagination) so I could open my back door and have all the kids in the neighborhood just meet up together and hang. My husband says in his community growing up, he never had an arranged playdate. He just rode bikes and palled around with the other kids who lived nearby. He looks at our current Manhattan over-scheduled life and shakes his head. When are the kids just supposed to chill with their friends?
Since he brought to my attention that “my way” wasn’t necessarily the norm, I’ve started making more of an effort to let my kids just hang out. Last weekend, I gave my son the cell phone numbers of four of his friends’ moms. (My kids and their friends don’t have phones yet. More on that another time.)
I read off all their numbers.
“You call them and see if your friends are free. Let me know if you confirm any plans.”
He rose to the challenge. I could feel him getting excited the way he does as he dives into a new Lego box.
“I’m on it,” he said.
He dutifully called all these mom friends of mine and asked to hang with their kids. But of course, in our pre-planned world, all the kids were busy.
See, it doesn’t totally work if only one kid in the peer group is open to frequent unstructured play when everyone else is busy racing to various sports games, tutoring, birthday parties and more. Not to mention that by the time the kids have gotten together after a cab ride, bus, subway or walk, it’s usually almost time to turn around again.
For me, with four kids, the logistics involved in various playdates are sometimes so time-consuming and involved that spontaneous events - the ones I want for my kids - can throw the whole delicately balanced schedule off kilter. This Friday, for instance, a friend of my daughter’s decided to have some girls to her house after school and she wanted to go. There was no reason not to let her, except that I’d planned the day otherwise. I rearranged everything so she could enjoy and just go with it. But it required about 57 texts and two phone calls for me to take her. Which ate up half the time I was actually with her.
So, here’s my proposal. Let’s make life more normal for kids and find the equivalent of opening the back door. (Ideas welcome.) Let’s have kids arrange their own playdates by calling, not texting. Remember the home phone with the long twisted cord that used to hang in everyone’s kitchen when we were growing up? It served a purpose. We used to have to say hello to whoever answered, introduce ourselves, ask for our friend, and have an actual conversation. Not just send a text with a poop emoji. (Why does this even exist?)
Let’s try to do more carpooling so kids have more time to chat with each other. Let’s watch each other’s kids more. Let’s collectively leave mutual days open for groups of friends to play. #fridayfriendday? Let’s have the kids manage their own calendars.
At the least, let’s agree as parents not to text each other a million times just to have a single playdate. I swear: I spend more time texting to arrange plans than the plans actually end up taking. Let’s call each other, make a date and stick to it. No confirmations. No thank you’s after. No “oks” or “thanks” or “see you soon’s.”
I think if we all walk out of our personal assistant “jobs,” the real beneficiaries will be our kids. They’ll learn essential social skills, time management, organization and prioritization. Best of all, we might even be able spend more time with our own friends, a great thing to model for kids. I couldn’t survive a day without my amazing girlfriends. I want to make sure my kids grow up feeling the same way.
And of course, I could use the time. Couldn’t you?