It is nearly 10pm here in Belgium as I write this blog. My son Noah’s been tucked in all comfy in his bed, off in his dreams for a couple of hours already. He was especially tired tonight. Because he and I came off of hosting a successful playdate earlier today, which we’ve done before. But this one in particular was extra special…
Noah and his friend T are the same age, and they’ve been very fortunate to sit in the same class for their first three levels of kindergarten (school starts at age 2.5 in Belgium). They’re very close. But this school year they’ve been separated. But we knew this would be the case before summer vacation ever started…
So this past July, Noah was invited to T’s house, after months of wishing and wanting by both boys. A very good time was had by all…Noah and T and T’s little brother, R. And following proper playdate etiquette, Noah and I extended an invitation in return, to T and R, a month later in August. The invitation was accepted enthusiastically, namely by exclamation points in the text message exchange, and all was right with the kiddy universe. And on the agreed-upon date, our doorbell rang and Noah greeted his friends. They began playing immediately. T and R were thrilled with Noah’s playroom, and I had a small chicken roasting in the oven for lunch that was starting to smell scrumptious, and it was shaping up to be a lovely Saturday afternoon.
But as soon as their mom moved toward the door and said her goodbyes, T freaked out. I wouldn’t use that word unless that’s exactly what happened, and that’s exactly what really did happen. It caught everyone off guard. Noah froze in the middle of cartwheeling, and just stared at T. Even R, who is two years younger, seemed baffled by his older brother’s howling and clawing at his mom. R was perfectly happy to say goodbye and see you later mom. T, not so much.
Their mom looked suitably mortified. As a fellow mom I felt bad that she felt bad, and I wanted to diffuse the situation the best I could. I asked if T had ever had such separation anxiety before, at a playdate, because I thought maybe it’s me. Maybe he doesn’t like me?
She replied, “Well, this is the first time he’s been to one at someone else’s house. Noah was actually the first one we’d ever hosted.”
I did not skip a beat. Sure I was surprised that this was T’s first playdate at age five, but more importantly, I did not want this experience to traumatize him. Separation anxiety is real, and it’s never pleasant for anyone or any third party involved. I told T’s mom hey let’s reschedule when T’s ready, and I meant it though she probably thought at the time that I was just trying to get rid of them. And I could see that R was disappointed and Noah was just baffled by what was happening altogether.
It could have been incredibly awkward, but I refused to make it that way, I know if the tables were turned that I would appreciate some help. If there’s anything i’ve learned in the last five years of being a new mother, it’s that SHIT HAPPENS. And how you deal with it is what really matters.
So I kneeled down to make eye contact with T and told him he didn’t have to stay and that we could do it again in a couple months, I promised him that. And then I turned to R and told him the same thing. And when I stood upright I met the eyes of their grateful mom, who kept apologizing until I told her please don’t because this is what having kids is like isn’t it? You just never know what to expect sometimes!
So T and R put their shoes back on and got herded out my front door by their mom. All I felt was compassion for T, who was still crying…
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
The funny thing about that failed playdate was when I closed the door and turned to see Noah standing right behind me. He looked me right in the eyes and raised his eyebrows.
“Well, mama, THAT was a complete fail huh?”
I nearly fell over. Part of me hoped T’s mom was far enough away that she’d not heard Noah through the door. But it got me thinking. Yes, it was a fail, although at least Noah and I had a fantastic roast chicken and all the trimmings for lunch that day.
But I wanted to turn it around. I wanted to make that failure a success somehow. At that point in August I’d felt like I was failing, personally. My marriage was ending and I felt uncertainty about my future.
So that failed playdate served as a catalyst in a small way. I wanted to do something, to do better, even if it started out by helping T learn to playdate like a boss.
So, as promised, I reached out again to T’s mom last week. She wasn’t sure T was ready, but I encouraged her to challenge him and to help him stretch his wings. I suggested she NOT drop the boys off on a Saturday this time, but to let me pick up all three boys from school one Wednesday (Wednesdays are half-days in the Belgian school system), and bring them over to our place instead. And that I would not mention her existence until it was time for them to go home. I thought maybe then the separation anxiety would be eliminated. And you know what? It worked.
This happened after school today.
That’s Noah with the Skylanders backpack, and R in the middle holding T’s hand, walking together and on the way to “playdate again.”
The boys spent 4.5 hours together, and there were no fights or tears or asking for mama, just memories in the making.
Perfect little gentlemen eating their fries and homemade chicken fingers…
R even pooped at our house which according to his mom, is a testament to how comfortable he was. And I can attest to that. I can’t just poop anywhere either!
So to all you parents and otherwise caretakers out there, all I can say is:
If at first you don’t succeed – playdate again, please.
Your littles ones’ friendships are worth trying it again for.
And to T and R’s mom, thank you for the lovely flowers you brought me today. You so didn’t have to. But what girl doesn’t love receiving them?!