There are lots of things that change when you become a parent. There are all the obvious cliches – the new meaning of late nights, the new understanding of endless worry, the glamour of diapers and boogers – but there is something else. Something no one seems to talk about even though (I think) it is a change universally felt by new parents these days. Just as you begin to learn to function with all the cliches of parenthood, you will be thrust once again into the dating scene. Not the fun and flirty bar scene but the intimidating and complicated playground scene. You may know it’s coming but you won’t fully get the impact until you actually start play dating.
The play date. Modern parenting’s answer to living in a scary world where you can’t just let your kids roam free in your neighborhood. The play date. Modern parenting’s answer to the age old worry of “good God, we need to get out of the house before these little balls of energy combust.” The play date. Modern parenting’s answer to finding new besties as an adult.
Being new to this scene, I can’t tell you if this is another case of Westernization or if there has truly been a worldwide shift, but the play date is not unique to the US. Since arriving, we’ve been on dates with families from all over and they all pretty much happen in much the same way. The semi-awkward “asking out,” the back and forth about where and when, and the anticipation of how fun it will be.
What I am just now realizing is that the play date is as much about you as it is your kids. There’s the worry that maybe your sweet little angels will suddenly start biting, hitting or refusing to share. Or that maybe they will behave beautifully…all by themselves in the corner. Or that maybe they will be fine but their dates will be biters, hitters, non-sharers or loners. Maybe they just won’t have any fun. But kids are kids. All parent’s understand this so really, there’s no need to worry about the kids. What you really need to worry about is yourself.
All the usual pre-date worries of your bachelor/ette days will haunt you once again. What should you wear? You’ll want to look pulled-together but still casual. You don’t want to seem like you are trying too hard. What should you talk about? You want your potential new friends to know there is more to you then just being a mom (but you don’t want to seem disinterested in your kids either). You hope you share similar ideas about parenting (and life) but, you don’t want to seem judgmental (or be judged) if you don’t. You don’t want to come off as too needy. Will the conversation be easy? What happens afterward? Does the 3 day rule apply to play dating? Maybe you’ll discover “they’re just not that into you” and never get a call back.
But unfortunately, unlike actual dating, with play dating, you’ll wonder if it was you or your kids. Did I just sabotage my kids’ play date or did my kids just sabotage my chance at a new friend? Or arguably worse, your child will constantly ask to play with someone whose parent you’re just not into. (And that will get you wondering if you aren’t that person for some other parent…but no, of course it’s not you!)
But here is another good thing about being an expat in China. There are different rules here. All expats are kinda desperate for friends. Everyone is needy. There is a camaraderie among expats at the playgrounds here that you don’t find (or at least I didn’t find) at playgrounds at home. When you see and/or hear another parent at the playground who is clearly not Chinese (or even if they are Chinese), there is an instant conversation starter. People are friendlier because they have to be. If you waste too much time doing the pre-dating dance, by the time you’re ready to go steady, your new friends might already be leaving. And if it doesn’t work out, there still may be that embarrassing run in at the wet market but, not to worry, there is always a new family just about to move in. Play dating in a foreign country is easy.
Or maybe it’s just that I have more interesting stories to share. Like, that time we got in a taxi and the driver started yelling “HALLOOOO!! HALLLLOOOOOO!!” to the kids. When they didn’t give him all the attention he wanted he resorted to using his crazy long nails to pick at his face. When that proved to be too difficult, he reached down into God knows where and pulled out tweezers. And right there at the light, using his rear view mirror, quietly hummed and groomed himself. Purell baths tonight kids! (The crazy long nails part, by the way, is not unique to this driver. It’s common among Chinese men. They keep at least one pinky nail long and sometimes, like in this case, the index nail long too. You’re guess is as good as mine.)
And then there was the time we saw this women (in the pink pants), crouched down in the middle of Toys R Us, holding a sandwich bag while her son peed in it. I’ve been doing some reading on potty training but haven’t come across this technique. I’ll have to ask about it on our next play date.