My children are currently obsessed with sleepovers. No occasion - be it a birthday, holiday, loss of a tooth, a day ending in y - is considered complete unless it's accompanied by a passel of friends littering the floor of one's room and sharing the joy that is sleep deprivation. My two currently are barricaded in someone's bedroom with a friend apiece and enough stuffed animals to populate an ark; it is rather distressingly quiet out here, but the alternative is going to see what they are up to and I am not taking so rash a step.
This got me thinking of all the kiddos who have come through our doors for playdates past, and I started to ruminate upon the kinds of friends my girls have had over the years. Since I would have appreciated some kind of guidebook or cheat sheet when the girls first dipped their toes in the waters of socializing, I have to share some of my hard-won observations with you parents of younger children. Herewith I give you:
The Many Faces of Playdates, Or, Who Is That Kid and What the Sam Hill Is Going On Here?
The Nature Baby - this is a great kid to host if your kids, like mine, tend to the indoor and slothful and if you, like me, want your children to go outside in theory, but who abhor the thought of actually going outside with them in practice. The Nature Baby will drag them outside regardless of weather or season to poke at worms, make mud pies, build forts, and basically do the kinds of things kids used to do under the guise of "go outside and play". Best of all, you get to sit inside with your book/sudoku/newspaper/needlepoint sampler and do what adults are supposed to do; i.e., things kids find boring. Make double-extra-sure to dress your kid in rugged clothes and insist s/he take off shoes outside the house when they're done.
The Destroyer of Worlds - This kid is active, energetic, and completely incapable of not making a mess; therefore, this is the kid whose mom is going to call you panicking over a child care emergency the moment you finish your annual house-wide reorganization. The good news is that Destructokid and your kid will be actively engaged in fun pursuits for hours; the bad news is that not one Lego block will be left atop another by the time they're done. What I usually do when Destroyers come visiting is announce a pointed reminder that we put things away when it's time to go home in my best study-hall-monitor voice. They will help pick up, but because they're more used to wreaking chaos out of order than vice-versa, they will do a crummy job. Resign yourself to this and you'll be fine.
The Naysayer - This is the kid who makes my head spin 360 degrees around my neck a la The Exorcist. The Naysayer has the audacity to question house rules, final decisions, and direct orders from the adults of the house. This is the kid who can't take "no" for an answer, who continues to push and push and push an issue even after you've given a definitive statement. Years ago, we had a little Naysayer who continually wanted to play in a room we had told the girls was off-limits. After shooing them out of the room multiple times over several play dates, I decided it was time to nip this in the bud. When the Naysayer arrived, I gathered everyone in the playroom, looked each of them right in the eye, and told all of them there would be NO playing in the other room AT ALL, and if they were found doing so, that playdate would end. Naysayer started in with "how come," "we won't break anything," "why not," etc., etc., until I fixed her with my patented no-expression stare. "Whose house is this?" I asked her. "Yours," she said in a small voice. "Yes," I agreed, "and if you can't work with my rules, then I will call your mom and you will have to go play at your house," I said. And that, as they say, was that - which is a good thing, because that kind of behavior sends me into orbit.
The Envelope-Pusher - This kiddo is the Naysayer's evil twin. Where the Naysayer just likes being argumentative, the Envelope-Pusher puts words into actions, actively encouraging your kid to do things s/he ordinarily wouldn't even dream of doing. If you walk into the house to find acrylic-paint footprints on the Oriental, your wedding album taken apart and scattered across the living room, and the kids locked in the bathroom with the cat and a tube of Icy-Hot, you've got an Envelope-Pusher on your hands. And if your kid is the one who instigates this kind of behavior, then you have my sympathies, because I don't know how I'd be able to cope with that all the time.
The Love-Hate Relationship - Your offspring and this child are like a telenovela: They love each other! They hate each other! They can't live without each other! They're never talking again! All of which transpires in the course of three hours. At some point during the festivities, all of the following will happen:
- One child will be in the kitchen crying to you, while the other one fumes down the hall.
- The other child will come crying to you while the first child smugly looks on.
- Both children will be in opposite corners of the same room, giving one another the silent treatment.
- The visiting child will approach you in secret to ask to go home early.
- Your child will approach you in secret to ask if their friend can stay for dinner.
- Both children will run off giggling and whispering like nothing ever happened.
My advice? Don't try to parse this friendship, and don't try to figure out what's going on. And also, pray hard that this friendship doesn't set the pattern for future major romantic relationships, unless you have lots of disposable income for divorce lawyers and therapists.
The Mother's-Best-Friend - This kid laughs at your jokes, compliments your cooking, and talks to you in complete sentences that aren't punctuated with heavy sighs and eye rolls. It's like being around your kid, only better. Enjoy the one or two times you meet this kid, because your kid will decide to move onto someone else you like much less as fast as you can form the phrase, "whatever happened to so-and-so?"
The Jerry-Maguire-You-Complete-Me Friend - This is the best possible friend your kid can bring home. For whatever reason, your kid and Jerry Maguire are the perfect match in temperament, interests, social skills, physical ability, the lot. The only times you see them are at drop off, snack time, and pickup, because otherwise they're engrossed in ….whatever it is they do; why would you poke around and upset a good thing when you've got it? If you're lucky, this kid's parents like your kid too; if you're really lucky, they live right around the corner and your kids can get together all the time.
This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it includes some of the major subtypes you're likely to run across. I left out some other kinds of kiddos, probably including the exact one causing you to tear your hair out on a weekly basis. But don't worry, you will figure your way around that situation - and just as soon as you've mastered the intricacies of this age and stage of childhood, your kiddos will grow and change - and knock everything you think you've learned into a cocked hat.