I wrote the following post my first year of blogging. I’m reposting it today because my NaNoWriMo novel is based on it. My project is called “The Playgroup” and is loosely based on the moms with their young children. In our neighborhood, my kids were the only kids. That’s true for most of Palm Springs neighborhoods. We had to arrange playdates before the kids were school-age if they wanted to play with other kids. One mom started what she called the playgroup and it was an honor to be invited to her exclusive group.
When I was a child, I played in and out of neighbors’ backyards, rode bikes from dawn to dusk — with no adults bothering me.
When I had kids, they didn’t have that freedom. One reason was the lack of kids living around us. Another reason was a child in a nearby town had been kidnapped from his front yard and his body found 10 days later. That terrified the moms in our area for years.
I went to Mommy and Me class with my son at the Palm Springs Pavilion. A teacher, Miss Stacey, taught us to sing songs together and play “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot” with a dozen other moms and babies that apparently needed the coaching. Each week, we took turns bringing snacks of grapes or string cheese. I look back at this as a training ground for the proverbial playdate.
Our playdates developed from the Mommy and Me group. We had a park day, which was fun and healthy. Moms sat together on quilts on the grass and talked for hours while our kids played on the now-banned steel playground equipment — a super tall, steep slide, a merry-go-round, and a stagecoach that they could climb into, on top of and jump off. Sometime during our kids’ early childhood, our city tore out the dated, dangerous equipment and put in a rubber ground and safe equipment. The kids never liked to play on the brightly-colored equipment and our park playdates vanished.
One day, I got a phone call from a friend. She homeschooled her daughter and was handpicking her friends for a weekly Friday playgroup. She hired a teacher to run playgroup, and each week included a lesson, a theme, craft and snack, followed by 10 minutes of supervised play on her backyard swing set. The moms were not welcome to hang out and socialize.
I felt honored my kids were in the select group. Months later, the mom who had playgroup took me to lunch and told me she had some “big news.” She was uninviting one of the boys. I hardly saw this is earth shattering, but perhaps there was more to this luncheon. Maybe it was a warning!
Years later, when my kids were in high school, they reconnected with friends from playgroup. They remembered it as if they were fellow Mouseketeers having survived a bizarre childhood experience.
When my daughter was in 7th and 8th grade, we homeschooled. Every Wednesday, I picked up her best friend from school, and brought her to my house to play until her mom got off work. This was another sort of playdate. We moms thought it was an ideal way to keep their friendship going. Since my daughter loved arts and crafts — homeschooling allowed her to try ceramics, mosaics, and quilting. I said that the two girls could do an art project each week.
But that didn’t happen. I was tired from supervising my daughter’s schooling by the time afternoon came and my daughter just wanted to hang out with her friend. So, I retired to my room and left them alone. After a few weeks, the friend didn’t want to come over anymore. She said she was promised an art activity and she was disappointed that they weren’t doing any.
That made me think about our kids and their overly structured lives. I love having quiet time. I hope my kids do, too. We need to unplug, unschedule, and let our kids regain their creativity and inner peace. They need us to leave them alone and let them be kids.
How was your childhood different from your children’s young lives? Did you have to arrange playdates so they could play or did they have friends who lived close by?
When I was young there were lots of kids in our neighborhood and I would go from house to house or just play out in front all day. There was a wooded area behind our house where we would go and pretend it was a clubhouse. No parents watching us or organizing our play. When my kids were young there were a few kids their age around but usually we had to drive to someone’s house or kids came to our house. The parents never stayed. We didn’t let the kids just play outside by themselves though, for the same kidnapping fears. Nothing had happened in our neighborhood but it was in the news more.
That’s exactly what it was like when I was growing up. We moved out in the countryside near Seattle and had acres of woods next to us where we built forts. I wish our kids could have experienced the freedom we had.