Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Playmate, Come Out and Play With Me

We had a bad playdate.

This playdate, like so many of my worst ideas, began with good intentions. A new girl joined Daughter’s class in March. While waiting for the kids to be sprung each afternoon, her mother and I had several conversations about how her child was having a hard time making friends. Being so late in the year, the tribes were all pretty well-established. Her daughter -- hereafter called Melanie because that isn’t her name -- is shy, which wasn’t helping matters.

“Why don’t we have the girls play together a couple of times,” I suggested.

Melanie’s mother's relief was palpable. We set up a date for the following day: Daughter would go to their house after-school. On cue, the children came streaming out, and we were carried away in separate rivulets of Kindergartners. As we approached our car I said to Daughter “Tomorrow, you’re going to have a playdate with someone fun.”

Daughter said brightly “Sienna?”

Uh, no.

“Jason?”

No.

“Elizabeth?”

She went through the entire class roster, including a kid who left school after two weeks because she kept eating paper and a few names pulled randomly from her storybooks. She didn’t mention Melanie.

“No, sweetie, you’re going to Melanie’s house!”

Silence from the back seat.

“You know,” I said, smiling broadly into the rear-view mirror. “Melanie!”

“She’s a baby,” the back seat responded flatly.

“She is three weeks older than you are.”

“When we make wedding cakes in the sandbox, she doesn’t know how. And she wears bicycle shorts, and those are for boys.”

Okay, enough. I wasn’t as weird as I was throughout high school just to give birth to a Heather.

“We’re not discussing bicycle shorts again. And you are going to Melanie’s house.”

“I won’t like it, and I won’t have fun, and neither will she”

“You never know,” I said, trying to light a spark in the Stygian depths of her mood. “Melanie might have a cat. She might even have a…kitten

She has a kitten?!?!?!”

“I’m not saying that, but you never know”

“I should see Melanie today”

So she was in it for the cat potential. If not gracious, at least she was amenable.

The next morning, the day of the playdate, we happened to walk into school at the same instant as Melanie and her mother. Daughter buzzed up to Melanie, eyes aglow.

“What kind of kitten do you have?”

Melanie looked confused. “Where?”

“In your house, do you have a Persian?”

“No”

“A Manx?”

“A what?”

“Do you have…a Siamese?” Daughter gushed, barely able to contain herself.
Melanie finally looked less mystified.

“I don’t have a cat. I don’t like cats”

Daughter’s mouth opened to say something which, I have no doubt, would have damaged Melanie’s self-esteem well into graduate school. But I grabbed Daughter by the wrist, applied the steady pressure of a battlefield tourniquet and flashed her a quick scary mother look. I then spun to face Melanie’s mother.

“I have an idea,” I said, vamping madly. “I have to stay at home waiting for the cable guy, and I’ll be bored and trapped all afternoon. How about having the playdate at our house?”

Yeah, not my strongest work, as far as lies go. But “I need to keep close tabs on my kid so she doesn’t make your daughter demand home-schooling” was the only thing on my mind, and that kept me from being really creative. Whatever she thought of my pathetic story, she agreed.

I picked them up. I brought them home. I sat them at the kitchen table. During this whole time, I learned that Melanie answers most questions with “I don’t know”, and since Daughter was irritated at having a taciturn cat-hater in her presence, there wasn't much coming from her end to liven up the discourse. In fact, there were moments of such profound silence you could hear the water-meter click.

I put out a snack of Goldfish crackers. Melanie informed me she didn’t like Goldfish crackers. Daughter, who starts baying with joy when she sees them in a grocery cart, looked disgusted; clearly, another black mark against our guest. I asked Melanie what she did want to eat. Sadly, I didn’t have rice cakes with Laughing Cow cheese spread to put on top. At that moment, the cat walked through the kitchen, and brushed against Melanie’s leg. Melanie looked down and shrieked in terror.

“Make the cat go away! Make it go away!”

I moved the cat outside as Daughter ate her snack and ignored her sobbing peer. Then I snapped into Cruise Director mode.

“Hey, let’s get out the dress-up box!”

The dress-up box is as close to a sure-fire hit as exists in Little Girl World. I dried Melanie’s tears, assured her the cat would stay outside, and moved both girls into Daughter’s room where I dragged out the steamer trunk/dress-up box. Daughter opened it and immediately began claiming inventory.

“I’m going to wear that…and those shoes…and that tiara…and those shoes…”

I was explaining how you can’t wear two pairs of shoes at once, unless you’re thinking high-fashion equines or surreal earrings, when I noticed our guest wasn’t up to her elbows in shiny stuff. Instead, she was standing in the corner of the room, sucking her middle and ring fingers.

“Melanie, you want to…” I said, pointing at the upended box of clothing and jewels.

“I don’t like to dress up” she whispered.

Daughter continued to annex jewelry, so I attempted a rapprochement.

“What do you like to play?”

“I don’t know” she said miserably.

“Lego?”

She shook her head.

“Do you like Groovy Girls?”

Daughter looked up.

“She can't play with my Groovy Girls,” she muttered, barely audible.

I spoke without unclenching my teeth, “Of course she can, she’s our guest”

She spoke without unclenching her teeth “No, she’s your guest”

My heart sank. Melanie was my guest. Daughter had never indicated an interest in this blameless child, and in my haste to be Quinn Who Fixes the World, I had conveniently forgotten that fact. Just because they’re short doesn’t mean kids don’t have social preferences. Yesterday, Daughter was merely indifferent to Melanie. If I kept forcing them together, by five-thirty I could have Daughter drafting a petition to ban her from school. There were two people on this playdate, and one of them was me. So I turned to Melanie and said the four most dreadful words I have ever spoken aloud.

“Do you like Candyland?”

Her eyes brightened.

“Yes”

I got the box from Daughter’s closet. Daughter looked up, miffed.

“I want to play Candyland, too”

I leaned in to her and said very softly, “You can play Candyland with me and Melanie, or you can sit in here and pretend she isn’t in your house. Which is it?”

“I’ll stay here”

Turns out, Melanie likes Candyland: we played it for an hour. Having warmed up to me, she then related the entire story of her favorite movie, “Finding Nemo”, twice. Then, she told me about how they picked out their pumpkin. At Halloween. Seven months ago. Finally, she told me about a dream she had, which sounded suspiciously identical to “Finding Nemo”. I was so bored that my blood pressure dipped below the level needed to sustain consciousness. I started loitering around the front door, waiting for her mother to arrive. I opened the door before the doorbell finished reverberating. Melanie raced into her mother’s arms, who smiled fondly down at her.

“Did you have fun?” she asked Melanie.

“Oh, yes. We played games, and talked. She likes Nemo, too!” Melanie said brightly.

“Well, that’s wonderful”, her mother said, looking so relieved that Melanie had a friend there was no way I was going to tell her Melanie’s new friend remembers where she was when Kurt Cobain died.

We said our goodbyes at the door, and Melanie hugged me. Melanie’s mother looked around.

“Aren’t you going to say goodbye to your friend?”

On the off chance Melanie would say “I just did”, I leapt in and said that Daughter had a hard time with goodbyes, and called out to her room.

“Melanie is leaving.”

A sound came from the room, and I interpreted quickly, “You may not have heard, but that was ‘Goodbye’”.

Mercifully, the acoustics in our house are odd, so only I understood what Daughter actually said.

“Good”.

6 Comments:

Blogger footscapes staff said...

Nice to have your blog mentioned on blogwatch. Congrads. I enjoyed reading you have succeeded in taking the crazy woman out of my head and put her on paper. Mom of three in CO.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Happy to oblige. Please know, however, that the crazy woman is keeping her futon in your head and will still crash there from time to time.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Hi - Just curious, aren't you concerned this woman might read this? I know if I were this Mom the observations here would make me heartsick.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify. I blended several different events for this entry (Yes, I am so thick-headed I had to do this MULTIPLE TIMES before I got it). My goal here is to entertain and not hurt anyone, certainly not any mother who wonders why her kid is standing alone on the playground.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Trudging said...

Hey, I read about you in Newsweek. Nice Blog

11:56 AM  
Blogger Stacey Teague said...

I'm enjoying reading your blog, thanks for the funny posts!

Stacey

1:57 PM  

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