Sunday, January 6, 2013

On the Boycott of Playdates, and Raw Broccoli Salad

When I was little, we lived in a neighborhood in which there were always kids within walking distance.  Two sisters my age lived across the street.  A family with three girls lived up the block.  Two little boys my brother's age lived around the block.  And while I wasn't around much after school because my parents were both teachers and we spent a good chunk of the afternoon commuting, it was still nice to know that if I was bored, all I had to do was go ring their doorbell.

As I got older, and was entrusted to go a little farther on my own, I had a friend who lived two streets away, and I'd ride my bike to her house, where we would spend long afternoons pretending in her attic.  And finally, when I got to high school, I'd head by bike to a friend's house two towns and several miles away.

I know that this is a different time and age than the one in which I grew up.  But there are some things that I don't know if we need to give up just yet.  Like the impromptu doorbell-ring.

There are some neighborhoods where this is not possible, for a host of reasons.  The houses are too far apart.  There aren't enough similarly-aged children in the neighborhood.  You folks get a pass.

And there are some neighborhoods where the impromptu doorbell-ring (or simply entering with a passel of friends without the extra step of ringing) is alive and well.  You folks aren't the people I'm talking about here, either.

We live on a street with no fewer than five boys and girls who are I's age.  There are also three children N's age.  And yet, hardly ever does anyone ring the doorbell.  Instead, we organize elaborate playdates, mostly with children who don't even live on our block.

My son and I were talking about this one night, after I'd put him to bed.  About how I dislike the word "playdate," because it feels so contrived.  Like our toddlers need iPhones from birth, scheduling their play and organizing their relationships.  And how the arrangement feels exclusive to me; once you've committed to a "playdate" with one friend, you can't add a third random friend to the mix, who happens to ring the doorbell.

Partially as a follow-up to the conversation, the next morning, on a Saturday, I sent I. up the block to his friend's house to ring the doorbell, with instructions that upon the door opening, he was to invite said friend over to our house to play.  "But what if they're not home?" he worried.

"Then come home," I answered.

"What if he doesn't want to come over here, and what if he asks me to go there?" he asked.

"Then ask to use the phone, and call us to tell us that you're going to stay," I said.  "That's fine with me, as long as I know where you are.  And I'll tell you when we'll come pick you up."

"What if he doesn't want to play?"

"Then tell him thanks anyway, and tell him that you'll see him later, and come home."

He seemed satisfied with this, and skipped up the street.  It turned out that his friend's mom wasn't able to open the door, but she called later to bring the friend over to play for a while.  My son was thrilled.

Even as adults, we seem to tiptoe around each others' lives.  We don't call up friends without a reason any more, because Facebook takes care of our quick check-ins.  We don't drop by randomly for a cup of coffee, at least, most of us I know don't.  Or I don't.  And I feel like it's a dying art, the art of the unexpected visit, the art of intrusive friendship.  I feel like it's an art my children need to learn, if they're going to learn to notice people, and care about them, even when those people don't tell them that they need to be cared about.

So I've decided that for now, I'm going to boycott playdates.  I'm going to randomly call up my friends and ask if they want to come play [*edited later to add: with as much acknowledgement of work schedules as possible, and understanding when people have prior commitments!].  I'm going to send my children to ring doorbells, and interrupt our over-scheduled lives.  I'm going to welcome people to my house if they come calling, and always have something I can throw together and offer up as a light lunch.  Because sometimes the most fulfilling moments are the ones we never put on the calendar in the first place.

Do you -- or your children, if you have them -- ring doorbells?  Or do you tend to make plans to see friends?

Broccoli and Kohlrabi Salad
I've been thinking about this salad as an antidote to all of the unhealthy eating from the holidays, and with a crusty loaf of bread, it's a perfect throw-together kind of meal that's fancy enough to offer a guest.  Kohrabi is cool-weather vegetable, and one of the first and last things that we get in our CSA shares.  If you're looking through seed catalogues yet, as we often do here in the midwinter, it might be something to add to your order.

1 head broccoli, stems removed and cut into florets
1 c. kohlrabi, finely chopped
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
3 T. lemon juice
3 T. orange juice
2 T. lime juice
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. agave
3 T. oil of your choice
6-7 chive blossoms (you may not have these right now, so you can always use a scallion or two, but the chive blossoms are really lovely and light)

Toss together broccoli, kohlrabi, raisins, and seeds.  In a blender, blend remaining ingredients.  Pour over vegetables.

Break apart chive blossoms into small bits and scatter over the salad.
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  1. This is a manifesto :-)

    We do a mix of ringing doorbells and organized dates, but mostly organized dates (drop ins are more in summer). The reality is that I work, so I really wouldn't appreciate anyone dropping in during the day. And even after school, there are times when I need to complete something, so if I hadn't planned on watching someone else's kid, it would become a burden more than a joy (for instance, if my plan was to go run errands and now I needed to stay in the house because the kids had started playing). Scheduling it means that I know for certain how to use the rest of the hours in my day.

    I also don't live in a neighbourhood where they can play outside unsupervised, so their playdate becomes my playdate when the kid comes over because I need to be outside too.

  2. One more reason I am worried about leaving the big city. While my 4 year old is too young to send out alone (although in our old building even at 2 she could toddle over to our neighbors as long as they knew she was on her way), most of our playdates are either set up at school pick-up or when a good friend texts to say, I'm at this playground, are you coming? At least twice a week I text friends to tell them where we are, just in case they want to walk by. It takes the pressure off (no cleaning up if we're at the playground/bookstore/Starbucks) and also means it's fine if 2 or 3 other families happen to join us since it wasn't a plan set up in advance.

  3. @Lollipop: It's funny ... when I first started drafting this post in my head, I was thinking about your post about the skype playdate, and how I felt that was OK if you had a friend it was hard to see otherwise. That post also made me think about neighborhoods that weren't conducive to the "drop-in" ... for distance or safety. I guess I'd hope that I'd know enough about a friend's schedule not to drop in or send my kids over while they were working. And I'd absolutely understand if someone declined. There were plenty of times, when I was growing up, that friends couldn't play for whatever reason.

    It just baffles me, though, that on a Saturday morning in my neighborhood, where I *know* that no one is working and where it's safe to walk down the block, no one is ringing anyone's doorbell.

    So maybe it's not really a manifesto at all, but a rant. ;)

    1. I DETEST playdates. We are treating children like prisoners, and frankly ruining their lives.

  4. We definitely do not ring doorbells in this neighborhood. I don't think there are any other toddlers on our block but our neighbors have a small baby that I've never seen because there is always a blanket over its car seat. If there were toddlers here there is a VERY good chance we wouldn't speak their language despite the fact that we speak two.

    Yesterday our house was cleaned and this afternoon I wanted to invite someone over because it's a rare afternoon when our house is presentable. But after myriad phone calls it was clear no one was available. I wish we had more friends with kids and that we saw people more. Parenthood has been so isolating for us.

    I think it's great your helping your kids to do that kind of stuff. I hope it opens up your neighborhood some. Good luck!

  5. Huh. Interesting...The kids have cousins their age who livein our neighborhood and also friends, but we don't do play dates very often (or drop-bys either). I have a friend that does drop-bys at the worst possible time (always when the house is an absolute disaster or I haven't showered in days or am wearing PJ bottoms that are stretched out or something or the kids are sick.)

    When I was growing up, I had one friend who lived in my neighborhood, down a very busy street. I used to call her (or she'd call me) and we'd meet up somewhere and hang out, either at her house or mine. I'd get myself there.

    Interesting post. I'll be thinking about this...

  6. I love this and it makes me so nostalgic for the late afternoons I'd ride my bike around the neighborhood into early evening knocking on friends' doors to see who was home to play. just that freedom and exploration and feeling of community. and safety, of course. no one was worried back then. sigh.

    at 3.5, my kid is too young to knock on doors yet, but we have one neighbor family across the street w/ twins about a year older than mine. we've door knocked a couple of times and it actually worked once. we also have cousins across town so we'll make a phone call before heading over, but they're older with lots of activities and less free time...

    also like mel I feel constrained by the need to schedule MY time (plus I have a still-napping baby) so it gets tricky. but I do long for a simpler time... thanks for this.

  7. Yes! Yes! Let's hear it for spontaneous play! I have a few neighbors that I feel comfortable doing this with - but not nearly enough. I miss those days of dropping by and knocking on doors.

  8. One reason I love our street is that the kids all play outside together. They ride their bikes in a posse, if you see one outside you send yours to join them, the small ones are small enough that there's always a parent out there to stand with and chat to. My son knocks on the door across the road to see if his friend will play lightsabers with him, though they don't go into each other's houses.

    Personally, I hate dropping in without calling first. I hate the possibility of interrupting people. But if someone did it to me, I'd probably be delighted. I just don't like phones very much.

    (Hah. Your captcha number for this comment is my birthday!)

  9. Oh, I could not agree more with this post. I've been thrilled that my 7 yr. old son realized a friend lives in the neighborhood behind us and they've started hiking through the woods to see each other. When he is a bit older, I'll let him ride his bike over to friends a bit farther out because I remember the blessings of such freedom.

    I think of my Grandparents' house, where friends dropped by any time and never left empty handed. I can still hear the sound the screen door made as it was constantly slammed by kids and adults going between kitchen and back yard. I loved that joyful chaos.

    I want a home like that too. I don't care if folks see the toys scattered on the floor or dirty dishes still sitting in the sink. And there is NOTHING that we could be doing that is more important than visiting with a friend. So, here is my perma-invite to my dear friends: come on over and don't worry about calling.

  10. Not that I'm 'down wi' da playdatez' at all, I was just thinking earlier about how hard it is to schedule in friends and navigate our lifestyles.
    Thinking of a couple in particular, no kids, but have always been really crap about doing anything in the evenings so we just stick to weekends, but of course Mr Stinky works Saturday and I work Sunday. The to-ing and fro-ing is unbelievable, even if its just to catch up for coffee, two people trying to co-ordinate for four. Dread to think what it would be like if we all had kids, trying to co-ordinate that. They only live 10 mins drive from us too!

    Yeah I remember the ease of childhood - just pottering down the road to my friends house or vice versa. 24hour technology and things are more difficult somehow?

  11. This is awesome. Somehow, someway, we were able to not only play as kids, but have enough for a football game or enough kids to have good and bad guys for Star Wars.

    My girls want to build a fort in the trees next to the house. I want to let them. I want them to steal stuff from the garage, get dirty, mess up, figure things out, invite other kids in, and maybe even give up on the idea.

    What's the harm?

    Great post.

  12. Thanks for bringing up memories from my childhood. There was a neighborhood full of us kids that would ring doorbells or at least see one another outside and play together. I hope that when our little one gets older he'll be able to do that with the kids here.

    I would love to have more spontaneous visits with friends, but unfortunately, that just doesn't happen. They either live to far away, or I've never even been to their new homes, or they are just so darned busy. I do have one friend who is insanely busy, yet we do manage to meet up sometimes on a whim. It is so unfortunate to have to send out emails a month in advance for a playdate and still not be able to schedule anything with most friends as they already have plans.

  13. Love this. I HATE the whole playdate thing too! Please swing by and ring our door bell one day!

  14. I'm totally with you here, philosophically, but practically it does present some problems. First, our daughter has very definite preferences for a couple of key school/activity friends, and all of them live far enough away that a unannounced drop-by isn't an option, although we do phone them on the spur of the moment to see if they're available. We also do doorbells with our next door neighbors, who have a boy my daughter's age that she adores, but we end up sending the poor kid away more often than not, since he tends to stop by at the worst possible times. Sigh.

    P.S. My captcha is "asfecta." Is that some kind of trifecta of assholishness? The mind boggles.

  15. Love this. Both the ideas expressed and the image of you teaching your son how to ring a doorbell.

    We are doorbell ringers here. But still, not enough people ring our doorbell. I would welcome more.

    At some point, your kids stop letting you call it "play dates" and insist that they are just "hanging out." I think my son got that from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

  16. Your post flashed my memory back to my childhood. In Mumbai city, Western India I had the good fortune to grow in a joint family and a friendly neighborhood.

    Sharing bikes, toys, books and music was very common. All our summer vacation, we'd huddle together late evenings for story sessions, board games and an occasional ice cream.

    Now I see this generation is more into cell phones, play stations, computers etc. Technology is over taking their lives.

  17. I've really enjoyed the conversation here ... you've given me lots to think about!

    @Rachel, I like the idea of texting friends to tell them where you are, opening the invitation. Sort of like reverse-doorbell-ringing. ;)

    @jjiraffe: you always look fabulous, even in PJs. But I understand that sometimes you just don't want people dropping by. I give people the right of refusal, no questions asked. ;)

    @luna: I think there's a way to balance the my time and flexible time ... still working on it myself ... and my flexible time isn't always everyone else's flexible time, but maybe it COULD be, you know? :)

    @(not)maud: I think spontaneous phone calls are just about as good as showing up in person. And your street is pretty awesome.

    @Christie: We should drop by more often. With cupcakes. ;)

    @Stinky: This is absolutely just as applicable to adults as it is to kids. How is is that we have SO much technology, SO much connectedness, and yet less contact? Or at least more complicated contact?

    @Eli: I hope your girls build (or don't build) that fort. Good for you for encouraging them.

    @Viola: maybe the individual play has subsumed the need for seeking out others for play? And maybe it's the same for adults ... interesting thought ...

    @JustHeather: I'm too busy too. And I need someone to kick me in the arse every once in a while and tell me that I'm really not so busy that I can't connect with my friends for an impromptu visit. :)

    @Sara: as long as you're making him feel like the ringing is not an imposition, I think you're doing a good thing. Good for him, for giving it a shot!

    @Lori: I'd ring your doorbell any day. Impromptu sun salutations. xo

  18. Justine, I LOVE this post and I agree with you wholeheartedly! (Which is how I feel about pretty much all of your posts!) In the past year, since my son is now old enough to walk down the street alone and we are in a quiet, safe neighborhood, he's started "doorbell ringing" and I think it is a wonderful thing! Yes, there are times a friend rings our doorbell it isn't convenient, but we just tell a friend "not right now" and see it as an opportunity to model for our kids limit-setting with others! What I find interesting is that although I have no qualms at all about encouraging my son to ring doorbells when he wants someone to play with, I am really hesitant to be a doorbell ringer myself and just "drop in" on my neighbors for fear of imposing. I need to think about why that is...

  19. I love this post Justine! Down with playdates! Ring the doorbell! (Yep, I'm convinced.)


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