I even hate the word playdate. I don’t think any dates should be involved in playing. Kids should just play. Preferably outside or at somebody else’s house.

What ever happened to being locked out of your house by your mother and forced to play with your only sibling on the rusty swing set out back?

Growing up, every Saturday of my life until I left home for college was exactly the same. My sister and I would get up around dawn, watch the “Smurfs” and “The Flintstones” and trash the basement. At a reasonable hour my mom would call us up for breakfast, which signaled the end of our weekend. Breakfast was immediately followed by chores.

We’d be sent downstairs (protesting was not an option) to deconstruct the sprawling Barbie village we had lovingly and painstakingly erected that morning. Then we’d dust and Windex every item of furniture in our rooms, mop and vacuum before we were rewarded by being locked out of the house to play.

Those are memories my children will not share.

Instead, they will remember arranged and orchestrated play time. Certainly, my first child will because with her I was all about the playdate. I joined every playgroup in Essex County and was willing to travel to others. I sought support and intelligent conversation. But what I found was more akin to peace negotiations between very demanding and unreasonable little despots and detailed, lengthy dialogs on the best sippy cups or jogging strollers on the market.

The entire two hour (the typical playdate period) time slot was spent roving around behind the kids, cleaning up smashed goldfish and fetching additional toys when all I really wanted to do is lie on the couch, sip a cocktail and commiserate with other moms. Oddly, none of the moms seemed up for commiserating and there was an implication 10:00 a.m. was a little too early for cocktails. I was willing to wait until 11:00, but the breakfast happy hour idea never took off.

Then there are the playdates to which I never consented. On more than one occasion, and I’m still unsure as to how this happened, playdates to which I never extended an invitation ensued at my house. A kid would invite my daughter to play. I would grant permission, and then the kid’s mother would turn to me and ask what time she should pick her kid up. What? The rule is if you invite, you host.

I presumed the parents were unaware of the invitation their child made as kids like to plan all sorts of things without consulting adults, but then there was the time a parent asked me point blank if my son would like to have a playdate with her son at my house. Just like that, too. I stammered for a minute trying to process the question before I had to ask her to repeat it. I thought I must have heard it wrong. But, no, she did in fact invite her son to my house. I had to decline.

Then the the day finally came when my kids could play with friends without their parents’ involvement. I was thrilled until I realized I was now the parent to more than my own two children. One little friend noted she didn’t like the snack offered and inquired about other options. That might have been preferable to the time another little friend found it perfectly acceptable to walk into my kitchen, open the refrigerator and rummage through. Then there was the time my son’s friend removed the cylinder to the old-school, metal crank pencil sharpener mounted on the shelf and dumped the pencil shavings all over my floor or the time a little friend had an accident in my bathroom and refused to come out.

I still have difficulty accepting that kids can no longer be kicked outside to play like normal people. My home is half a block away from three little boys in my son’s class and my daughter is now old enough to walk the two blocks to her friends’ homes. But no one does. No one just goes outside and plays. I suppose it has to be scheduled first. Perhaps I should send my kids into school with Blackberries to schedule playdates in their daily planners. Once kids are penciled in maybe then they can come out to play.

(Photo: Flickr/ND Strupler)