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So there I was, sitting at the local watering hole this Saturday afternoon, nursing a few chilly ones and gazing at whatever sport was on the television when in walked a friend of mine. He pulled up a stool, ordered a shot and a beer and we got to bullshitting about the normal things that a couple of guys sitting at the bar would bullshit about. Sports, politics, events of the day and whatever bar gossip that didn’t involve us dominated our talks.

He’s a good guy, a single parent not much unlike myself, just trying to make it through the world without hurting anybody, without getting hurt yourself and trying to do the best you can by your kids. I asked him how his son was doing and he said he had a couple of hours to kill because his son was on a “play date”.

Now, I might be a little out of the mainstream here because I’ve never heard of the term. When I was a kid, we just got together and did what came naturally. We played. We invented our own games as we went along. Where beds became pirate ships or airplanes and the floor beneath them was either the ocean or the earth itself. We used our imagination to conjure up costumes and ideas. When broomsticks became rifles and the little tricycle that you had was the fastest horse on the planet. I don’t recall any of the parents butting in with their two cents worth unless it was to yell upstairs to “keep it down up there” or if the sound of something breaking caused them yell even louder “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”

The standard reply to that one was always a sheepish, plaintive “Nothin'”.

Anyway, so I asked my friend about what constituted a “play date”. He said he really didn’t know but was just happy to be out of the house for a couple of hours. Since the term still intrigues me, here’s what I could dig up.

Apparently, in today’s world, a play date is some sort of ritual or rite of passage for little Johnny or little Mary. It’s meant to give them their first crack at developing their little social skills and to see how they interact with each other. It usually has anywhere from four to six kids in attendance and sharing and caring and taking turns and being nice is the law of the land. All of these activities occur under the watchful eyes of the parents hosting the play date and the time is structured and measured to the minute. From what I understand, there are supposed to be board games, arts and crafts and other activities, all supervised by the parents and scheduled in advance with a beginning and end time assigned. Other parents in attendance are supposed to watch from afar and be as unobtrusive as possible as they compare their darling little one to his or her peers.

Not for nuthin, but if you were a kid, does that sound like “fun” to you? To me, its sounds like a bunch of little old ladies sitting around drinking tea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as liberal as they come but sometimes I just have to stand back in awe at what our good intentions have wrought. We want to foster independence in our children yet we won’t let them out of our sight. We want them to be creative and use their imagination all the while telling them what to do and what to think. We want them to be nice and get along with their contemporaries and we smooth over any hurt feelings instead of letting them work it out themselves.

Call me old fashioned but I like the wild days when there were trees to climb and there was a certain abandonment when it came to playing. When screaming with the sound of enjoyment and excitement felt a whole let better than a bunch of stifled giggles and scraped knees and elbows were the norm rather than the exception.

The time belonged to the kids, not the adults. Oh, they were always within earshot if something got too far out of hand or if somebody got hurt but for the most part, they just let us be ourselves.

These days, to me it sounds like we’re building robots.

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