Erin and Conor are pretty tight, as siblings go. They quibble about the usual things - who’s taking up more space on the couch, who had the biggest serving of ice cream for dessert and who weighs more (I know - the innocence of youth). But generally they are quite happy to spend time together. However, lately they have been locking horns over that Holy Grail of social engagements - the playdate. It’s fine if these take place during the week, as Erin usually goes home with one of her friends after school. But if they occur on weekends, we have to somehow convince the child who’s not going (usually Conor) that spending an afternoon rearranging the wrapping-paper drawer with me will be just as fun.
Erin recently had a playdate with a friend who has a swimming pool. As we don’t have one, and it was a scorching hot day, I asked if Conor could join. The mom kindly agreed, and invited me to stay for tea. Erin wasn’t too happy about the arrangement. “Mom, sometimes I just need some girl time,” she explained. Despite her reservations, all went well. Conor only splashed water in the girls’ faces three times, and our host was most gracious when he sprayed the water gun in her direction. But the wheels came off when it was time to go. My son flatly refused to budge from his kinetic sand project. I smiled weakly at the mom, and threatened to ban TV until Conor turned 16. He wasn’t interested in my threats and carried on shovelling sand as if he was building a new contour path on Lion’s Head. After several pleas, threats and silent pinches, Erin’s friend’s father stepped in to help. But not even the cajoling of a masculine figure could convince Conor to leave.
Exasperated, we resorted to carrying Conor out to the car; and this is where things got messy. Conor seemed to develop superhuman strength. As we angled him into the vehicle, he planted his legs on either side of the door to resist. I was sweating bullets, while trying to convince the parents that this had never happened before. Erin was telling her friend that she was “so embarrassed” by her brother’s antics, and eventually the neighbours came outside to see what the brouhaha was all about. I was at the end of my tether, so I started to dial my cellphone for my husband to fetch his son. But fortunately Conor was exhausted too, and he sank into his seat in surrender.
We agreed then that we would not allow Conor to gatecrash Erin’s playdates. This has been somewhat of a bitter pill for Conor to swallow as, at the age of almost five, he just wants to be part of the action. But he’s starting to see the benefits of having some time away from his sister as he forges his own friendships. He wants to play with cars and impersonate firemen, while Erin is happier playing dress up with her school friends. So I should not have been surprised when, recently on the way to school, he begged for a solo playdate with his mate Oliver. When I asked if Erin could join, he immediately replied: “No ways Mom, I sometimes just need some boy talk.”
Anel Lewis is cultivating her children’s respective needs for “boy talk” and “girl time”, so that she doesn't feel as guilty about sneaking off for some occasional “adult” time with people who don’t argue about couch space and playdates.