Sisters. A unique bond is forged between sisters in a family. This bond can be different depending on the amount of years between them or how many one person has. But usually, having a sister means having someone to hang out with at family functions, share (or steal) clothes, boss around and sometimes, on those late nights watching horror films, get their opinion on life events.
I was fortunate growing up to have a sister only thirteen months younger than me. Sure, there were times when I couldn’t shake her as she followed me and my friends around or bossed her around telling her she had to play barbies my way or leave. We had our share of scratching take-down fights over something as silly as someone taking the other’s umbrella. But, we also laughed at our mother together, rolled our eyes when people asked us for the hundredth time, “Are you twins?” and played countless hours of board games on rainy afternoons. She would probably have a much different view being the younger one, but my memories of my childhood all include her in some way.
My two daughters, Elizabeth and Audrey, are two years apart. Exactly two years. But already there has been a fair share of sisterly conflict. Elizabeth was quite put out when Audrey arrived, two days after her second birthday. She barely acknowledged her presence unless a doting relative would pat her on the head and say, “Aren’t you the best big sister?”
Then little Audrey would get loving hugs and gentle head taps from her, until no one was looking and give her a not-so-gentle shove.
At the age of three and five they started sharing a room in anticipation of the arrival of their younger brother. We moved to a larger house where they each had their own room. They asked to be together again within a year and together they remain. My heart melts when they rush me out of their room so they can play a secret game of Beanie Boo fantasy land and I hear them chit chatting to each other. They still have their moments, but overall they get along fairly well.
When the girls started asking for playdates, I didn’t think about the logistics of having three kids, all relatively close in age, being together while Elizabeth invited her grade one buddy over after school.
Up until this past year, most of our playdates included friends who usually had two or more of their own kids. Crazy but it worked out as each kid found a playmate. There were a few tears and screams of “They’re not including me!” but overall it was okay.
Then both my girls hit the “social” age. Meaning, they wanted to invite a different friend over each week. As Jacob got more involved and wanted to be part of the action, it became a feat to invite one friend over, distract the other kids, get snack or dinner ready for them all and try to clean up a bit before the parent arrived to pick them up.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I grew up having a mom who preferred all the craziness of kids playing together be at her house. Appreciating that now as a parent, it made sense. You could keep an eye on your kid and who they were hanging out with. But play back then was different. We played with our cousins or friends in the neighbourhood criss crossing amongst the houses in a gang of sorts.
Nowadays, scheduled playdates are the preferred method of interaction. We don’t have a neighbourhood school, my kids are bus kids. I don’t know all the parents of the kids in the classroom. So playdates mean multiple notes or texts back and forth, permission letters from sets of parents allowing a child to ride home with my child all things that need to be coordinated and organized.
But, wanting my kids and their friends to feel welcome in our home, the girls take turns bringing friends home to play. Except, my other two children feel left out when they don’t have a friend. So I go from having to coordinate one playdate to possibly three! It makes my brain tired to think of it.
So much so that after an exhausting playdate trying to manage two friends to come home at the same time to avoid the above conundrum, I told them, enough! This is not a weekly occurrence but a once in awhile treat. We have friends in our neighbourhood, play with them. Play with each other. Please no more playdates!
A couple of months go by and they both plead, “Just one more! We owe E. a playdate back at our house and she really wants to take the bus with me.” So I relent and schedule their playdates, separately with a warning everyone must play together, nicely. And for the most part all is okay.
So, on rare free Saturday, I tentatively schedule a group BBQ/playdate. Two families. One with a little girl that Audrey loves and doesn’t see too often. Another with playmates for Elizabeth and Jacob. Mr. L looks at me.
“Are you crazy? That’s six kids in the house! What if it rains?”
I shake my head, knowing he has not learned the secret.
Family playdates. On weekends. In the summer.
More than one parent to help. Each child has an age-appropriate playmate. Catch-up with other adults. Wine or beer. Hopefully the weather holds and the kids play outside for most of the time. The perfect plan.
“Don’t worry.” I smile at him. “Piece of cake if we have one playmate per kid. We’ll do hamburgers and hot dogs to keep it easy.”
I know this conundrum will not get easier. Well, I could just say no to future playdates. But it’s just not me. I want my children and their friends to feel welcome in our home. I want to be the house “they all want to go.”
However, a small part of me does look forward to the day when they all want to play less together and do their own things. It may make the playdate conundrum a little easier.