When did going to a friend’s house become a “play date”? “Play date” sounds so . . . weird.
I remember going over to friends’ houses all the time, even at age five or six, and having friends over to our house. It was awesome: “Hey mom, can I call so-and-so and invite them over?”
And then you’d pick up the phone, call your buddy’s number, ask their parent: “Hello, this is Alex, can I please speak to so-and-so?” and then you’d set up the appointment, usually with some final planning like “Okay, you bring Mario 3 and we’ll have pizza hare.”
Now that I have a six-year-old myself, I notice that this does not happen. Parents tend to set up play dates, which is fine, but it makes me a bit nostalgic for the old days. I think it’d be hilarious if my son started calling his friends and setting things up, but I don’t know if parents even like that anymore. Because we’d go to each other’s houses without our own parents around. You’d be relying on your friend’s parents for snacks, dinner, and so on, and sometimes to drive you back.
And I don’t remember parents complaining! There was always plans to have so-and-so over at our house next time, which was great, because you knew it was only a matter of weeks before you’d get to hang out with your friend outside of school again.
Hanging out with friends outside of school was the best thing ever. You had relative freedom to run around outside playing guns, play Nintendo, build LEGOs, draw your own comic books, and generally raise some wholesome hell.
Do kids even do sleepovers anymore? I remember having sleepovers all the time. Now, everyone is afraid of The Child Molester Next Door. Maybe my neighborhood was enough like Mayberry, RFD with intact families that people just didn’t worry so much about a rogue dad or a single mom with random boyfriends coming in and out. I mean, we did have divorcees and whatnot, but they were few and far between, until the late 1990s.
But in the 1980s and early 1990s, which was when I grew up, we bounced from house to house non-stop. Sometimes it was uninvited. In high school, I’d show up at our front door with five or six of my pals in tow, yelling as I came into the kitchen, “Hey mom! We’re home! Do we have anything to eat?”
(Yes, I’m turning into cranky old Grandpa Alex again. Bear with me.)
I remember one time my buddy and I went to our friend’s house after school and the three of us promptly dusted off all of their ice cream, and then went to the river for a swim.
It can’t be my imagination that everything has changed. It’s fashionable to lament the overcautious nature of childhood these days, but I see the truth in this more and more the older my son gets. I get the impression that parents are afraid of everyone. I don’t know exactly what happened. I can’t pinpoint the singular event that changed everything. I can only assume that the atomization of our culture, the modern economy transforming us into economic nomads, media-driven hysteria, and the general decaying social fabric contribute to this distrust of our neighbors and communities.
You know, simple stuff like that.
The obvious answer is to get out more, interact with neighbors, and try to build these connections. Yet it’s difficult when the other party doesn’t reciprocate. It’s a tough problem to crack: when do you stop beating your head trying to get close to people who clearly have no interest?
You also have to step back and wonder: is it me?
This is so strange, because very often when I strike up a conversation with a neighbor or even a stranger in a waiting room, I find them very receptive, yet not so much when it comes to their kids.
Elpida Kallistos doesn’t have many friends. Read what she does about it in my debut novel, A Traitor to Dreams, a fun, sci-fi/urban fantasy adventure featuring high technology clashing with mythical demons and swordsmen that tackles some big questions.