Yesterday, my daughter and I attended a play date put on by a mother from school.
Up to that point, I drew my play date references mostly from my experiences in Manhattan. The events involved the host mother inviting one or more children to her apartment to play with her child’s toys. The mothers of the invited children attended. Generally there were snacks and beverages involved. Sometimes the crowd would move to a playroom in the building.
Granted, sometimes the entire event would take place at one of the many New York baby gyms if all the mothers had memberships or if the inviting mother could score the other mothers a day pass. But you were limited to the hour allotted for “open play.”
Prior to yesterday, my experience here in Sao Paulo with expat mothers has been similar. Start at the apartment with toys and snacks. Move to the playroom or playground so the kids can run around while mothers chat. The other day, at the complex of my Argentine friend, we combined the two phases. We threw a picnic mat on the ground of the playground and let the kids go at it, sliding and swinging in between sips out of their juice boxes. Running in circles with cookie crumbs trailing from their mouths.
But my concept of the play date changed dramatically yesterday.
We arrived an hour after the scheduled time of 2:30 (I am slowing becoming Brazilian). The play date was being held in the ground level, social area (and lobby it seemed) of the building. Based on my birthday party experience (see Barbies and Brigadeiros), going in, I figured I would be one of few, if not the only, mother in attendance. I was right. There were only two other mothers there and about 15 nannies. I good-naturedly mentioned my expected minority status to the host mother, but she assured me that more mothers would be coming.
What I didn’t expect was this. There were no less than six people working the “play date,” possibly more. Inside was the standard toy set up with standard play date snacks like brownies and cookies (although more extensive than I could have imagined). But outside she had arranged for two stands with people cooking and serving hot dogs, popcorn, cheese-on-a-stick, etc. She had also rented a ball pit and a trampoline, each with an attendant. On top of that, people were walking around passing out food and drink.
My daughter thought she was at a birthday party, and with good reason. It was one fancy play date.
Now, I understand the desire to impress. You use what you can to advance yourself, your children or your business – I get it. I’ve done it. But these efforts seemed a bit wasted. The other mothers never showed, and I highly doubt that the 3-year-olds and their nannies went home and raved to the corresponding parents/employers about how wonderful and well-organized this play date, for which attendance had been arranged via email not a week prior, had been. Though I could be wrong.
My expat friend told an even more incredible story about a play date for which a mother was turned away at the door, forced to release her daughter into the hands of party planners. The little girls were given a tea party hosted by a variety of Disney Princesses. The girls received a crystal tea set as a parting gift. The host mother didn’t even bother to attend.
My daughter mostly cried during this play date. In part, because she had refused to take a nap. But also, I believe, because of the intense pressure to have fun amongst all the rented equipment (mostly coming from me “Don’t ya want to have a hot dog? Don’t ya want to go on the trampoline again? How about a brownie? Come on, don’t ya want a hot dog?”)
On the way out there was a parting gift – chocolate shape on a stick. As we exited, the host mother was worrying that the staff would try break everything down to leave once the clock hit 6pm.
I had thought about putting on a play date prior to this experience. I had anticipated that I would “wow” everyone with the Toy Story fruit snacks and 3-D paper plates that I had brought from the US.
I think I’ll skip it.