the answer to the dreaded play date

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Play dates aren’t something parents are supposed to dread. Watching your child bloom, share her toys, use his imagination, and problem solve should fill a parent with pride, savoring the occasion, there to witness the exact moments our children will grow to remember warmly. Should. That’s right, a parent should enjoy hosting a play date. My God, though, does anyone?

Every time I offer to host a play date for one of my children, I pat myself on the back, pleased that I’m reciprocating, as they’re often invited to the homes of others, where the mothers are so gracious and relaxed, with a buffet of food from which the children graze: pasta salads, fresh fruit plates, platters of veggies, sliced melons, toasted pita triangles with a variety of dips. But then the day arrives–the day for which I’d set reminders for picking up fresh fruits and purchasing enough pizza to feed a village–the day when the children will soon stomp off the bus, and I spend that day, more than three hours of it, planning and pissing myself. Okay, maybe not pissing, but the polish is definitely chipped off my posy.

“What are you so stressed about?” friends ask. “They’re kids. They’re seven, at that. They figure it out. They’re inventive. You don’t need to be camp director.” These friends are liars.

When Lucas and his two friends remove their shoes and rip up the stairs to the playroom, Abigail and her friend look to me. I could very well direct them to join the boys upstairs, then brace myself for the territorial complaints: the boys aren’t letting us…, the girls keep getting in the way…

I try to think of things we can all do together, Rainbow Loom, for example, but then I’m involved (not all kids have developed the fine motor skills for it). It’s not organic, unstructured play, and that’s the whole point of a play date. At least to me. I feel like kids are always structured and scheduled to a fault, and I want no part of that. Yet. Yet I don’t want the chaos and intervention that inevitably comes when you cram three boys and two girls into ONE PLAY ROOM, without an adult.

Citiblocks Shapes
Instead, I leave them to play organically, in separate rooms, but I’m prepared, anticipating the complaints about boredom. See, Lucas isn’t into Beyblades or Ninjago or even the ever popular Skylanders or any video game. He prefers imaginative play, “pretend,” building a world of trucks and trains with Batman figures. When the boys begin to ask for video games, I nudge them toward the Citiblocks, asking how high they can build a tower. This and Marble Run are big hits and keep their attention for most of the afternoon. Meanwhile, the girls are coloring Shinky Dinks and making jewelry with beads. So easy. Soon the boys pad their way downstairs asking for something else to do. Rainbow Loom makes an appearance, but the big save, truly, came in a box of cereal. Chex.

Cooking is gender neutral, and especially enjoyed when they’re each given a task, not exactly organic play, but in these elementary school age years, I think they need a bit of both: organic play, and when they start to lose interest, gentle redirection does wonders. What’s more, once the kids took turns reading from the recipe card and making the Chex, we divided it into cupcake wrappers and boxed them up for them to take home, a parting gift from a winter play date, warm inside with sugar and spice.

Saving the day: Shrinky Dinks & Chex Mix. We especially liked the sugar-cookie recipe:
Chex Party Mix Sugar Cookie

Everyone left the play date with our S’more’s version of Chex Mix (a bit too sweet for my taste), portioned in cupcake wrappers after 15 minutes of prep, including bake time.

The next play date, I’m having all the kids make their own Story Cubes, and letting them decorate their own glass jars, in which to keep their story cubes. Or we’re making Modge Podge Story Stones. I always have to have a little something fun up my sleeve. And the next time we cook, I’m providing them with fabric markers and blank kid aprons to decorate as their food bakes!

* I have been compensated and sent free products from Chex® for my time & commitment, but all opinions are mine, mine, mine.



  1. Sponsored content always rings falsely to me. It’s always so chipper, so bright, like some twee adult babbling at a young child who is staring back at the adult with an expression that says, “I see right through you, and I’m not buying it.”

    Stephanie, you are sincerely a gifted writer, but this overindulgence in Amazon links that earn you referral fees coupled with the paid hosting of a Chex mix “recipe” is anything BUT organic.

    I know you have to earn a living, but there’s no shame in writing articles for parenting magazines and websites. This kind of over-caffeinated fan fluff is expected there.

    For goodness sake, don’t crap in your own burrow.

    1. Author

      Sallie, I didn’t HAVE to write anything. I get sent many things, and I often don’t write about them if I’m not a fan or don’t love them. So I ONLY post content when I truly am being authentic about it. Also, I’m totally swiping this line from you: “Don’t crap in your own burrow.” I love it. I also only link to things that I own or want.

      1. I have learned *so much* from you in taking criticism not as a personal affront but rather as possibly having some (sometimes just a tiny bit, in the case of some of your readers…) of helpful info. Just this morning, I thought about you and this notion of not taking offense and automatically getting on the defense. I realized that this excellent character trait of yours will come in super handy at our extended family’s Christmas gathering. I love this about you. You picked out a line in her criticism and complimented her on it; fcuking awesome.

        1. I’m so glad you find Stephanie instructive.

          Note, though, that there was no reason for her to take personal affront as none was meant. I’m not a hater. I was exceptionally clear that I enjoy her writing. Apparently Stephanie’s reading comprehension is also, as you say, fcuking awesome. (Mackelmore playing in my head now.)

          I hope your extended family’s visit goes well. Merry Christmas!

  2. Ha, you’re welcome to use that line. I’ll consider it high praise to have you steal it off me.

    I still don’t think this particular post rings true. Maybe it’s because you are such a food sophisticate that I cannot imagine Chex cereal and Karo syrup being your go-to ingredients, even for seven year olds.

    Dark chocolate truffles with a raspberry reduction? Yes!

    Chex mix? And a blasted recipe card especially for it? Never.

    One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about your writing over the years is your unapologetic “this is me, here I am” style.

    Have you looked around the web and seen all the eerily similar Chex mix posts? Cute story involving family + recipe for Chex mix + disclaimer ?

    The sheer number of them reminds me of the very recent Conan O’Brien piece showing many, many “local” newscasters from all over the US presenting the exact same syndicated content.

    (Have you seen it? )

    What I’m saying is don’t be that third newscaster, that Audra Streetman, Stephanie. Or the fourth or even the sixth. (ABSOLUTELY not the sixth.) Be the first and only. That and don’t crap in your own burrow.

    1. Author

      I haven’t searched for it, but I believe you. I liked the chex mix thing because it was EASY, fast, and the kids enjoyed it, and I already had all the ingredients in my pantry. AND it didn’t make a mess of my kitchen. Would I serve it to adults? NO WAY. I said it was too sweet. Also, not turning away sponsorship from Williams-Sonoma, just sayin’.

  3. Only you would turn a casual playdate into a stress-filled, over planned event with parting gifts. I look forward to your post about the hand crafted, over the top gifts you made for your kids teachers.

  4. I despised play dates when the darlings were little. Actually, my house was almost never the center of activity for other people’s children. The four of us were the only inhabitants with a very rare visitor. I hear all the time about how moms want their homes to be the epicenter of activity for the neighborhood. All I have to say to that is ICK.

    It is only now that all of the darlings live on their own that my home is being opened up for visitors again. Now the kids (youngest is 19), bring home their lovely, non-sticky handed or frosting coated friends and sit around the fire and have quiet conversation. Or they watch a movie after making dinner for all. All is calm, all is bright. And they drive themselves home. Bliss!

  5. I am not a parent so I am in awe of the complicated machinations today’s mothers have to go through. I’m almost 60 years old and played outside with my friends completely unsupervised and with no formal organization. I understand that for safety reasons, it’s imperative for play dates to be formed but I would find the pressure tough to take. You do a great job and your children are growing into caring and adorable young people.

  6. I am so grateful to my friends and acquaintances who hosted playdates in the last year or so (my son is almost 5)- it helped him immensely with socialization and he had fun at almost every one. Most were unstructured, at some the mom had some game ideas for the kids especially if the ages were varied. I hosted a few and honestly never thought to “plan” as Stephanie does other than making sure I had enough snacks/drinks that the children would enjoy (no, nothing homemade, no time, no desire, not expected) and making sure that the children (typically 3-5 year olds) played nicely together.
    My son was invited back to every house he visited so hopefully that’s a positive. I agree it’s more stressful than it was many years ago (I am an older mom) but I think she is creating much of the stress she writes about in her post. Or maybe it is that different on Long Island (I grew up nearby, for many years and my son’s playdates have been in Manhattan, down south where we are now and a few places in between. I cannot relate to the level at which she describes the planning/stress.

  7. I also don’t understand ‘play dates’. We just went over to our friends and played. If we wanted to go to a friend further away, a parent would take and fetch us. Other than that, they had little to do with it. There was no structure, no planning, no special catering. The supervising parent would just make sure we weren’t jumping off the roof or something, that’s all. Everything seems to be so over-engineered these days, doesn’t it.

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