Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Playdate Conundrum

I need to start this post by just saying how much I love the word conundrum. Say it slowly...isn't it beautiful??

Okay, now that I've gotten that off my we are, smack dab in the middle of summer, and Ethan's been driving me up a wall begging for a playdate with a friend from school.

This in itself is awesome. He has a friend (several, actually)! He misses him! For years Ethan seemed to only tolerate kids other than Anna or his cousins. Okay, so he wants the friend to come over so they can play Wii together, but still.

We'll call him "Bob," since that's the random boy name Anna assigns to male creatures. Ethan's known Bob since kindergarten. He's attended his birthday parties. He was on Ethan's baseball team a few times. I've chatted with his mom, in that polite, classroom-moms-chatting sort of way.

For the last weeks of school, Ethan kept asking for Bob to come over, and I kept forgetting about it. When I saw Bob's mom at a school event I knew I HAD to get her contact information so I could set something up over the summer. She sheepishly admitted she wasn't really a computer person and the best way to reach her was to call. She gave me a number. I made sure to enter it into my phone instead of scribbling it on a random wrapper and losing it in my purse, the way I usually do.

Then we went away for two different weeks and Ethan had VBS and swimming lessons and finally this week he remembered Bob and insisted he HAD to have a playdate this week, that it wasn't fair, that Anna had seen her friends several times this summer.

I knew he was right. I said I'd call the next day.

"Why not now?" he demanded.

"It's past nine o'clock. I don't like to call people much past eight."

The next morning, he bounded down the stairs at 6 a.m. and wanted to know if I'd called yet.

"You can't call people this early. It's not polite." I realized we had to have a little chat about appropriate phone usage. More than that, we really need to sit down with Ethan and practice having him dial and talk on the phone.

That afternoon I dialed Bob's mom and listened as it went straight to voice mail. I left a message. Three minutes later, Ethan was at my side. "Did she call back yet?"

"Give it time, Eeth."

About hourly after that, Ethan asked if I'd heard anything. In school, as part of the social skills curriculum, they learn about a character named Rock Brain who gets "stuck" on certain ideas and can't let them go. I could see we'd entered Rock Brain territory. I also had no idea what to do about it.

"Why can't you call her back?" Ethan asked that evening.

"Ethan, we have to give her more time. I can't leave a message and just call back a few hours later. They might have been away this weekend. Maybe she doesn't check her voice-mail that often."

Once again, I realized we had delved into a whole new territory with unspoken rules. This was a doozy: how persistent to be when trying to make plans with someone? Stories of over-eager, well-meaning people on the spectrum who couldn't take no for an answer and were ridiculed danced in my mind. Anna voiced my concerns, in her own way:

"Ethan, you can't have mom keep calling that woman. It'll be weird. She'll think she's a stalker."

I tried to explain a little about why we shouldn't pester people non-stop when we're trying to reach them. I'm not sure how much sunk in, but the next morning, at 6 a.m., Ethan demanded: "You have to call her again!"

"Let's give it until the end of the day," I begged off, checking my phone again for any missed messages.

Throughout the day Ethan bemoaned the unfairness of Anna getting to see friends while he couldn't. I offered up other ideas. There was another friend he hadn't seen for a while -- what if they got together? Rock Brain wasn't having it. This certain friend knew how to play both of his favorite games on Wii, and that's what he wanted to do. That was it.

The following morning I left another message that went straight to voice-mail. I wondered: was this even the right number? There was no identifying info in the message. Had I even written the number down correctly? Where was this woman??

Another day dragged by. More interrogation by Ethan. No return calls.

"WHY can't you find her so I can play with him?!" Ethan wailed at one point. "With Anna you set up playdates so quickly."

"Well then tell your friend's mom to get into the 21st century and go online to interact with people!" I shouted back, exasperated.

"There's only one thing left to do. We're going to have to go to his house," Ethan said earnestly. I could just imagine that...Googling these people, attempting to figure out their address in town, scoping out the house and meandering to the front door. Ummm, no.

"There are other friends you can play with..." I started again.

"No! I really want to see HIM!"

"You can't be this inflexible and then be upset when it's not working out!!" I tried to explain, tired. Summers have a way of doing that to mothers.

I said it before and I'll say it again -- I'm so grateful he even wants to play with another kiddo. And we've been blessed to have two boys his age who live in the houses right next door. They just happen to be away right now, I think. And Ethan just happens to want to have one certain type of play with one certain person right now.

We are about to head up to Maine (in the words of Ethan: "Awww. Now I don't get to play Wii!!"). The quest for "Bob" will be temporarily suspended. But I'm pretty sure I know what's going to happen when we return, especially if Anna starts getting together with friends...

"...But what about MY playdate?"

"But his mom's not responding to my messages. What about another friend?"

"No. I only want THIS friend."

"...then you can't have a playdate."

"Then it's not fair!"

That's the conundrum. Ahhh, how I love that word.

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