My mummy friends and I used to meet in coffee shops when our babies were born. We would meet come rain or shine and huddle in corners catching up on our latest developments, sharing tips or war stories, keeping ourselves sane with humour and caffeine. In hindsight, the toughest thing about those meet ups was fitting in all the pushchairs.
By the time babies were three months old we had our list of meet up venues refined. There were easily half a dozen venues around town where we could park, were quiet enough for the most easily distressed little ones, were breast feeding friendly, did good coffee, had decent baby changing facilities and a choice of cakes and snacks. All of these things were supremely important because as new mums we only left the house laden down with changing bags, nappies, extra wipes, and an unnecessary number of clothes changes. We hadn’t got to the stage of slipping in a nappy and a pack of wipes into our handbag and nipping out to Asda.
These were our glory days in many ways because we actually got to talk. We had yet to officially stray into “play date” territory. Those meetings were all about us.
Of course, once babies started to sit up and become more mobile we moved into soft play phase. There was one particularly venue that worked for us because it had a lot of parking and was based in a Tesco so you could pop and get a few bits of shopping afterwards – or something to feed little one when weaning started. It was fun at first. They had an area for babies and crawlers which meant we could sit in there and justifiably leer at parents letting their older kids in, although thankfully they were few and far between. We sat in that penned in section with our emergency “soft play” socks on, delighting in our little ones playing together and whacking merry hell out of a toy xylophone.
Sadly, that phase didn’t last too long. As soon as little ones began walking we had to migrate to the toddler end. This is the dangerous end. Toddler is a pretty broad age range. It’s surprising how much self-control you can muster when a three year old comes over and knocks a toy out of your one year olds hands. This phase lasted no more than six months. The main reason was its practically impossible to talk to other mummy friends when your children both want to play in different areas and are now capable of wandering off all on their own. Now soft play tends to be a solitary activity, me and Small Boy when we want to fill an hour, and then only on a week day and never during school holidays – I’m not insane.
Little ones are now all two. Mums are working or managing a busy diary of classes and playgroups. Everyone has limited time. It’s difficult for us to find a day when our little group of mummy friends is completely free. We find time maybe once a month. Meet ups and play dates are now mostly limited to twos and threes. Where do they happen? At homes, and now often on the way from or two other activities or appointments. We used to all aim to arrive at the same time but now it’s an open house affair, “I’m free between 10am and 2pm, turn up whenever you like.” It’s a way that everyone’s schedules can be accommodated, including wide ranging nap and meal times.
It probably shouldn’t work but it does for the most part. It’s good for Small Boy as although he goes to nursery where he is with lots of children, he now has to be in close contact with just one or two at a time. He has to learn to share and it’s easier to wait your turn if there’s only a couple of you passing a toy about. It’s also easier to keep an eye on a couple of toddlers in the confined space of your lounge or garden. They like it too, they’ve got a little bit of freedom in albeit a small space. No toys are off limit. Everything is safe and child friendly. Mummy friends can sit on the floor or sofa and chat. Mummy can even go to the toilet while other Mummy entertains her kids.
I think I am enjoying this phase of play dates most of all. I’m not sure what will come next, Techniques or adventure playgrounds I suppose, but I hope I can eek this one out for as long as possible.