Zachary takes play dates quite seriously. He plans them out in his head, thinking of all the things he wants to do with his friend, and imbues them with tremendous significance. Then he crashes and burns ten minutes in. The anticipation exhausts him before it even starts.
Can’t wait to see this child on actual dates someday.
We have learned to manage the anticipation, both by waiting to tell him about play dates and by keeping him calm and distracted in the moments before. But, lately, play dates that take place at our house implode for a different reason: the other children steadfastly refuse to do whatever Zachary tells them to do.
Now, I know that the bossiness might be a manifestation of his social bewilderment, and I get that an extrovert with social anxiety is drinking a mighty strong cocktail. I just wish he would stop going ballistic every time he does not get his way.
Like me, he does better with social occasions at other people’s houses or in a neutral spot, and he certainly is more in control if his two-year-old brother is not around. But, I have three kids, and that means sometimes he has to have the play date at home with Benjamin there to pester him.
Sometimes the other child’s mother tries to offer him a suggestion, which is especially effective if she cuts me off in the middle of telling him that no, he cannot scream at his friend for wanting to play with the Lincoln Logs. When he is over-stimulated, you can imagine how well he responds to two adults talking to him at the same time.
What works the best, of course, is when the other child has the ability to deal with it herself. Such was the case a few weeks ago, when we had a play date with five-year-old twin girls. Set aside for the moment the crude jokes about male fantasies and a pair of older women; Zachary likes these girls a lot. I like their mother. And the girls like him, although I suspect they might sometimes be using him to get to his baby sister.
When they arrived, he wanted to serve them a snack. They had already snacked in the car. Seven seconds into the play date and we were on a collision course with a meltdown. I tried to compromise with him, but he insisted that they all were to sit down and eat a snack together.
“But, baby, they aren’t hungry,” I explained, completely exasperated.
“Actually,” one of the girls piped up, “I’m a little hungry.”
As I sliced up a pear for this little girl and an apple for my son, I filed away a thank you to the gods who had arranged for his friend to find a smidgen of hunger inside herself. Five minutes later, Zach got down from the table and went to proceed to the next social landmine, and this little girl turned to her mother, whispering her guilty secret. “I wasn’t really hungry,” she confessed.
And, heaven help me, but I was just a little jealous of my friend for how proud she could be of her child’s desire to set someone else at ease.