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Love In the Time of Playdates

Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby

I promise you, I didn’t see it coming—the explosion of hormones, giggling fits and blushed cheeks that would come when I innocently invited a few of my daughter, Mari’s (female) classmates to play with her and her (male) cousins. Up until that very day, the girls and the boys were equal-opportunity masters of fun; toss a couple of soccer balls, some sidewalk chalk, hula hoops, walkie-talkies and scooters into the mix, and nothing could get in the way of a good time—not even the “ew” factor of playing with the opposite gender.

But on this particular day, things were, well, different. A classmate who’d never before been over, bounced into our house, got a gander of Mari’s super-cute cousin (my nephew), Miles, and, within minutes, changed the whole tenor of the play date. If she wasn’t in his face asking him all kinds of questions—“How old are you?” “When did you get braces?” “Do you have an e-mail account?”—she was off in a corner somewhere, whispering and conspiring about her next moveAnd, get this: my daughter was goading her on, acting as a broker between her cousin and her new friend. “Well if you want to talk to him, then talk to him—what’s the big deal?” she said. “I’ll go get him if you want.”

Um, yeah. They were 10.

The next 15 minutes were a blur; I remember lots of hushed talks with Mari about “inappropriate” conversations and “acceptable dating ages.” I also remember my daughter calmly telling her friend it was time to go home, escorting her to the door and returning to help me finish dinner in the kitchen. She was extremely apologetic about the turn of events, yet surprisingly unruffled. Girls, she explained, like boys and boys like girls and some even call each other girlfriend and boyfriend, though it’s just a name, not a call to action. “I find a few boys attractive,” she added. “But I’m not really interested in any of them.”

“That’s interesting,” I mustered as Mari’s cool-as-you-please attitude extinguished the fire in my gut. “But you’re all 10, and that is much too young for any girl to date a boy. So you know your friend won’t be able to come back anytime soon, right?”

And at that moment, in our silence, both my Mari and I came to an understanding about an impending truth: we are at the beginning stages of that dance—the delicate tug-of-war between age-appropriate attraction to the opposite gender and all-out boy craziness.  This is also when it becomes especially crucial for her dad and me to help her pick friends who are dancing to the same tempo—kids who know that 10-year-olds have many more years ahead of them before the boy-crazies set in.

And while I am happy to help, the beauty of Mari is that she already seems to have a sense of this and has confidence in herself and her decisions.  In fact, she’d already decided that her classmate probably wouldn’t make a good best friend. After all, some of Mari’s favorite people are boys—her big brother, her big brother’s friends, her daddy and especially Miles, her best friend from birth – but this classmate didn’t have the confidence to muster enough words to have a full conversation with one. To Mari, boys are just people—people who can be every bit as fun and interesting as girl friends, so why would she want to be friends with someone who didn’t understand this?

After Mari’s friends-no-more friend left and she finished helping me in the kitchen, she challenged Miles to a raucous game of Secret Agent Guys. Lots of running, giggling, plotting and more giggling was involved, and the intensity that the friends-no-more friend ushered into the room was instantly, miraculously lifted. Mari’s world where boys-are-just-boys and girls-are-just-girls and “boys and girls can do innocent kid things without having to worry about all that other complicated boy/girl stuff” returned.

There will, after all, be plenty of time for the more complicated stuff, and when that time comes, I think Mari will handle it with the same grace and confidence she showed this time.

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