WARNING: This is the most boring thing I have ever written. Read at your own risk.
A few weeks back we had two very different experiences at the same awesome location, the Artesani Wading Pool. Alas, they confirmed something I'd been kind of trying to deny to myself ever since I had a second child: We're done with destination play-dates, at least for now.
When I had just one child, destination play-dates were about the best thing ever (until the "time to go home" tantrum, anyway). Bringing Matthew to a cool new place like Boston Children's Museum or The Aquarium hit all the marks: It exposed him to new things, he had a blast, it took up a lot of time, and it tired him out for a long nap. And I got to chat with a friend, albeit in that constantly disrupted, fragmented conversation to which managing toddlers lends itself.
Then I added a baby to the equation. Maybe the best way to elaborate further is a side-by-side comparison of our two Artesani trips.
Leaving the House: For the play date, SUPER high stress trying to align all the right stars to get out of the house anywhere near the time we were going to meet up. Honestly, when you have a baby who is nursing (but won't nurse in public), on messy solids, and napping, it's a real challenge to go anywhere. Add a potty-training toddler and for real, every outing is just assumed to have at least one major mishap. Trying to "time" all of these things - naps, feedings, preparing food to bring for an entire morning, pottying, etc. - is not conducive to an enjoyable day. To be clear, the mom I was meeting is a complete sweet heart and she has two similar-aged kids and totally understands - I'm pretty sure I got there first, in spite of my own tardiness. Still... stressful!
On our own: A nice, normally-stressful morning as we took our sweet time pushing and prodding those stars to line up so we could get out of the house.
Arriving on the Scene: The Artisani wading pool cannot be reached without walking past two scorching hot parks. Torture for any high-energy toddler. I managed to corral him to the water area where we were meeting, by some miracle. But it all came back to haunt me when he snuck out the pool gate as someone else was coming in and make a beeline for the park, leaving me, my wet baby, my shoes, and all our stuff at the pool.
On our own: Happily let my toddler check out the parks on our way in, and conclude on his own that it was way too hot out to play on them.
Experiencing the Playdate: In accordance with the Natural Laws of Parenting, I ended up setting our camp at the opposite end of the pool from the play date. Brilliant. Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation with another adult while you are watching your 9 month old at your feet, your toddler who is swimming all over the pool, and your stuff that's across the way? Multitasking misery.
On our own: Set up camp right by the shallowest area for Claire to splash in. She splashed by my feet, I kept an eye on Matthew, and I just sort of ignored our stuff. Much easier.
Maintaining Semblance of Control: This is the real kicker. My sweet toddler boy can be quite the challenge and he knows that my hands are tied in public, with a baby. The bottom line is that I need to be able to credibly threaten that we leave and go home, and I can't do that if other people have put in the effort to meet us out and about in Boston. The day we had a playdate, his behavior escalated until finally I had to carry him back to the car, while pushing the stroller, because he was having a flailing tantrum and once that happens there's no turning back (he literally screamed the entire way home in the car, which was a good 20 minutes... that's more incredible than it sounds on paper). The day it was just us and he started taking off his swim suit as soon as we got there, I simply told him that they don't allow people to use the pool naked and we would have to leave if he couldn't keep his suit on. That didn't work, but packing up our stuff and starting to walk out did.
So there you have it. A pretty boring blog entry on why we're through with destination play dates for now. That only took two months to write!