Play dates: Do not get involved!


I lingered awkwardly in the kids’ bedroom.

The Boy’s New Friend had arrived for a playdate and with the Girl’s overenthusiastic help they had already pulled out all the Busy Books, all the Sylvanian family furniture and most of the cuddlies. I made micro-adjustments to the Sylvanian house and picked up some discarded socks. It really was time for me to leave them to it.

“You are not allowed in there,” The Boy announced imperiously to his friend, pointing at a shut door.

“Why not?” she wanted to know. She had not shown any interest in the door until then, but the Boy had sparked her curiosity.

“That’s Mummy and Daddy’s room. They don’t want friends to go in there. Only us. When they call us.”

I was listening in from the landing where I was fiddling with washing I had already hung out to dry. I was itching to jump in and make corrections to his pronouncements, which made us sound like crazy dictators. I was already imagining how this would sound when inevitably his friend would report back at home, Chinese whispers style.

I hurried to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Soon, the children came down as well and the Boy and his friend sat down at the table to do some drawing.

“Did you know you are made of atoms?” I heard the Boy say. Then with a swift change of tack: “Did you know that two sheep can get together and make a baby sheep?”

I was on the sofa in the other room, staring at my book, trying to make myself relax. It was impossible not to listen. Over the course of the next few hours, I heard the Boy tell jokes with no punchline, casually discuss death and religion, give dodgy science lessons and tell his guest that she was playing wrong.

With this last one, I finally felt I was allowed, nay, obligated to step in. “Don’t be bossy! You can’t tell other children how to play.”

More and more, since the Boy has started school, I have had to come to terms with the fact that he spends most of his time outside of my direct supervision. Listening to him chat away today made me realise with cold dread: He could be saying anything to anyone. He is out there in the world, potentially sounding bossy, precocious, pretentious, being insensitive or inappropriate and making us or himself sound a bit strange. He might be messing up what could be good friendships by acting more crazy than the other person likes. Or by being inflexible about how to play, or by crying every time he bumps his shoulder into a door frame. And I am not there to see or control it.

A terrifying thought.

And suddenly I feel a rush of sympathy for my mother’s irritated exclamations when my brother or I did not perform as expected in company.

“What business is it of yours?” I wanted to shout.

But I feel that ache now, of being separated from a small person that you invested in and brooded over for many years, trying to give them everything you thought they needed to do well in life. Not to repeat the same mistakes you did. To have everything you loved and avoid the things that caused you pain when you were growing up.

I realise that I can’t control this mad flutter of inexperienced wings on their maiden voyage, slowly flying down, on what may often seem like a collision course with the ground. And that is right and good. I can explain and I can demonstrate, but the rest must come with experience, with developing instinct. While he is learning that, there are going to be falls and disasters.

All we can do is put good stuff in and hope it will come out at the right moments.



3 year old sleepovers

IMG_3011 (3)On the way home from pre-school today, the Girl (3) started arranging play dates from the back seat. I should add that this was completely unprompted by me – clearly these were plans she had been hatching by herself for some time, judging by the level of detail.

Girl: “Mummy, Rosie B. has to come for a play at our house and then for a sleepover the day after tomorrow.”

Me: “Right. Maybe she should just come for a play first. Rosie has never been to our house before, so she might be a bit scared to stay overnight.”

Girl: “But she can sleep next to me, where my cuddlies are, so she doesn’t need to be scared, and I’d switch my turtle light on, so she won’t need to be scared. And then she can come for a sleepover!”

I am very touched by her concern for this girl who is apparently a new and treasured friend, but gently insist that just a simple play date would be fine at first.

Girl: “Alright Mummy, when we get home you can ring Rosie’s Mummy and tell her to come and play and then after that she can come for a sleepover.”

In my head I am imagining what the Girl and Rosie might be like together at pre-school. Have they become close friends this term? I ask her if they sat together at lunch and what they play together, but the Girl’s brain is still whirring on the play date problem. Before long another solution presents itself.

“Okay Mummy, let’s ask Lily, the one with the white hair, to come for a sleepover. She doesn’t get scared.”

How foolish of me. Obviously, the important thing was the sleepover, not the friend.

Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper were 3 once

The Boy has once again snatched one of his sister’s toys. He was very happy playing with the Duplo, building a house that would not stand up, until he heard the tell-tale sounds of his sister having fun. He came to see what she was playing with and took it off her so he could play with it instead.

When I take the toy piano away from him and return it to The Girl, telling him she had it first and it is not kind to snatch, he grabs it back and says: “But I want it.” His tone implies: now that you know this, surely you will back down from your ridiculous position and let me have the toy.

A few moments later, the Boy is wailing in time out for trying to hit Mummy and not listening, the Girl has abandoned the piano in favour of smashing up the one-walled Duplo house, and I am in the kitchen nursing a headache. Amidst the pain and the screaming, I have an epiphany: this is the time in his life when the Boy learns not to be a sociopath.

All the seeds for a life of narcissism or crime are there in the three year old mind. The snatching incident demonstrates an “I want it, therefore I should have it” attitude, but there is more evidence that a three year old is a budding psychopath, depending on you and only you to stop him before it is too late.

I did a little test once, to see if I was a psychopath. You can do it too, here:

You are at a funeral. At this funeral, the daughter/son (pick preferred gender) of the deceased catches your eye. You have a wonderful day with them. You have great conversations and really click, and you are starting to think you might be falling in love. Afterwards you keep thinking about them. You want to see them again. How do you go about arranging this?

I’ll give you a moment to think.




What was your answer? If it was: I’d phone them the very next day, you’re fine. If you had I’d phone them every day until they agreed to come on a date, that too is fine, you are perfectly normal. Was it: I’d find out everything I could about them on the Internet and get involved in all their weekly activities? Don’t worry, I did the same when I met my husband. Stalking is absolutely fine.

So what’s the wrong answer then? If your first thought was: I would kill his/her sister, then you are a psychopath. Your sick brain seems to think that your best chance of seeing this wonderful person again is by replicating the circumstances of your first, successful encounter, and so you think the best way to orchestrate that is by killing another relative.

Nobody thinks like this, you say?

Just the other day, my son had a friend to lunch. The last time this little boy came to visit was maybe three months ago. I had the kids sitting at the table and was about to bring in the scrambled eggs on toast, when our perfectly behaved guest said very calmly: “I am ready for my pancakes.” I suddenly remembered that pancakes was what I had served up three months ago at his last visit. The poor little boy had been looking forward to more pancakes ever since the play date was set up. I decided to play it cool and breezy.

“I’m sorry, but it’s eggs today,” I said as I brought in the plates.

“I don’t like eggs,” he said quietly, struggling to contain his disappointment.

I felt terrible and gave him an extra yoghurt.

My son does the same thing. When I tell him he is going for a play date at his friend N’s house, he will excitedly start to tell me what they will do: “Yes! I go to N’s house, and we play with Cuddly Milly and Cuddly Bot and we watch Team Umizoomi and then we play with trains!”

It makes perfect sense to the three year old mind. This is what we did last time and we had fun. Why mess with a good thing? Let’s have the same play date over and over!

Other worrying trends I have noticed are his overenthusiastic affection.

“I just giving N a hug!” he insists when I intervene.

“That is very nice, but you were squishing her, and she didn’t like it any more. You can tell, because she was saying stop and trying to push you away.”

‘No means no’ starts earlier than you think.

And then there is the classic walking in the Grey Area of the Law. I tell my son he can’t swing the red blanket around or he’ll knock something over or hurt someone. So, watching me out of the corner of his eyes, he will swing the blanket – a little bit.

“What are you doing?” I demand.

“I just gently swinging the blanket,” he says.

When I confiscate the blanket there are outraged tears. He wasn’t doing anything wrong! I am starting to feel like he is a genie in a lamp or worse, a lawyer, and I have to word my prohibitions and instructions with extreme care, excluding any other options, limiting and delineating precisely what behaviour is okay and what will incur penalties, or else he will be through those loopholes like a shot.

So, this is where the magic happens. This is where we teach empathy, respect for other people’s feelings, bodies and possessions, delayed gratification, respect for authority and altruism.

This is where we teach them to subjugate their desires to their will and their will to their conscience.

This is where they learn that collecting little keepsakes from your friends is not cute, it’s creepy, and that playing the violin on your own in your room ultimately leads to a sad and lonely life.

violin with sheet music

C-section, live.

Yesterday, I had the tremendous privilege of being a good friend’s birth partner. This was the first time I had ever done anything like it, and it also happened to be a planned caesarean, something of which I had no experience either. So, naturally, I had to write a poem about it. This one is for you, M.



All I can see is your head
You are strapped to a bed
with what looks like pink parcel tape.

You smile and shiver while unseen
doctors work behind a screen:
to us they’re only sound and shape.

We chat about sci-fi and fantasy
and agree to disagree,
then we fall silent, you close your eyes.

On three hours sleep, you’re looking worn
and out of sight your child is born,
breaking the hush with disgruntled cries.

Birth for me was full of stress,
full of noise and blood and mess.
This gentle stillness is quite new.

I cuddle your daughter, hold her up,
as invisible doctors stitch you up,
and I look at calm and glowing you.

for sharing these first moments
as a mother of two.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2014

Don’t stop here! Look on Prose for Thought for inspiring poetry and prose from talented bloggers.

Write your own poetry

On Tuesday mornings I go to a lovely parenting group in my local area. The aim is to give busy parents a bit of peace and that is exactly what I get from it: we stick the kids in the creche and enjoy a couple of hours of tea and adult conversation. When it first started, we had in depth discussions on parenting issues that troubled us, sometimes even with visiting speakers. Slowly, our program started to lean more towards just chilling out and doing fun things, and this year we have started taking turns sharing our skills with the group. There has been crochet, earring and bracelet making, calligraphy, cake decorating and many more strange and wonderful things.

This week it was my turn, so of course I did a poetry workshop. We wrote shopping lists and turned them into poems, described a friend and wrote rhymes to accompany Christmas presents.

I asked if anyone was willing to share what they wrote with the wider world, and three of the women kindly obliged:


by Sam

She bursts through the door with her serious face,
her hands moving all over the place.
A little irate she feels this morning
as so far the day has been quite boring.
It doesn’t take long for a smile to appear
She really is funny, it’s just not that clear.

Long Lost Friend

by POG

In the pub car park.
Reading my book.
Ah, now here’s the text,
“Sorry, running late”.
A car speeds in.
A flash of bright scarf.
Haven’t seen for years
But just the same.

My Small Companion

by ACB

Our special time
Protected space
Your cheeky grin

A pile of books
My welcome lap
Quietly sucking fingers

Just one more book
Persistent plea
My boundary pusher

Finish my sentence
Faces, funny voices
My entertainer

My small companion

My own poem describing a friend is about the lovely woman who runs and supports the Tuesday group. If you are reading this, we all love you and really appreciate everything you give to us.

Selfless Centre

Through the door
we walk, she stands
a cup of tea for you in her hands
Thoughtful, she asks:
“How was the night?
Did your daughter sleep alright?”
She remembers and she cares

We craft we chat
We moan we laugh
And she is there
Listening always
Tactful, fair,
She treasures everything we share.

We say goodbye at the door
and only in the car
– key in the ignition – do I recall
I did not ask about her
at all.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Write your own poetry: Try this at home!

If you want to have a go at writing a poem about a friend, even if you have never written anything before in your life, try this:

1. Think of someone you know. Write down about 8 key words to describe them. Those can be character traits, catch phrases they say all the time, a hobby you share, a place you associate with them.

2. Look at your keywords and try to cull them down to 5. Cross out any words that are too similar to another key word, or that you think don’t really fit with the rest.
My key words for our lovely group leader were:


3. Give your five word poem a title. Avoid using the name of the person you are describing. Instead, try and think of a word or phrase that sums them up – or at least the image of them that you are portraying in your poem. I chose “Selfless Centre”, to sum up the idea that came out of the words that our friend is always at the centre of the group, supporting us without asking for anything back.

4. Now use these five words as a draft, a basis for writing something new. Think of a situation you can see your friend in – real or imagined. Describe the situation in a poem, so that it expresses the same image of your friend. In my poem, as you can see, I express the concepts of welcoming, serving, supporting and so on by painting a picture of what she does on a Tuesday morning in a very concrete way. In her poem, Sam managed to literally work most of her original words (eg. irate, serious, funny) into her description of her friend and POG has very simply but effectively sketched herself waiting to meet an old friend.

Have a go! You could even post what you write in the comments below…

Read poetry from other bloggers over at Prose for Thought, hosted by Victoria Welton.

Skeletons at Midnight

An old poem this week. I spent a wonderful evening  with a friend once sharing all the gory details of our past with each other, something we hadn’t done yet although we had been friends for a while. The Boy wasn’t around yet, but she had quite recently had her first child. We got so involved in each other’s stories that at one point she said: “For a moment I forgot I had a baby upstairs!” When I got home I wrote this for her.

Skeletons at Midnight

behind the door was not
the shallow grave of dead secrets

but Narnia

Deeper now, and richer
are the colours of your face
against this backdrop.

These chords I hear
for the first time
change the meaning of the melody
that you are to me.

And here, for you, is my symphony.

These former selves are not us
just trailing shadows that lead
to now
and who we are
and will be:

two women
on a couch at midnight
with a cup of tea.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2010