Well, cleaning up a leak at a nuclear reactor, dealing with an explosion at a paint factory, just about anything really.
Something happens to small children on play dates. There is a tribal ritual at work. Anthropologists should study play dates. Or they should study my daughter’s play dates. Think of Planet of the Apes with snacks, cakes and too much blackcurrant juice.
My home turned into Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. I’m sure I was pulling them down from the ceiling at one point and telling them to stop picking the fleas from their hair. I was no longer lord of the manor, but lackey of the mangroves, supplying food to the cackling macaques swinging from my curtains.
It really is the safety in numbers. Their ranks are bolstered. They sense their superiority. There are more of them and less of you. They could take you out at a play date. If it was the end of the world and we had to resort to cannibalism to stay alive, the kids would devour the adults. They’d fill the fuel tanks with Ribena and kill us all.
Play dates disrupt the subtle power balance. If my daughter asks to make a camp with her parents’ bed sheets, her request will probably be rejected. She’s outnumbered two to one. But at the play date, we had no choice but to sit back as every sheet, pillow case, duvet and mattress in the apartment ended up in the hallway so the three girls could practice their gymnastics.
I had just returned from a strenuous session with the physio for a damaged knee and fancied a quick lie down. But it’s hard to relax when your mattress has been taken by a kid you barely know and she’s doing cartwheels past you in the corridor.
As she flipped past me, I was greeted by a pair of feet and a distant voice saying, “hello, Mr Humphreys,” as she made her away along what used to be the contents of my bed.
Their swelled ranks at play dates inspire confidence. My daughter will always ask for sugary treats and will usually get the same negative reply. But when she is the nominated member for the masses and they’re threatening to storm the gates if something high-fat, high-sugar and highly processed isn’t shoved into their gobs immediately, it’s a different story.
“Daddy, can I have another cake,” she asked.
“No, you had one at lunch. That’s enough,” I replied.
“But it’s not just for me. My friends want a cake as well.”
I was instantly greeted by three pairs of sad, imploring eyes as I somehow turned from a responsible father into a grotesque Dickensian villain.
Had I been blessed with any backbone, I might have stood firm. But I succumbed to the superficial concerns of the modern parent. I didn’t want to be the Dad who didn’t feed the kids at a play date.
I pictured the other parents prodding each other in the school playground as I passed, nodding in my direction and saying: “There goes Scrooge. He wouldn’t even give my little girl a tiny cupcake, the tight-fisted old goat. She came home starving and behaving like a monkey. She spent all night picking at my hair looking for fleas.”
So I caved. They raided the kitchen. They soared on the sugar rush. They went nuts. Every household appliance, piece of furniture, item of clothing, toy, book and half-eaten cupcake was picked up, dumped somewhere else and immediately forgotten about. It was like employing the world’s worst removals company.
Had a gang of burglars turned up later in the evening and ransacked the place, I wouldn’t have noticed.
But my daughter’s unbridled joy made it worthwhile. She loved playing at her home with her peers in a way that’s impossible for
her parents to replicate. There was maybe a few too many puerile “poo poo” and “wee wee” jokes for my tastes. I know I didn’t make those kinds of jokes with my friends until I was at university.
But she revelled in her free and easy, “anything goes” play date with her class mates. At bed time, our exhausted daughter thanked us for hosting such a fun day. She hugged me gratefully. I beamed with paternal pride.
And then, she asked if she could have another play date next week.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His latest Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island, is a No.1 national best-seller. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Men’s Health and Young Parents in Singapore. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.