Monthly Archives: August 2013

Playdates and sleepovers

My single friends complain about bad dates and the shortage of available men. I find it hard to relate to their experiences because dating is so far in my past I was still using old-fashioned letters to write to my overseas boyfriend when I was last courting.

But now that I’ve turned into a parent I’ve come to the realization that playdates can be just as awful as sitting through a meal with a man who only talks about himself and doesn’t listen to you. Or one who has bad table manners.

I don’t know when the word ‘playdate’ entered a parent’s vocabulary, but it seems to be the thing to do with children who have more active social lives than some adults. I was initiated into playdates some years ago when my toddler did nothing more active than sit on a floor and bang tupperware.

But as she’s got older, her playdates have progressed from an hour or two in someone’s house to hosting entire afternoons with cackling girls who need entertaining and an endless supply of food.

It’s bad enough trying to keep my two children from engaging in some destructive activity, but it’s worse when you add a third person into the equation. An entire television show was built around the premise that three is a crowd.

With three girls, everything is fraught with an undercurrent of tension. It’s like the Cold War being enacted in your living room.

The little one feels left out of the older girls’ games. They fight about everything, from doing their hair to playing in a ‘secret hiding place’. I end up as a referee with a perpetually loud shriek. It’s not attractive. If I raise my voice, I get accused by the kids of being ‘an angry elf’. They find this teasing hysterical; I try to keep it from turning me into Stalin in the last days of the Second World War.

One of the only positive things about a playdate, as far as I can tell, is that you might one day get someone to take your kids to their house for an afternoon, leaving you blissfully child-free. Reciprocation is what you must hold out for.

Of course, nothing is truly as bad as The Sleepover. Someone seriously made an error in relating this overnight activity to sleep because very little sleep tends to occur.

I loved slumber parties as a child, but I’ve come to regard them as an evil invention as an adult. My six-year-old has starting asking for them, and I’ve finally had to relent after months of procrastination.

So there I am, on the night of The Sleepover, sitting through an excruciatingly long evening in which the children don’t listen to me, and I might as well be talking to a pot plant. The four-year-0ld – one of the worse eaters on the planet – takes a dislike to her macaroni and cheese and ends up spitting it on her plate after about an hour of force feeding and threats.

Our guest for the night had previously told me – on one of her numerous playdates – that she was a vegan. Choosing to believe that she has no idea what a vegan is, I fed her the same macaroni and cheese (at least it was organic).

It’s no wonder I’m reminded of bad dates with men; but at least with those you can make an excuse after a couple of hours.

With The Sleepover, you are in it for the long haul. In fact, it’s the worst kind of bad date – the one that continues into the morning.

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Hip hop concert in Los Angeles

Run the Jewels album cover

The cover of album Run the Jewels.
Don’t ask me what it means.

There are certain things in life that you gradually start discarding as you get older. One of these is going to concerts where you have to stand for the entire show, jumping around to music while you clutch a plastic cup of beer. I prefer going to dinner and comfortably sitting through the whole thing.

So when my brother mentions a hip hop concert in Los Angeles with underground rappers in a new venue in Echo Park, I want to laugh.

‘I need to know if I should buy you a ticket,’ he says.

I don’t want a ticket, but I need a ride to Los Angeles and this is my best opportunity.

‘I don’t know,’ I answer hesitantly. ‘Will it be dangerous?’

When I went to college in Los Angeles in the 90s, Echo Park was in gangster territory, the war equivalent of no-man’s land. You only went there if you wanted drugs or if you had a death wish. When my friend’s car got stolen some years ago, it ended up in Echo Park. I didn’t want to be some sad statistic on the local news: 40-year-old mother-of-two attends hip hop concert and ends up shot in gang fight.

I have visions of being sprawled on the floor, dressed in my Macy’s jeans and Crocs shoes.

‘It’s not going to be dangerous,’ he laughs. ‘Echo Park is really yuppie now. Most of the people there will be young hipsters.’

It’s hard to know who I should fear more – the gangsters with baggy jeans or the cool hipsters who casually throw together mismatched clothes like some people are able to throw together a gourmet meal with three ingredients. At my age it’s hard to know.

‘Fine, buy me a ticket,’ I say with little conviction. Turning 40 has made me realize that I don’t have much time before I genuinely look ridiculous in certain settings. Seize the moment.

A few days later we are in the car, heading towards Los Angeles and our big concert night. I’m feeling anxious. Part of my anxiety derives from the fact that my wardrobe choices are limited in San Diego. I packed in a hurry and ended up with only one sweater, a creamy cotton thing with a shaggy fringe on the pockets. It looks like a ‘mother’ sweater, a wardrobe staple I’d wear to the park but would be embarrassed to wear anywhere else.

‘Maybe someone will think you are making an ironic statement,’ my brother says when he sees the sweater, which I’ve paired with my plastic Crocs shoes in a leopard print.

I’m doubtful.

We drive up to the Echoplex in a grungy LA cab and I realize I had nothing to worry about. The outside patio is strung with cute lights; a number of white men, mostly in their late twenties and early thirties, are hanging out in American Apparel hoodies. They only know gangsters from movies which they possibly produced.

The opening act is Despot, a white diminutive rapper from Queens – but we find out that he’s not on until 10.30pm. We exchange dismayed looks. It’s not even 9pm and I’m already yawning. We debate leaving, but we can’t come back in.

So there’s nothing to be done but to start drinking and it costs $35 for each round of three drinks. Two long hours later, Despot makes it to the stage in a shirt that could rival my sweater. It looks like a bad holiday souvenir that inexplicably has Italian Riviera written on the back. I think he is being ironic.

To my surprise, I like Despot. He’s funny, clever and engaging. He actually talks to the audience and says much more than the standard ‘Hello Los Angeles’. His raps focus on the stereotypical aspects of gang life – drugs, buying fast cars and watches, drugs – but you get the feeling he doesn’t really believe in it.

Finally, at 12.45am, headline act Run the Jewels comes on. The act is a collaboration between EL-P and Killer Mike. Both are talented hip-hop veterans whose eponymous record received near-universal acclaim from music critics. I’m starting to flag after my seventh vodka soda, but my brother is happy (a rarity) and his girlfriend is laughing. I don’t know why the rappers yank off their chunky gold chains and start rapping about running the jewels, but I blend in with the crowd by screaming some of the words back to them. I’m kind of just making them up.

Tonight was a lesson in being middle-aged. Go out of your comfort zone once in a while. It’s too easy to get stuck in a rut. Shame my rap revelation had to cost us about $300 in drinks, cabs and tickets.

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Filed under American life, Going out