The Three-Martini Play Date

Three Martini Playdate

Remember back in the day? Back when you blew your budget—if you even had one—on heels and happy hours rather than soccer camp and juice packs? Back when you could knock back an ice-cold martini or three and not have to worry about slurring your words come story time?

In her smart-alecky yet no-nonsense treatise The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting, author and mother Christie Mellor commiserates with parents everywhere. Equal parts self-help book and survival guide for moms and dads, her pseudo-parenting guidebook reads sort of like a Take Back the Day rally. “There is no shame in explaining to your children that they should go and find Something to Do, that the grown-ups are having grown-up talk, that they, the little children, need to go somewhere and be little children,” writes Mellor. Yet play they must. Which puts parents in the unenviable position of scheduling forced time with strangers and mustering polite chitchat with humans with whom they have nothing at all in common. Or, as Mellor defines it, “a play date.” (It should probably be noted that the witty writer says of this, “May the chipper mommy who coined that particular term forever rot in a hell of eternally colicky babies.”) A solution to this noxious situation does, however, exist. At least according to Mellor. Read on.—Renee Schettler Rossi

I realize that the days may be over when a mother could send her five-year-old out the door with a cheerful “Be back in time for dinner!,” secure in the knowledge that her little one would wander over to some friendly neighbor’s house and get in the hair of that friendly neighbor for a while. Those days were not only good for the mommies, they were good for the inquisitive pre-K child, who could learn the geography of the neighborhood, observe unfamiliar people in their habitats, and occasionally get accidentally locked in some interesting neighbor’s bathroom. A child could ask endless questions of an adult other than his parent, an adult who might find him enchanting, an adult who might think it a real treat to have him over for a chat and possibly a cookie. A child could run over to the Worcesters’ to play “house” with the Worcester girls, or up to the Breezebottoms to play “doctor” with little Stevie, or out into the middle of the street to play “spook” until it was time to come in for dinner.

In these modern times, we have the playdate. One must schedule one’s child for a date to play with another child, usually because the child likes playing with your child at preschool, and they think they can re-create the magic in a domestic setting. Sometimes he simply wants to see what kind of toys your child has been stockpiling, or he would like to show your child his own recent acquisitions.

Occasionally my husband and I find that we actually like the child, and we hope that the parents are tolerable, as we will be forced to sit in their house making interminable small talk while the children play. More often than not, we find we have nothing in common with these people, that they have invited us only because their sweet picklepuss wants our child to come over. Perhaps they are attempting to socialize their ill-behaved offspring by surrounding him with lots and lots of nice boys and girls, and are willing to hobnob with total strangers to accomplish this formidable task. The situation is frequently as awkward as a bad blind date, and one must endure a forced, often painful gab session, attempting to answer such questions as “So, what do you do?” while discussing the ins and outs of early childhood development. Aside from simply declining every invitation and being thought of as an unpleasant recluse who keeps one’s child a shut-in, these playdates must be reciprocated, and you will, sooner or later, be expected to sacrifice some otherwise fine and relaxing afternoons to entertaining a succession of people with whom you have no shared interests mother than the fact that your children like to play together.

In the spirit of The Philadelphia Story or Auntie Mame, when forced to entertain dull or insufferable fellow parents, show off your home milieu in the most eccentric possible light. Answer the door in an orange caftan, a cigarette dangling from a long, ivory-handled holder. If you are a nonsmoker, those fake herbal cigarettes that smell like burning hair are equally effective. Invite assorted “artist” types to visit “unexpectedly.” Encourage your musician friend to swing by with his accordion. Talk about how much you are repelled by the word and the very concept of the playdate, and as a last resort, bring up a controversial political or religious topic.

If your child plays well with this particular girl or boy but you really cannot bear to sit with the parent and discuss crafts projects for the preschool one more time, suggest that the parent leave the child and come back in a few hours, giving assurances that you’ll feed the kids a nutritious snack and watch them like a hawk. Try not to make the suggestion sound as if you find this parent the most dull conversationalist in the world and you really wish she would vacate the premises before your face cracks and you throw an ashtray through the window. Make it sound as if you want to give her the opportunity to get a few errands done or browse at the bookstore, and someday she may gratefully pay you back in kind. Chances are, if you are uncomfortable, she is too, and will eagerly take you up on the offer.

If you simply don’t have the energy to parade various unsavory artistic types or the heart to play your entire collection of Martin Denny Jungle Music, I have discovered an easy and fun solution for quickly weeding out the types of parents with whom you would rather not share your afternoons. When forced into a play date situation, invite the parents over around the cocktail hour. The cocktail hour may be an hour, more or less, around four o’clock, at which time I suggest you noisily and with much gusto mix up a cold batch of martinis. This is a surefire method of separating the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the nondairy soy alternative. If, after you have offered drinks all around, the visiting parents quickly gather the child and child-related paraphernalia and run silently from your house, enjoy your martini with the knowledge that these people were not the sort with whom you would want to embark upon a long-term play date relationship. If, however, their eyes light up and sighs of relief can be heard (as well as faintly audible whimpering noises), you may have the beginning of a workable alliance.

Difficulties occasionally arise when you do end up becoming fast friends with a child’s parents only to discover later that their spawn is a horrid brat who torments your child regularly, and whom your child cannot abide. Suggest to these unfortunate people that you all get baby-sitters and have an adult evening out. Enjoy yourselves while you can, as this type of adult relationship usually does not last long, unless their child grows out of his psychotic tendencies in a hurry. Once in a blue moon there is a happy confluence, and the best of all situations is achieved: a kind, thoughtful, and interesting child, blessed with parents of the same bent. You think they’re swell and, oddly enough, they seem to think the same of you. When one stumbles upon this ideal combination, relish it, and celebrate. Keep plenty of olives and ice on hand and have them over often. For a play date.

Our Little Tot’s First Martini

All young children should know how to make this delightful yet deceptively simple cocktail for their parents and other thirsty grown-ups who drop by around five o’clock. Glasses should be chilled ’til they’re icy cold, and when asking about garnish preference the child should sweetly inquire, “Olive or Twist?” Grownups will think he is making a funny literary joke, and then they’ll laugh, and maybe give him a nickel.–Christie Mellor

LC Surely They Jest Note

You may find yourself slightly appalled at the notion of children concocting cocktails for their legal guardians. Surely they jest, you think to yourself. (Shrug.) Don Draper wasn’t jesting when he schooled his daughter Sally in the ways of making a Tom Collins toward the end of Mad Men Season Two. But then, that’s just television. Or is it? As author Christie Mellor says, “Teach your youngster to say ‘Cheers’ at an early age, and he will be on the road to a successful social life!”

Special Equipment: Cocktail shaker

Martini Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 5 M
  • 5 M
  • Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 4 jiggers fine gin
  • Splash of dry vermouth
  • Olive or twist of lemon, or for a Gibson, a cocktail onion

Directions

  • 1. Chill two martini glasses.
  • 2. Fill a shaker to the brim with ice, and add the gin and vermouth. Gently shake, strain, and pour into the well-chilled glasses. Serve with an olive or twist of lemon or, for a Gibson, a cocktail onion.
Thirsty for more? Sip on these:

Christie Mellor

About Christie Mellor

Christie Mellor is the Los Angeles-based author and illustrator of The Three-Martini Playdate, The Three-Martini Family Vacation, and Fun Without Dick and Jane. She is an actress, singer, painter and mother of two.

Comments
Comments
  1. Sofia says:

    This article touched my heart in many ways. I do have two daughters and since becoming a mother I have noticed how this world of kids’ fun time has changed and how us adults and parents have such a tough time getting to know each other. I use food, cooking, and entertaining as my way of getting to know others. I have always had an open-door policy for kids and their parents to feel free to just show up, but have noticed especially in the past few years how it is all about committing to certain dates and days. Where have those old days gone where people would just barge in through the garage door unannounced and suddenly there would be three or four families hanging out, drinking, and eating? Or is it that WE are the weird people with different furniture, eclectic taste, paintings, and nude photos that scare some parents away? Is my Euro self too open-minded for the close mindedness of where we live? Do I scare people with what I serve to eat? Don’t spicy gizzards and fried smelts with their heads still attached sound appealing? Is it such a problem to have a toddler who loves to run around butt naked? Do we really need to start worrying so much about everything and everyone? Thanks for this post that made me very nostalgic. I laughed and it really made me think of nowadays life as a parent. And yes, I do need to make a martini more often—or ask my daughters to make me one!

    • Lindsay Myers says:

      For what it’s worth, Sofia, I love the families who stick to their fun, free lifestyle. I hope you find that it attracts the sort of people you genuinely enjoy spending time with!

  2. I love anything vintage and the 50′s are such a cute era!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      That they are, Colette! They say things come back again, we’re impatiently waiting for the martinis at lunch trend to return….

  3. Susan says:

    Oh, wow, this brought back memories! I was one of those lucky kids of that “cute” 50′s era! I had a blast (remember that term?) as a kid away from the controlling grasp of adults during the daylight hours when the day and the prospect of summer vacation loomed long but was always too short. (A time when childhood obesity was not even an issue!) I felt so sorry for my kids—for all kids really, who are reliant on the playmate, an appointment with fun, an hour or two ending all too soon, just as they were getting beyond the show-and-tell portion of the visit. So I chose to collect my kids and their friends and drive us all to a park so they could cut loose…and I could catch up on my reading. Alone to do our thing, at last! Maybe I would have had a cleaner house and less kids around here if I’d gone the three-martini route and bored myself, my children, and their friends “stiff”!

  4. Hey, all! Thanks for the lovely comments. I’m glad a new generation of parents is reading and—I hope—taking my book to heart. Of course the title is meant to be a metaphor, a gentle nudge off the parenting hamster wheel, a mere suggestion that perhaps it’s time to slack off a little in our pursuit of parental perfection. I’m not actually suggesting you drink copiously at your playdates, because that would be wrong. But if a little gin should happen to spill into your tonic-water on a hot summer day, would it really be the end of the world? And of course, once the kids are safely tucked in (is 5:30 too early?), you have officially entered grown-up time. Remember, moderation in all things, especially over-parenting. Relax, enjoy life, and enjoy your children as a part of your wonderful life, not the center of it. I also hope you enjoy the rest of the book. Thanks for sharing the excerpt!

  5. Jamie says:

    I grew up in the era of safe, a time when parents, even if at home in the afternoon, sent us outside (kicked us out of the house) to play in the street, a neighbor’s yard, or a friend’s house—which we got to on our own, on foot or bike. The only rule was to be home at 6 for dinner. My own kids grew up in between Italy and France and so I got to see how these rules in these new times worked. I can tell you one thing, I usually just dropped my kid off or the other parent dropped their kid off. The only time we ever sat face to face while the kids played was if we already knew that we liked each other. I don’t get the whole parent having to stay while the kids play thing. I do think maybe, as Christie just commented, Americans overparent? This post actually stirred up all these memories and is now making me think through the cultural differences of the whole playdate thing!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Jamie, thanks for sharing all this. I think that’s exactly Christie’s intent—not to tell us to literally get soused during playdates, but to consider how one spends one’s time. That said, parenting is such a unique and individual thing, I think it may be impossible to draw any universal dictums…?

  6. julie says:

    I got to my email a little later this week…this article is fabulous! As a 50′s kid and a grandparent, this is very valuable and useful information for myself and my gal pals. Well done!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Glad you found this to be a keeper, Julie. And yes, please do keep preaching—and pouring cocktails—to those in need….

  7. Mmm… martini!

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