Friday, 17 September 2010

Playgroups 101 - From Bad Boys to Metrosexual Dads

Ah the smell of it ....the waft of freshly brewed coffee mixed with freshly pooped on nappies. Sometimes when I smell it all the memories come flooding back. Of the days I'd crouch like a Hobbit in a dark church basement singing 'The Wheels On The Bus' with my two tots. Today I am talking about playgroups. Ah yes, playgroups, finger painting, damp rusks in hair and all saved my sanity during those first fraught years. I actually miss them a bit now the kids are at school. But for any newbies out there who want the lowdown on playgroups this guide is for you.

Once you have a baby you will find people asking you if you are part of a playgroup. Your initial reaction will be “Why would a four month old need a playgroup?” Well the answer is that the playgroup is not for your baby, it’s for you, to prevent you going gaga. Sometimes playgroups take place at people’s houses but this is, frankly, to be avoided as it basically means having a bunch of toddlers and overwrought parents in your house and the situation is totally unrelaxing and will leave your house looking like a tip. Also people will expect you to provide soy milk and non allergenic biscuits at the drop of a hat while constantly making sure their baby does not plug himself into a light socket. Frankly you’ll need a lie down after hosting such an event not to mention a stiff drink so avoid avoid avoid.

The best place to join a playgroup is a church hall because there you will usually meet a colourful cross section of people and can just let your baby run wild amongst the throw pillows and play mats while you chill out. The first thing to do when you join a playgroup is to make sure they have an industrial strength coffee machine on the go. There will be some who’ll poo poo the idea because they feel that the combination of boiling water and rampant toddlers is a bad combination but where there’s a will there’s a way and if necessary special ladders can be constructed to reach the industrial strength coffee machine because let me just say right now you will not get through a two hour playgroup without coffee.

It can be downright weird joining a playgroup because it will give you a strange sense of déjà vu and you will be transported straight back to an under thirteen’s disco at secondary school. All the parents will skulk round the edges of the group at first eyeing everyone else up suspiciously. But after a few weeks contact will be made and the same different gangs that existed at school will emerge here too – the popular crowd and the misfits, the nerds and the jocks will quickly form into cliques. But the most significant delineation will be the male female divide. The men will stay with the men even if the only thing they have in common with the other man is that they both have X and Y chromosomes. In a playgroup situation this is a natural defence. The stay at home dad is massively outnumbered by the stay at home mum and must therefore skulk in packs for his safety and sanity.

In a group of stay at home dads the guys will mostly be average joes who take being a dad in their stride while talking football scores. But on the cusp of this there will be two fringe demographics: Bad Boys and Metrosexual Dads or MADS. MADS will stand around going into way too much detail about nap schedules and do you have a good recipe for baby food, not to mention hour by hour detailed descriptions of their babies’ bowl movements. MADS have made being a dad to an art form and will often carry around baby related flow charts and venn diagrams for every aspect of their child’s daily routine as if they were running a mini corporation.

Bad Boys on the other hand tend to be stay at home dads because they are unemployable. They skulk around the outskirts of the playgroup reeking of cigarettes and wearing shades or trenchcoats while eyeing up the hotter mums. They will often say they have a part time job but when pressed for details you will find the job will be something like ‘playing on line poker.’ Beware of being too friendly - give these Bad Boys an inch and they’ll take a mile. After a few weeks of pretending to be good, Bad Boys will start bunking off school. After giving you a charming grin they’ll say ‘Look after Timmy will you while I go for a smoke? I’ll be back in a minute.’ You’ll agree to do so - then won’t see hide nor hair of Bad Boy for two hours.

While the stay at home dads are clustered in a corner the mums will form their own giggly clusters. Chat up lines between playgroup participants are silly and obvious not to mention shockingly banal, similar to the chat up lines at the under thirteens’ disco which were: ‘Wanna dance?” “Wanna snog?” “I like you,” or “Nice hair.” Remember how you wouldn’t get a slow dance at the disco if you gave a smart alec answer, well the same is the case here. Avoid answering in a cynical fashion or risk alienating yourself and finding yourself in Playgroup Purgatory. There is no room for a smartarse in the playgroup environment and if you want to be clever clever you will soon find yourself sucking the fuzzy end of the lollipop aka don’t be surprised if, come circle sing a long time, the only cushion left is the smelly one with the puke stain. You have been forewarned.

So when a cheerful Mummy or MAD asks brightly:

“Wow, he’s so cute, how old is he?”

Don’t say: “Sixteen, but I could never be bothered to potty train him, that’s why he’s still in nappies.”

“Wow, she has so many teeth for her age!”

Don’t say: “Oh they’re false ones. She ate so much candy I had to get her a set of dentures at six months.”

“My what pretty girls. Are they twins?”

Don’t say: “No, they’re actually clones, I got them mail order from a secret laboratory in Korea.”

In summary, you will rarely find any stimulating adult conversations at a playgroup because everyone will be talking about their kids. But you will hopefully find industrial strength coffee, the weird sense of nostalgia that you are reliving an under thirteens’ disco and hopefully the opportunity to have a small nap while hiding behind a large teddy bear.

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  1. Oh I'm most definitely a MAD. I do everything but lactate.

  2. Steve...I knew it! Now I adore you more than ever.

  3. Oooh I never took my kids to playgroup as I went back to work pretty much to avoid such a thing....but I made my childminder go.

    (That's a joke- she went of her own volition)

  4. misssy m ....I rather enjoyed it especially in the summer when they had paddling pools outside. I was almost kicked out of one of them though because I never watched my kids and one of them went up in a lift to the third floor by herself and I said "So what she came back down again didn't she?"

  5. lovely blog im following you through design chic's friday blog hop :)

    xxx love from the UK

  6. Ah yes, Playgroup. It was never really my thing... but I did go along. And when I found a really good one, I actually enjoyed it.

    A good read.

  7. Aww that photo reminds me of my mothers group days.....

  8. ohh I did playgroup for a little while, I often turned up late with the largest size strong coffee to get me through it. There was only the dodgy instant coffee available I can't bring myself to drink.
    Now my husband is home, he is just not keen to go and hang out at playgroup, just not sure what category you describe he belongs too!

  9. Having three children in less than three years -- playgroups sure saved my sanity! Now the girls are in school, we still have coffee mornings, the chit chat and no poopy nappies.

  10. I did the coffee mornings at people's houses thing! Bloody ridiculous when I look back on it: the stress when it was at mine and the stress trying to find someone else's gaff and struggling to park, then discovering their house had gerbils all over the worktops but would I like a homemade biscuit...!

  11. Hi Emma K
    Thanks for your message on my blog! Someone said it's a nice change from a Mummy Blog. I'm not even sure what a Mummy Blog is....You'll feel released if you sort out and declutter your linen cupboard. Released I say. x

  12. Faux Fuchsia...I love your blog - you are kind of the Aussie Nigella aren't you? Or Martha Stewart without the stiff personality! I think it is only a matter of time before you get your own show. Watch this space.

  13. What a great post! I'm still chuckling. I'm just popping by from the Friday hops & am now following. Stop by when you get a chance!

  14. Just dropping by from the Business Mums Blog Carnival - thanks for entering. I really enjoyed this post and will be having a good read of your blogs very soon!

  15. I loved this - really made me chuckle, thank you! Although my daughter is now at primary school, the MADs and BADs are still there at the school gate - as are all the mum groups. I just wish I knew which one I belonged to....!!

  16. Oh too funny! I gotta say I never even knew what a playgroup was until I had my daughter and it is true that they are more for the parents than the babies. I was just so happy to get out of the house before 9am and socialize with other mothers.