The Play Date From Hell

The Play Date From Hell

Charlie threw his coat into his cubby. Bridget, Charlie’s mother called into the room, “Hi all. Charlie will be bringing Finn home. See ya!”

“Hi Charlie,” greeted Miss Carter, cheerfully.

“Hi. Where’s Finn?”

“He isn’t here yet. I have some new cars. Would you like to see them? ”

“I want to see Finn. We’re having a play date today.”

“Remember, try your hardest to not talk about your nice after school plan. Others might feel left out.” 

“Oh, Finn! Hi. Today you’re coming over, right?” Charlie made the announcement like a train conductor. 

“Boys!” Miss Carter warned. “Please, no talk of dates during class time.” 

Taylor, Finn’s mother, echoed the teacher. “That’s a class rule.”

Leaving the room, Taylor looked back to see Miss Carter talking to Charlie, who had his arms up blocking Betsy and Billy from the new cars. 

“Finn is my friend and he likes cars. We’re having a play date.”

Miss Carter took the boys aside. “Your play date is after school. During class you have to include others in your games.” 

More children arrived. Sarah ran to show Miss Carter her purple, sparkly barrette. 

“I love it on you. How pretty it looks in your shiny dark hair!

Miss Carter turned to see Billy in tears. Finn was patting him. “What’s going on?”

Charlie was hiding between the wooden stove and sink, imagining that he was invisible. “If Finn is coming over, then we are best friends. You aren’t, Billy.” 

Miss Carter closed the door. “Children please meet me on the apple rug. We will have a tiny meeting.” 

All of the children flew to the rug. Charlie squeezed between Billy and Finn. 

“Here is your special seat, Charlie. Right next to me,” Miss Carter said firmly.

“Well, then Finn gets one too. Come on Finn.”

Finn knew to not move. 

“My feet can’t work. I am so sleepy,” Charlie exclaimed. 

“Maybe too sleepy for a play date,” Miss Carter said. 

“Oh no, I’m awake now. I have magic powers. I am fine.” He sat next to the teacher. 

“Children, good morning. I want to make a quick but serious announcement. Then you may go back to playing. If Mommy and Daddy make arrangements for you to go to a friend’s house, that is special. What do I always ask of you?”

“You just know it but you don’t talk about it until the end of the day,” Sarah said thoughtfully. 

“Yes, Sarah that was so well said. Why do I ask you not to talk about it?” 

“Some of us won’t get to go and then we feel sad,” Billy said tearfully. 

Finn reached over to Billy and said, “You will someday,” in a whisper. “I wish everyone could come…”

“That’s the dumbest idea in the whole wide world. Finn, only you get to come.” 

Miss Carter looked at Charlie, sensing how upset he was becoming. “Let’s all try to remember that a happy plan is fun. Talking about it and having others know that they are not a part of it takes something away from the nice feeling. Do you think we can all agree we won’t talk about dates anymore?”

There was a chorus of yesses. Soon the room felt whole and peaceful again. The day flew by for everyone but Charlie. Finn built a tall house with Liza and Timmy. Tom added woodland animals and Sarah taped on a piece of orange paper that read, “Happy now, good again” in purple letters. 

Before long, it was clean up time. The clean up music helped the children to feel happy as they put things away. Finn made an assembly line with Liza and Timmy and they put the blocks back on the shelves in no time. In the dress up area others put the fake food and clothes away. Miss Carter was getting snack, placing apples and cheese on plates. Charlie was moping. 

“Charlie, I’d love some help. Will you help me?” 

“I will… I will,” some children offered.

“That would be lovely. There’s a lot to do. Let’s wash our hands and then Charlie, could you serve water?”

Saying nothing, Charlie slowly went to the sink and filled a few pitchers. 

As Charlie poured water into Finn’s cup, Finn said, “Thanks, Charlie.” 

Charlie said nothing. Others thanked him and got no answer. 

Billy raised his hand. “We felt sad before that we weren’t going with Charlie and Finn. Now Charlie is sad. I wish he could get happy again.” 

“Billy, that’s so nice. Charlie, your friends feel sorry for you.” 

Finn added, “We’re all friends. We just got lucky that we have some more time later. I wish it didn’t make anyone else sad.” 

Mothers were at the door and it was time to go home. 

Bridget, Charlie’s mother came in. “Boys, let’s get a move on. It is your big play date day.” Finn was dressed and smiling. Bridget turned to Charlie. “What’s up buddy?” Charlie didn’t move. “We’ve been talking about this for a week.” 

She turned to the teacher. “Miss Carter, what seems to be the problem?”

Charlie blurted out, “Finn likes everyone. I want him to like me the most. It is my day with him and I don’t care now if he comes over or not. He built a castle with Liza and Timmy and not me. ” 

“Oh buddy. You are so upset,” Bridget said. 

Miss Carter added, “As I have mentioned before, sometimes when children talk about their plans, others feel left out. A bit of possessiveness takes over. Charlie thought Finn would be his exclusively all day.” 

“It’s just a play date, Charlie,” his mother said. “Get over it. See you manana.” 

“Goodbye Finn. Goodbye Charlie. I’ll be thinking of you.”

When they arrived at Charlie’s house. Bridget told the boys, “After lunch I have to do some work. So come and eat.” 

The boys ate speedily. “That was good soup, Bridget,” Finn told her. “So was the grilled cheese. I loved them. Thanks.” 

“Not a problem, Finn, anytime. Go have fun in the playroom, boys, while I do some work.” 

Charlie started playing with his new robot transformer. His arms blocked Finn from it. “Here you go Finn,” he offered, handing a few old cars. 

Finn put them down and went to a puzzle box of a giant bullfrog. “Wow, cool. May I put the frog puzzle together?”

“Nope. I’m doing that later.”

Bridget picked up on his tone and called out, “Are you being nice, Charlie?” She thought to herself, “Why did I do this?” before going back to her laptop.

Finn picked up a small red airplane. Charlie came right over and took it back. “My Grandma gave it to me. It’s just for me. You can’t play with it.”

Bridget came downstairs. “Is this play date going well?” She looked at Finn’s face.

“Why did you want to have Finn over, Charlie? Just to boss him around?” 

Finn said, “This is no fun. You won’t let me play with anything. Bridget, will you call Mommy and ask her to pick me up?”

“I just want to go home. My Mommy said she’d pick me up. Will you please call her?”

When the doorbell rang, Finn already had his coat on. He hugged his mother and thanked Bridget.

“Thanks for having Finn. We’ll have Charlie over soon,” Taylor told her. 

“Finn was nice to have. Charlie seemed out of sorts. I don’t know why.” 

Safe in the car, Finn was happy to be getting away from Charlie. Something had changed between the boys and he didn’t like it.

“Mommy, my play date wasn’t good. Miss Carter didn’t like Charlie talking about it. Charlie was mean. I want to just come home after school forever.”

“Maybe next time we’ll surprise you so there will be no talking about it. But definitely not tomorrow.” 

Finn shook his head. “Not tomorrow and not with Charlie, please. We aren’t really friends now.” 

As they walked into their sunny house, Taylor kissed Finn’s brown bangs. He reached for her warm hand. “Tomorrow things will be different, Finn. You have many cute friends and Charlie might be his old self again. You can stay clear of him if he is being mean. ” 

“I am taking a day off from him.”

“You know, that never hurts. Let’s read some stories and think of what we will have for dinner.” 

Sometimes a play date creates expectations that are too high to be met. A big buildup doesn’t help. Finn just looked forward to a nice time, but Charlie clearly felt he had exclusive rights to Finn for the whole day, which caused trouble in class. Once the play date started, Charlie owned and controlled all the toys and used his power. The final blow was a mother who didn’t want to be involved in facilitating the play.

Anne Martine Cook has 39 years experience teaching nursery school children.