Having an only child means I'm always up for organizing playdates with my son's buddies. (Wait, is it out of style to even call them "playdates" anymore?) Regardless of terminology, I jump at any chance to have one of my son Roan's friends over.
Unfortunately, Los Angeles isn't anything like suburban San Diego, where I grew up, and, like most kids of the '70s, packs of unsupervised friends would ride bikes and explore canyons until it was dark. There was never any need for a "playdate."
But since this isn't the case where we live, a little more effort is required. So, last week we invited a kid from Roan's class over to play with this new set of magnetic cars he got for Christmas. It was getting sort of sad watching Roan race himself in the game.
"I won!" He would say. "But I was playing myself, so I also LOST!" He would laugh.
"Alex* is my best friend at school!" Roan had said. "We play together at every recess. He's so funny. He really wanted the magnetic cars for Christmas, but he didn't get them, so I thought we could play with mine."
"Great, I'll call his parents," I said. Which is just what I did. The date was set, all was well.
That week I received a Facebook friend request from Alex's dad. I accepted. I thought this could be cool, getting to know a new family. Maybe we could have "family playdates" and go away on trips together. This was also my experience growing up, and I am lucky to have a few families here in L.A. where kids and parents are all friends. It's the best situation, in my book. We've done trips to Vegas with the families, camping and had lots of late night dance parties where the kids went off to do their own thing, whilst the adults enjoyed a seemingly kid free night of music, wine and fun discussion.
I skimmed over Alex's dad's Facebook page. My hopes were dashed.
OH. MY. GOD.
This man stood for everything I was against. Let's just say I am more on the liberal side and this man was … well … the most conservative person I have ever met (or "met"). His wall was covered with memes about the importance of guns. He'd reposted insulting photos of President Obama that basically said he's enemy No. 1.
From the other room, the boys could be heard laughing. Obviously, they weren't having any of these concerns.
He was religious but, at the same time, didn't seem to care too much about helping the needy or following any of Jesus' teachings. Just that anyone who wasn't HIS religion was fatally flawed. There were numerous posts against gay marriage, too. I got a pretty clear picture of who this man was.
Without getting on my own political soap box here, let's just say we were very different. So different that my stomach churned. One example would be that the walls of my house are decorated with beautiful art work done by my late brother-in-law who was randomly shot in the head and killed by a drug addict with a gun. Someone my brother-in-law did not know. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And now he's gone.
How was I going to laugh and joke and bond with Alex's dad when he came to drop off his son? What if Alex held his father's beliefs? On the day of the playdate Alex and his dad knocked on our door. The two boys immediately ran off to play, laughing and even hugging in that sort of wrestle-y way boys do.
Alex's dad said, "I'm so glad the boys could get together. It's hard to find nice families these days!"
My mind began to spin. By "nice families" did he mean not gay families? Did he think I was as "conservative" as he was?
From the other room, the boys could be heard laughing. Obviously, they weren't having any of these concerns. They were just buddies. Then Alex's dad noticed one of my brother-in-law's paintings. With their bright colors and intensely emotional faces, they are hard not to notice.
"Wow, who painted that?"
"My brother-in-law," I said. "But he is dead now. He was randomly shot by some drug addict." I'd hoped this wouldn't start anything.
"Sorry to hear that," Alex's dad said. "Always sad when someone with such talent's life is cut short."
Politics and playdates definitely do not mix ...
"Yes." I said, cutting off the part where I would normally talk about the fact that having more gun control would have prevented this from happening all together.
"Well, I'll be back in a couple hours to get Alex. Thanks so much for having him!"
"No problem. I'm glad they can have fun."
And he left.
The playdate went great. Politics and playdates definitely do not mix and as long as Alex and Roan don't get into some big debate or fight? Well, it's all good, even if, one day, they do land on a topic they disagree with, perhaps the goal is to encourage respectful discussion not just cutting people out of your life because you don't share the same ideals.
The following week we had one of those "all of us are friends, moms dads and kids, family playdates." It was, ironically, the night of the Iowa caucuses, and my friend had the TV set to CNN.
"This is getting so dramatic," she said. "Want to watch?"
As the kids played outside, unaware, my friend and I bonded and laughed over our shared political beliefs.
"Would you be friends with me if I was a Trump supporter?" she asked.
"Well, I really like you, so probably, yes. But it would be … hard," I said. "Because he's sort of not my cup of tea."
And we laughed, happy that we wouldn't soon find ourselves in a heated, potentially friendship-ending, debate. We were also aware that we are all different and, as much as we may despise someone else's beliefs, the goal is to come together—not to push apart.
I mean, we don't want to miss out on people who could become friends, who could teach us something, or who could make our own convictions stronger.