Dating games: My husband, kids and I search for the perfect playdate. A personal essay on

“What are you guys doing this weekend?” my friend Rebecca asked me one Thursday over the phone. By “you guys” she meant me, my husband Dave, and our two boys, Noah and Chase, ages five and seven. 

“We’re going apple-picking with Geoff, Isolde and their two girls,” I replied.

“Oh, you mean that new family you just started dating?”

“Very funny. Yes.”

Though slightly snarky, her observation was dead-on. And not only were we dating the Aguirres – we were quite smitten.

Unlike other parents we knew who had a standing Saturday night date with child care, our efforts to find a reliable babysitter on the weekends had been so elusive we had plain given up. Our Saturday night dinner date consisted of a table for four at the local pizza joint. Getting lucky meant a peanut buster parfait and bumper bowling until the wee hours of 9:00 p.m. And while I love my family, I’m not above admitting we were getting a little weary of one another. We were collectively lonely. It was time to start seeing other families.

Finding your dream family is even harder than finding a spouse. The more family members, the more complex the web of relationships that have to be maintained. There are couples with whom we could spend hours if their kids would just stop playing Guantanamo with our pets. And there are countless children our kids adore whose parents are definitely not from this planet. It’s tough out there.

That summer, I felt myself constantly checking out other families. Some venues were better than others. I found our local swim club to be a major meat market, with all shapes and sizes from which to choose. And it was safe. You could observe the families from afar, and for those who seem to have promise, you could swoop with a killer pick-up line:

“Your daughter blows excellent bubbles for her age! Who taught her?”

“Oh, is this YOUR squishy ball? It’s just like ours.”

Worse, you can send your kid in to do your dirty work:

“Go ask that nice little boy with the kickboard if he wants to play Marco Polo!”

We tended to stay away families at the bottom of the etiquette spectrum. We avoided children who didn’t seem as if they belonged to anyone. Such families were sure to dump their kids on you without warning later down the line. We also stayed way clear of the hovering parents and any child engaged in reckless horseplay. These criteria eliminated about ninety percent of the families at the pool. Maybe we were being too picky. It wasn’t as if we were desperate. We still had each other.