The future is taking shape in my living room. My son is drifting down the couch, with his chin on his chest, Wii remotes in hand, TV and speaker phone on. He is working his way through the next level of "Transformers - The Video Game" while his friends chime in with support and suggestions in the background. It's a virtual play date.
I'm the one who kept badgering my wife about when we could stop calling all of my son's social interactions "play dates". I wondered when he would grow past that, and now I am feeling a little nostalgic for those bygone days of constant supervision. His very first group of friends were the babies who were born to the parents who took the same birth class my wife and I did. We used to get together and watch our kids loll about on the rug together, and the grownups would have a chance to interact with other grownups for an hour or two, until it was nap time or the diapers ran out.
When our son entered co-op preschool, we arranged a comfortable series of "kid swaps". My wife continues to excel at finding places for our child to go as we periodically enjoy the company of one to four of his friends for an afternoon. Each of the households has its own character. Some parents are much more emphatic about getting their children outside. Others provide more sibling interaction, while one house in particular specializes in combat-related play.
We are the house with the video games. That's not to say that we have surrendered completely. On the contrary: we have time limits and rules, and send packs of grumbling boys out into the back yard to soak up their daily B vitamins and a little fresh air. But that doesn't keep them from asking. I'm of the opinion that we should send a fifth grader to negotiate a lasting peace in the Middle East, given the regular and oppressive conversations we get to have with pre-teens about how many more minutes they should be allowed "to beat this one level."
Don't get me wrong, I understand the lure of video games all too well, which is probably the reason I am careful about their pull. Before my son was born, it was my hope that I could defeat Warhead and finish Vectorman once and for all so that I could put my Sega Genesis away. My wife once had to give up playing Tetris for Lent, just to get the shape of those blocks out of her mind as she slept. Genetically speaking, our son didn't have a chance.
So I'm going to go in there, while there's still a few minutes left on the clock, to see if he wants to play a little virtual baseball with his old man.