When Rimonit builds an airplane out of couch cushions and flies to Cape Town, we both know it's only for pretend. When she and Kinneret tell me they're in a sevivon as they sit in the baby bath and shift it around in a circle on the living room floor, canoe-like, we both know it's only for pretend. But when Rimonit tells me that in gan that day her friend invited her and two other children to go to "the pool in her house" and instructed her to bring a bathing suit and a towel, but no younger siblings, well, let's just say the shorter one of us is demanding that I drop her off at the friend's house *right now*, and the taller one is not quite sure what to think.
On the one hand, everyone knows that playing telephone with 3- and 4-year-olds is not an efficient communication mechanism. Therefore this can't be a genuine invitation, because what parent would let one preschooler invite another preschooler in preschool and consider the invitation a done deed? On the other hand, maybe an Israeli parent would?
I had already had cause to be surprised by the parental attitude to child-issued invitations here. A few months ago the home phone rang and a voice that sounded like it belonged to one of my kids - "but wait, that can't be, they're right here!" I thought at the time - asked to speak to Rimonit. This had never happened before, but I asked who it was and handed the phone over. (Rimonit didn't even know enough to hope that I wouldn't be hovering near the phone so curiously in another 10 years.) It was a work day (=evening/night) for me, meaning a babysitter day for them, and Rimonit knows that she doesn't go to friends' houses on those days. But I was still surprised to hear her very maturely, and without prior consultation, saying into the phone that she can't come today, but maybe another time. I was expecting to get a parent on the other end of the phone when she handed it over, but the girl had hung up. I looked on the class list and called back, not feeling satisfied with the interaction. The father answered and I identified myself. He sounded surprised to hear from me, saying that my daughter had already told his that she couldn't come that day (so why was I bothering?); I mumbled something about getting together another day and we hung up, each of us a bit mystified.
But it's not just the dads, it seems. A month or so after that, we ran into a boy from her class on our way home from gan. Rimonit had run ahead, and when the rest of us caught up, the boy's mother seemed to be working on the assumption that her son was going to come home with us to play; after all, Rimonit had just invited him. Taken aback but not wanting to be inhospitable, I said that of course he could come but not for more than an hour because I needed to do the whole dinner-bath-bed thing (around the time Israeli playgrounds are just starting to fill up - don't ask me to explain!). She backtracked and he didn't come over, but I was left feeling a tad surprised that she had taken the spur-of-the-moment "Come play with me in my house!" comment of such a young child so seriously.
So when Rimonit told me about this possibly pretend pool party (there are some fairly big kiddie pools that some people put on their balconies or in their backyards, and I thought that if there was an actual pool involved it was most likely that kind), I mostly thought she had misunderstood a make believe situation. But I also wondered if I wasn't applying American standards to Israeli families. I had already dismissed similar "invitations" from the same girl as being typical kid talk that was not meant to be taken at face value. But, especially with all the details Rimonit conveyed, I suddenly wondered if maybe I had been depriving her of real-life playdates; maybe, like the other girl's father, this girl's parents thought that Rimonit was independently turning down her offers (in this case, by failing to show up).
Partly because of these previous invitations, Rimonit had asked to go to this girl's house before and I had contacted the mother once or twice to arrange a (parent-initiated and -approved) playdate, but it had never worked out. This meant, though, that at some point I had put the mother's number in my phone. I felt stupid calling, though (and besides, the girl goes to a tzaharon so I figured the mother would still be at work), so I sent a text message that was as clear as I could make it but probably ended up being confusing to read. To her credit, she called me right away. I explained the situation, saying that I had told Rimonit it wasn't a real invitation, but she was begging to go over so I said I would ask the mother if Shiri was really planning to host her friends; I also mentioned all those details about the bathing suit and the towel and the siblings. Anyway, it turns out my initial instinct was right - Shiri has a tendency to create elaborate tales and the mother had no idea about any pool party - but I'm still glad I called. And it made it a lot easier to explain to Rimonit, since someone else's mother is always a more authoritative source than your own.
The next day, Rimonit showed me the invitation all the kids had received to their gan goodbye party (parental attendance required, in case you were curious). She pointed to the picture of the girl on the bike and said that was her, then pointed to the boy and thought for a minute before she informed me it was Abba when he was a boy. And then, almost as though our conversation from the day before had never taken place, she told me Shiri had invited her over and asked me to take her to her house.