Category Archives: Friends

Q&A: playdates

Sorry for the late post–I was off doing class parent duties (yeah–I know; I'm not sure how it happened either…)

Kate (one of many) writes:

"What's the deal with playdates? At what age do you start dropping off the kids and not having to stay and make polite conversation? If the kids know each other from school but the parents don't, it can be a little awkward. And how do you navigate different rules at friends' houses?"

I think this varies regionally. And by birth order of child. For my younger one, since all his friends were younger siblings of my older one's friends, we did drop-off from a super-young age, and just called it "can you babysit him while I go do X?"

Once they're in Kindergarten, I'd guess kids all over the world are being dropped off for playdates. Before that, I think it varies from region to region. Some of those differences are probably attributable to different expectations of independence regionally, but I'm also guessing that the demographics of the caregiver situation might have something to do with that, too. (In areas where there are more parents home they probably stay, whereas babysitters maybe don't stay as often?)

As far as the rules of the house go, I'd say the parents need to open that conversation up at drop-off in front of the kids. So, for instance, if you know you have a rule at home that generally doesn't fly other places (like kids being allowed to jump on the couch or something like that), you probably want to address it when you get there with a little, "Now pumpkin, even though we can jump on the couch at home, I'm betting no one can jump on the couch here" then look to the other parent for confirmation.

Otherwise, just ask at the beginning of the playdate if they have house rules, and remind your child to abide by the house rules. I'm assuming most kids have been somewhere else (if only a grandparent's house) and understand that different places have different rules, so it shouldn't be hard sell for the kids. And we're hoping the parents can be sanguine about differences and not get defensive about different rules.

How do you guys navigate the rules? And at what age did/do you start dropping off for playdates? (Don't forget to put demographic info about where you live.)

Q&A: Playground “rules” from other parents

Molly writes:

"What's the right way to handle playground "rules" set by other people? Sometimes when we're at the playground some other parent will say to
their kid "no swinging on your stomach" or "no going down the slide
backwards" or "no shouting" or "no jumping in puddles" or some other
perplexing rule that I never thought of, and then their kids (no
dummies) say "But he's doing it!"–meaning mine.

I totally, totally get how this makes their life difficult but 1) I
don't get the rule itself, I never thought of it, and I don't see why
it matters and 2) I don't really want to mess with my kid's head by
saying, Oh OK, this random adult made a new rule, let's follow it.
 (I'm not letting him throw dirt or woodchips, I'm not letting him mow
down other kids, I'm not letting him hog all the pails & spades or
anything that would CLEARLY be rude/dangerous, at least to me. )

What's the social contract say on this?  I missed that chapter.  Can we
have separate playgrounds for the intense parents and us lazy parents?"

You know, I think one of the big challenges of parenting is establishing your own policies and sticking to them in the midst of social pressure from other parents (and society at large). Parents of older kids can probably confirm that this gets more and more difficult as the kids get older. Violent video games, violent movies, Bratz, hoochie clothes for tweener girls–it seems like there are a lot of things that we're going to have to work hard to maintain a stance against.

So think of this time of dealing with other people's rules on the playground as little baby steps of preparation for telling your child that, no, she can't go to Cancun alone with her friends for spring break because they're only 14.

The parents I know have always operated under the assumption that you can make whatever rules you want for your own kids, but you can't make rules for other people's kids (assuming the other kids aren't hurting yours), and that enforcing your rules is your own business. Add you can't resent other people for having their own rules.

So that means that you have a perfect right to bring grapes as a snack for your kids, but you can't get angry at another mom for bringing Oreos. You can let your kid run around with shoes off at the playground, and even if I think it's stupid of you, I can't resent you for doing it, even if it causes me extra trouble to keep my kids in their shoes*. I can casually mention the recent cases of kids who've had their feet burned by the asphalt on the playground, but only to help you out, not to tell you you have to parent the way I do.

And, the other responsibility is being able to explain to your kids that "they do things their way and we do things our way" without saying or implying the words "irresponsible," "lazy," "helicopter," "controlling," or "dumbass."

So, basically, you make the policies for your kids, and other people make the ones for theirs, and you don't have to go by theirs and they don't have to go by yours. The stuff you're dealing with now at the playground is small potatoes compared to the stuff that'll come up later, so use this time as practice for helping your kids separate your family from what "everyone else" is doing and making that process explicit. That way later on they'll be less tempted to jump off the bridge when their friends are.

* A tip for that is to get water shoes and call them the "special playground shoes" and hype them as a cool thing they get to wear instead of that they have to wear. This won't work forever, but it will buy you a summer or three.

Q&A: Does “no gifts” really mean no gifts?

Danielle writes:

“Now that my daughter is 18 months old, shehas had the opportunity to attend birthday parties of other kids in her age
range.  One aspect of this that my husband and I are unsure of how to
handle is the gift.  All invitations we have received indicate something
along the lines of “no present please, just your presence,” or plainly put, “no
gifts please.”  However, when we show up at the party with no gift, we
always find a big pile of gifts and end up feeling very cheap.  So, the
next birthday we go to, we end up getting a gift, just so we don’t feel guilty
of committing some sort of faux pas.  But I wonder, is the “no gifts”
indication truly a wish – because like us, most people probably have more than
enough toys lying around, and don’t really want to write thank-you notes – or is
it just a polite saying meant to be ignored?”

This super-annoys me. If you write “no gifts, please,” it’s because you either a) don’t want gifts, or b) don’t want people to feel compelled to bring a gift just for the sake of bringing a gift.

The Golden Rule should apply to this situation as it does to all
others: Gift unto others as you want them to gift to you. So, for
example, if you found the perfect thing that reminded you of a child or
the parents, or something awesomely personalized, or something else
really thoughtful, then please give it! But, if the invitation said “no gifts, please,” the other people won’t be bringing gifts
and you don’t want to make them feel bad by being conspicuous. So don’t
bring it and leave it on a table. Instead, give it to the parents
quietly when you arrive, making sure they know that you understand the “no gifts” request but just couldn’t pass this up because it reminded you so much of their child.

On the other hand, those of us with kids older than age 3 have undoubtedly been the recipients of gifts
that were bought just to have something to give. And that’s annoying.
I’d rather just enjoy having a child at the party and see how happy my
child is with his presence than know that the parent ran out to buy
something that isn’t something my kid’s really going to like. Not only did it add some stress to the parent’s life to have to buy something, but my child probably won’t really enjoy it (or won’t enjoy it for long). If you
wouldn’t want it in your house (which rules out most bleepy toys,
Bratz, and anything that makes a noise when you sit on it), then don’t
give it to someone else.

If the invitation says “no gifts,
please,” then it’s absolutely correct not to bring one. And not to
apologize or feel bad about it! If you really feel like you should
bring something, bring a bottle of wine for the parents, maybe
with some jokey card about “wine for the whiney stage,” or something
like that. If they don’t drink, maybe the Ames & Ilg book for that
year, or a coupon for a kids-only playdate at your house so they can
have some free time.

At a certain point, most kids figure out that birthdays usually mean presents, so you can’t get away with a “no gifts” request. So take advantage of it while you can, and request “no gifts” if you don’t want them, and don’t bring one if someone else says “no gifts.” You can always contribute to the economy in other ways.

For those years when you’re going to have to go to lots of parties with gifts (once your kid hits elementary school), pick one present for the age, buy a dozen of them, and give them to every kid whose party your child goes to. Books are great for this, of course. Any other suggestions?

I have talented friends

I’m feeling cranky today and am trying to think of happy (and cool) things, so I thought I’d brag about some of my real-life friends.

My friend Kiri runs Kirstinflo Designs and makes happy, one-of-a-kind handbags out of vintage tablecloths. She gave me one for my birthday and it makes me smile every time I look at because it just reminds me of that Donna Reed-esque time when women wore dresses and pearls and served “luncheon” to their friends on card tables set with a printed tablecloth. It’s also huge enough to carry all of the crap I routinely lug around with me, plus I get compliments on it all the time. Check out her Etsy store to see what her bags look like.

My friend Harris writes The Japanese Food Report, a website in which he chronicles his explorations into the world of Japanese food that goes waaaay beyond sushi and tempura. He spends a lot of time in Japan getting people to tell him how they cook things, as well as shadowing chefs at Japanese restaurants here in NYC. The post up now is about steaming sea bass Japanese style, something I never would have thought about doing, but his description and instructions (and photo!) made me think, “I can totally do that.” Another recent post I loved was about buying a Japanese knife.

And my friend “Mintyfresh” writes the blog Pepperknit, in which she writes about her astronomical number of knitting projects and all the delicious foods she cooks and consumes. She’s an excellent writer, but it’s her photos that bring her blog to life. She’s in Singapore right now visiting her parents, and I’ve been loving her latest posts about food in Singapore: the first real meal is the most important, the gluttony continues, going on a roti hunt.

Who do you know who does cool things?

They say it’s my birthday

Happy Birthday to me! (And to Johnny Cash.)

Would you like to give me a present? Please post a link (the comments should do it automatically if you just cut and paste from the browser URL window) to something funny.

Thanks for sharing my birthday. Here’s my present to you:

Please note the hair, glasses, and beard, as well as the dancing, especially at 1:14.


I’m back from my trip and am still reading through your comments. I haven’t made it very far, but my three favorites so far are, from the consistently hilarious Shirky, "i’d rather have the money, or a better health plan," cause, yeah. And from Treena, "Once, when I suggested that we all give to charity for Christmas, mymother said that my Christmas gift to her should be that I just shut up
about it and pretend to enjoy the whole thing. I’ve given up trying to
persuade them." Is it bad that this made me guffaw? And from julie, "One parent actually said to me "You taught my daughter to love reading…..I’m not buying you f-ing soap." Love that.

What do you guys want to talk about today? I have a feeling we’re not really done with this holiday stuff yet. One of the ideas that jumped out at me from yesterday is that people give cash gifts to men (because they’re doing "work") while they give cute gifts to women (because they’re doing things for "fun"). There’s plenty to get at there. I never thought about it before, but I agree with this assessment that the cultural idea is that men want the cash but women will somehow be offended if they don’t get hand lotion (please no) or hand-baked muffins or whatever cute thing.

For the record, I’d rather have the cash. (Or at least for you to click through on your way to Friday, not that I’m harping on that at all.) You?

Another idea I thought was interesting was from Shandra’s comment about story and how she thinks objecting to Santa just on the basis that it’s a lie doesn’t resonate with her. Read her whole comment here, about how going from told to teller is a rite of passage. Then think about it, and comment. I’m not sure what I think yet, so I’ll comment on it later.

Here’s a great question from Heather from Monday:

"We’re having a Thanksgiving food drive at school for the families in
our district who need assistance. I buy organic when available, but
also know that a can of organic beans versus regular can be more than
twice as expensive. Do I buy them the beans I probably wouldn’t feed my
kids? That seems wrong. I opted to donate money towards a grocery store
gift certificate so that the families could buy the things they needed.

For the toy drive, do I donate the new toys I won’t permit my kids
to play with? Also seems wrong. Don’t these kids deserve safe toys to
play with also?"

Comment? I have absolutely no idea. My kids do have plenty of cheap plastic crappy toys that they love, and we don’t always eat organic, so for me personally it isn’t a black and white situation. But for those of you who have more of a locked-down situation on what your kids play with and eat, what do you think?


I think the game plan for the rest of this week is going to be: Thursday: posting what we’re all thankful for, just because I’m sappy that way. Friday: Our favorites of 2007 so far–books, music, activities, new ideas, etc. And it won’t have to be things that actually happened in 2007, just things we’ve been particularly enjoying in 2007.

Then next week back to sleep and potty-training and discipline (I discovered a great new resource person for us) and keeping our self-esteem in the face of the rest of the world.

Holiday gifts pt 1

The rest of this week is going to be a series about holiday gifts. Today we’ll talk about things you can buy, tomorrow about things you can make, and then Friday we’ll have a guest post from my brother, a carpenter, answering a question someone sent in about making wooden blocks.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that we’re all looking for more meaningful gifts than just going to the local big box store and picking something up. It seems like we’re also concerned about too many gifts, and finding gifts that are produced safely and in ways that help (or at least don’t harm) the workers who make the items. The obvious first stop is fair trade.

I’m going to plug my own favorite fair trade catalog, A Greater Gift, one more time. Don’t forget that they have fair trade chocolate Hannukah gelt and also fair trade chocolate Advent calendars.

Deanna, who works with the Fair Trade Federation, wrote in to give me this amazing list of fair trade catalogs and online stores that sell gifts. There’s an entire store that sells beads handmade by women with HIV in Africa, one that sells Vietnamese folk art, another one that sells shea butter and African black soap, one with fair-trade olive oil and other foods from Palestine, and dozens of others. Absolutely worth a look.

Rudyinparis (who’s really in MN–who knew?) writes:

"I would love to give and receive magazine subscriptions this year. After Brain, Child I run out of good ideas. What magazines does this community absolutely love that would be great to give or receive?

I am on the rampage about reining Christmas in (i.e., the amount of stuff we accumulate). What suggestions does this community have that would help make the holidays really meaningful and not just about getting a bunch of items? What holiday memories do you remember from your own childhood that really stand out? Are there specific rituals that you do that are very meaningful to you and your family?

As we gear up for the holiday season, I would love ideas and suggestions from this always brilliant community."

I can tell you the magazine subscriptions I’m getting. My older son is getting Sports Illustrated for Kids, because he loves to read and he’s crazy about sports. My brother is getting Outside Magazine, so he can turn into a mountain man and teach me how to snowboard next year. My mother and I will be renewing each other’s subscriptions to Interweave Knits. (To whoever asked a few days ago if I was a CEO and a knitter: Yes, I am. I am the CEO of, and a knitter.)

As for alternate ideas and traditions, how about this amazing one Jan left in the comments of the Halloween post a few weeks ago:

"I’ve got three brothers, all married, which makes eight of us that
really don’t need anything for Christmas all trying to shop for each
other. We tried drawing names, but that didn’t really feel any better
to us.

For the last few years, we’ve done the same thing. We go to a local
organization that has an Adopt-A-Family program at Christmastime and
ask for a family of four. Each couple in our family is assigned a
member of the adopted family to shop for. We don’t tell each other what
we’re buying.

We have a get-together in early December. The eight of us (and our
kids) get together and WRAP the presents for the adopted family. It’s
amazing how much this feels just like Christmas gift unwrapping.
There’s seeing what everybody got. There’s showing everybody what fun
gifts you found. There’s gift wrap and ribbons everywhere. 🙂

We also buy a gift certificate for a grocery store and usually one
other family gift (zoo membership, passes to movies, depends on the
ages/interests of the family). All told, we usually spend about $300 —
$75 per couple, which is about the same as we were spending when we
were drawing names (two names for each couple).

We still do gifts for the kids at Christmas, but we grownups are so
much happier with this setup. I highly, highly recommend it."

I just love that.

So, any other ideas? We’ll be doing things we can make tomorrow, so hold off on those for now.

Reader call: Tips for single moms

Rachel writes:

"I’m due with my first at the end of Dec.  I have a decent support
system of family and friends, but of course it isn’t the same as having
a partner here with me through all of this.  The father decided to go
on his own way when I was about 3 months along…sooooo…I was hoping
you’d ask your readers for some reading suggestions for a single
mom-to-be.  I’m happy with my current ‘understanding
your pregnancy’ type books, but I’d love to hear recommendations for
books geared toward single moms about everything after the birth…"

One of my good friends from my older son’s playgroup is a single mom (adopted her daughter as a baby and was single from the beginning). Her summary of what she perceived the differences between being on her own and what she saw in two-parent household was that that she had all the help she needed for the daily stuff, but didn’t have anyone to defer to or fight with about the important stuff. She saw it as a tough ramp-up to realize that she was the only person ultimately responsible for this other person. But once she’d gotten into that mode she was happy not to have to compromise with anyone else. (We used to talk about whether she thought she’d meet someone someday, and her joke was that it would have to be someone with his own kid to make decisions about, since she wouldn’t be good at compromising with someone else when it came to her daughter. BTW, if any NYC-area single dads looking for a hot, funny, smart, independent secular Jewish mom in her mid 40s with a brilliant and funny 6-year-old daughter are out there, email me and I can set you up.)

Your support system of family and friends is going to be crucial. But I wonder if sometimes women with partners actually get less care and help after the baby comes because the partner is assumed to be filling that role? So you may actually end up with more help for the first month or so than you would have had if you’d had a partner.

I assume you’ve read Operating Instructions, one of my favorite "parenting" books of all time, which is Anne Lamott’s memoir of the first year of her son’s life. The father denied the baby was his while Lamott was pregnant, so she had and raised Sam "on her own" with her motley and loyal cadre of friends and family to help her. It’s the most real, honest portrayal of motherhood I’ve read, and I think a lot of that is because Lamott could focus so much on her relationship with Sam and not have to worry about a relationship with a partner at the same time. (Full review here.) It’s not going to give any practical instructions for being a single mom, but it will help you keep things in perspective about parenting in general.

But that’s the limit of my knowledge of being a single mom to a baby. So please, readers, jump in. What can you recommend for Rachel, in terms of resources for single moms and arranging help?

Coolest lunch ever

Way back in the ’70s, my mom was a La Leche League leader with this really amazing woman who had a daughter my age. Flash forward 30 years, and the daughter, Beth, is now a mom of 3 kids and an Ask Moxie reader. And a way cooler mom than I’ll ever be. Listen to what she’s doing with her kids’ lunches:

"My mom thought you might find my new
"passion" interesting.  I’ve taken to bento boxes.  Have a hard time
getting my 5 and 8 year old to eat healthy.The only vegetable they like is
artichoke, and once in awhile corn.  Both of which won’t make it in the
lunch box.  I’ve loved Japanese culture since Akiko, an exchange student in
high school, introduced me to her culture.  So we’ve become bento-addicts
in my house.  The first lunch was peanut butter and jelly flower sandwiches
(healthy pb and j), a molded hard boiled egg, crackers, cucumber flowers,
homemade ranch dip, mandarin oranges, soy milk to drink.

The second attempt was molded jasmine rice, edamame
boiled, blueberry and oranges on skewers, soy ginger dipping sauce, rice crispy
treats and fruit chips.  I added honey wheat pretzels as the rice crispy
flower stems (not in the photo).

And.. the kids gobble this up!  I just ordered
soybean paper, as the taste/smell of nori turns me off

Lots of bento boxes have nori cutouts which I can
substitute the soy paper for.  There are nori stencils, but I
think I can use scrap booking tools from any store to cut the soy

Making lunch has become my nightly, 1/2-hour of
artistic fun, with the kids.  They LOVE to pick out what to put in their
bentos.  From what fruits or veggies can we use to what types of protein
can we find. And how can we make yummy dips.    I thought people
were nuts taking photos (flickr devotes pages to bentos), but I found I was so
proud of my little creations that I had to take pics.

And the egg molds…. the coolest thing I’ve
found ever!"

And she sent pictures:



Now I’m feeling reeeeeeeally guilty about leaving my kids with leftover pasta with tricked-out jarred sauce for lunch…

Q&A: post-partum insomnia and irrational fears

Continuing with the theme of admitting how hard this can be sometimes…

Wendy writes:

"I’ve developed insomnia. 8 month old baby wakes up only 1x per night now (hooray) sometime between 2-5 am. I breastfeed, he goes back to sleep and I lay awake for a couple of hours. I’ve also lost my ability to nap. Overtired? PPD?

Also, since the baby was born, I’ve become afraid to fly (plane crash), afraid to drive (car crash), afraid to walk around the block (car crashing into the stroller), afraid of sitting in my house (tree falling over and crushing us), afraid to go into the bank (bank holdup)….I have not become a shut-in but find myself preoccupied with worst case scenarios."

I think this is post-partum anxiety, which is technically different from PPD, but I think is also caused by a complex interaction of factors, including hormones.

I am going to hazard a guess that a lot of us have suffered from some mild form of insomnia after having babies. Which is an unbelievable pisser*, because if the baby is actually asleep, it’s cruel that we aren’t, too. I’ve definitely gone through periods of this, even when I was not depressed in any other way. And it seemed to ebb and flow with my hormones and exercise and nutritional intake.

I also noticed (and why do I feel still a little scared to admit this, even now?) that I had preoccupations and almost visions of something bad happening for the first few months with both my kids. With my older one, I was constantly worried that a car would jump the sidewalk and hit the stroller and kill him. Sometimes I couldn’t get the thought out of my head, and I’d lie awake at night worried about it. Then when I had the second baby, the fear was that somehow my older one would accidentally snap the baby’s spinal cord and leave him paralyzed. I could not shake that fear for a good 4-5 weeks, starting about 2 weeks after the baby was born. I’d be sitting with them both, playing with the older one and holding the baby, seeing it happen in my mind as if it was a memory instead of some cruel mind trick.

The one good thing was that with the second one I didn’t worry that there was something wrong with me, and I have the blog world to thank for that. By that time I’d read enough "shameful confessions" online to know that there are things we’re afraid to admit, but that a lot of us are dealing with. Just because I hadn’t heard other women joking around about how afraid they were of really unlikely things in the first few months didn’t mean tons of us didn’t deal with it.

But back to Wendy’s problem: Just because lots of us have dealt with the insomnia and ultra-worry doesn’t mean that you should have to suffer through it. I think that taking Omega 3 supplements (2,000-3,000 mg a day of fish oil or flax seed oil**), getting 20-30 minutes a day of exercise, and getting 10-15 minutes a day of sunshine will probably fix you up in about a week or two. At least to the point that you can catch your breath and figure out what else you need that can ease your load and help you start to reach out to get some help.

You may find that you need counseling and/or anti-depressants, but I’d rather see you do the Omega 3s and exercise and sunshine first, because if your body’s a little off-kilter you should fix that first before going on meds so they’ll be even more effective (and just so your body doesn’t get depleted). I’d give them a few weeks to kick in, then call your doctor if things aren’t significantly better. (Mention "crippling insomnia" and "persistent worries" to get them to take you seriously.)

Here’s something really interesting I read in Erica Lyon’s The Big Book of Birth (I have a review copy, so I don’t know if my page number would be helpful, but it’s in the last paragraph of the "Massage" section in Chapter 4):

a recent study showed that if a partner massaged a new mother for fifteen minutes a day it is as effective (!) as medication for moderate postpartum depression.

I think it’s probably a combination of feeling taken care of by someone else and the way massage helps your body regulate itself (the same way getting regular massages helps you fight off colds better in the winter). But if you have a partner or friend who would be willing to massage you for 15 minutes every day, it might help regulate your system, too.

So. Yeah. It’s a problem, but you’re not a freak because it’s not that unusual (unfortunately), and it’s treatable.

Anyone want to share? Bizarre fears you had when your babies were little? The most sobbingly cruel episode of "I finally got this child to sleep and now I can’t fall asleep myself" you can remember? What you’re wearing today? (It’s supposed to be gorgeous and sunny here in NYC on Monday, so I’ll probably be wearing a red-and-white patterned wrap dress and red slingbacks to work.)


* By the North American phrase "pissed off," meaning angry, not "pissed" meaning drunk, which would undoubtedly be more pleasant.

** Hey, I still have no idea what the deal is with flax seed oil, whether it’s completely safe for all of us, or not so great for fetuses but fine for post-partum moms, or whatever. I’m still tempting fate by taking it, but know that I’m not a doctor or nutritionist and am not recommending it specifically so take it at your own risk.