Category Archives: manners

Miss Manners

I found your responses to my poll last week rather interesting, and as always I thank you for playing.  Many of you assumed I was the responder to the email about the playdate.  I was, in fact, the inviter, and I specified the date and time, as well as indicating that the child could be dropped off or she could accompany him.  The other mother replied that she could not do that date and time, but she could do Tuesday.  “We could meet at a park,” she suggested.

This has happened to me several times.  I have tried to make a playdate, offering my house but being willing to go to the other child’s as well, and the parent has busted out with, “Let’s meet in the park.”

Now, what the fuck is up with that?  You wouldn’t respond to a dinner party invitation by saying, “We could meet at a restaurant.”

Is my house not suitable in some way? Have we gotten a reputation for somehow hosting lousy playdates?  Perhaps you have confused my house with some den of iniquity and are trying to tactfully avoid having your kid hang out in an opium den?

News flash here, people.  Not every kid wants a playdate in the park.  Zachary, in fact, refuses to meet kids there.  The other kid is often late, which frustrates him.  The kids rarely end up actually playing together.  And, perhaps most importantly, he cannot keep up with the child.

In fact, now that we’re on the topic, he sort of stresses about outdoor play with other kids he knows, even at school.  He has gained a lot of confidence, but historically, the school play yard has been an anxiety-provoking place where the lack of clear structure and rules, as well as lighter teacher oversight, has often led to teasing or exclusion or sometimes just a misunderstanding that he couldn’t get past.  While people run around saying kids need more recess time and less structured classroom time, all I want to reply is, “Maybe that’s what your kid needs.  Don’t generalize to include mine.”

Granted, Benjamin definitely needs frequent run-abouts.  But Zachary?  Much as he has learned to navigate the school yard and much as he loves a playground when there is no pressure to perform in front of a kid he knows, he sure ain’t signing up to do a playdate there. Quite to the contrary: he sees playdates as a chance to interact with the other child in a calmer, more controlled seting, one-on-one.

One more thing – not every kid wants to go to someone else’s house, in unfamiliar territory, and find a pack of children there.  Yet, several times, I have had people invite him to a playdate, only to mention casually at the last minute that they have decided to invite a couple more kids along.

Yeah, that oughta help with the social anxiety.

Please, when you try to schedule a playdate, feel free to mention doing it at the park or with a passel of children, at which point I will honestly tell you that my kid likes your kid a lot but has a very hard time with playground or group playdates.  But, if I have invited your kid over, either explain to me why that arrangement would be hard for you or your child or just graciously accept the damned invitation.

If Zach wanted a playdate at the park or if he wanted you to start inviting other children along, well, that would be what I would suggest from the start.

Um, and one more more thing.  If you do accept the playdate and I arrange the schedules of three children and two adults to ensure that Benjamin is out of the house and Lilah is napping, please do consider writing in down on your calendar or tattooing it on your forehead.  Whatever you think it’ll take to help you to actually show up.

Thanks, dude.

At the sandbox

            I tend to lean towards the left on most measures, and people have been known to refer to me as a raving liberal every now and then.  But, unlike many of my liberal friends, I do not wonder how it is that so many people out there are self-absorbed.  I do not shake my head at those who put themselves first.  I do not ponder how it is that such large numbers of people seem to disregard the needs and rights of others, trampling over anyone in their path to get their way.

            I do not wonder because I spend an awful lot of time at playgrounds, so I have seen where it all begins.

            I have seen seven-year-olds climb the wrong way up the slide, then slide back down, then climb the wrong way up again, all while a line of two- and three-year-olds wait their turn at the top.  Their parents do not intervene, and why should they?  These are probably the same parents I see teaching their children to climb up the slide rather than the steps when they are babies.  All the while, I am repeating like a moron to my children, “Up the steps and down the slide,” while they look at me and wonder why their idiotic mother cannot see that everyone else is going up whatever way they please, as long as they are big enough to have the right of way.

            I have seen children twice Zachary’s size shove him aside at the top of the slide.  It was with great pride that I finally watched him shove back and assert his turn.  I have taught him to be understanding if a smaller child is taking her time or pushes past him, but I am pleased to see he is finally not letting the bigger kids take advantage of him.  Of course, he has no chance of really winning, because they just shove him harder while their parents sit idly by.

            I have seen three little girls come along and use the rope ladder to come down the wall, even though Zach and another child were patiently waiting in line to go up.  I have seen a child use our shovel, then drop it to climb to the top of the climbing frame, where he pushed my son for absolutely no reason at all.  When I picked up the shovel and gathered the children to go home, he looked at me and said, “I was using that shovel.”

            “It is our shovel,” I responded.

            “But I was using it.”

            And so I flat out told the little shit, “But it is our shovel and you just shoved my kid and we are going home.”  Perhaps his caregiver could have pointed this out, had there been one anywhere around.

            I have also seen older children take my kids by the hand, help them do things they cannot do, and soothe them when they hurt themselves.  And I have made a point of thanking them, telling my children to thank them, and complimenting them to their parents.

            I have seen my own children push other children, throw sand at them, drop toys down the slide, and snatch toys.  And you know what?  I have disciplined them EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Discipline is not a naughty word, and it is not about hitting or screaming.  Discipline is about teaching limits.  Whenever I say, “no throwing sand!” I am disciplining.  Whenever I say, “If you want to put that truck down the slide, you need to be holding onto it, because you could hurt someone,” I am disciplining.

            So, if you are one of those parents who is so fucking liberal that you are appalled at the idea of using the word “no” (and yes, there are parents who make a point of never using such a word), if you are a parent who thinks time-outs are stifling a child’s spirit or somesuch shit, if you are a parent who thinks that enforcing turns and rules will destroy your child’s creativity, hurrah for you.  Just keep your kids the hell away from the playground.


            It wasn’t the first time I had heard it.  It wasn’t the twelfth time I had heard it.  I have heard it so much over the last week that it runs like a cartoon jingle through my mind while I wash the dishes and unexpectedly pops out of my mouth when my husband and I are discussing Nietzsche over a glass of port after the kids are in bed.*  I recite it like a mantra twenty times while brushing my teeth, although I do suspect it has the opposite effect of an actual mantra.

            Because I know it is true, I start making calls at 5 PM, which is surely not the ideal time to try to have a phone conversation around my house, but since Los Angeles is eight hours behind us… well, you do the math.  I spend every spare minute during the day on the computer: researching preschools, sending emails, and creating a spreadsheet of relevant information and actions taken.  I make note of places to call once they are open for business, and I call while the children are injuring entertaining one another, later while J is bathing them, and even later, long after I ought to be in bed. 

Because we know it is true, we have expanded our search to include neighborhoods we otherwise would not be considering.  J wants to limit his commute.  I want fresh air, mostly because we have kind of a lousy track record with lung disease in my family.  (For the record, I think when your non-smoking mother dies of lung cancer in her thirties, you get a free pass on neuroses about air quality.)  But, we also know the kids need to get into a preschool, and we know how tight that market is in Los Angeles.

So do the schools, which is why I have heard it before.  And probably will again.  Yet, something about the way she said it this time, something about her admonishing tone, well, it kinda rubbed me the wrong way.

            “You’re going to have a really hard time finding any place that has room for a four-year-old.”  Really?  Is that so?  Oh, I hadn’t realized that.  Now, of course, I am aware, and will act accordingly.  If you could just tell me what exactly I ought to do to act accordingly.

            I know, I know: I was completely negligent.  I should have signed the child up for your preschool when he was still just a gleam in my reproductive endocrinologist’s eye.  Unfortunately, that was three houses, two states, and a country or two ago.  I had no idea I would be moving to LA.  And, your tone of voice has made crystal clear to me just what you think of parents who fail to enroll their children in preschool until they have a vague sense of where they will be living.  But, now that I have been properly chastised, what precisely would you suggest I do?

            Shall we stay in London, permanent expats held captive by the competitive preschool market?  Or perhaps go to Philadelphia, as originally planned, despite the fact that J has already told the company we will move?  Or, perhaps I should pack Zachary up and send him off to college, since I think UCLA is still accepting applications.

            Now, other schools I have spoken to have been apologetic.  Or, they have tried to be helpful.  Or, sympathetic.  Or, at the very least, they have restrained themselves from passing judgment, perhaps understanding that it is not Zachary’s fault his mother failed to foresee this move in 2003.  A few schools have even told us that there are spots and that J can come visit the school when he is in LA in a few weeks.  We have no idea what these schools are like, so I keep calling, trying to maximize his school-visiting efficiency by determining which schools may have spots, and that is why I found myself on the phone with the Judge Judy of the preschool world, who informed me, “You’re going to have a really hard time finding any place that has room for a four-year-old.”

            I tried, I really did, to keep my tone light and joking, but I suspect some of my frustration may have seeped through.

            “Well, I can’t keep him out of school till kindergarten, now can I?  So I guess I’ll just have to keep calling schools.”  And I got off as quickly as I could, because I was only in the Ls, and I wanted to make it through the Ms before getting ready for bed.

* Note: we have actually only twice ever discussed Nietzsche, and I am pretty sure it was long before we had children.  But it sounds good, doesn’t it?