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Until it comes back to you

When the phone rang, I was a little annoyed. I'd finally gotten the kids settled into a task for longer than two minutes, with no fighting, and was actually making progress on my project.

"Hello," I said, a little more brusquely than I should have. It's not the caller's fault that I'm stretched too thin in too many directions from too much multi-tasking. "Hello," I said again, this time more kindly.

"Hi Julie," the voice of a lady I know said brightly, "How are you?"

"Fine, fine, and you?" I said, biting back 'busy' as an answer.

"So how are the kids?" she asked, omitting an answer.

"The kids? They're fine. A little rambunctious, you know. It's time for school to start."

"Oh," she said, "Oh. Right, they're fine, that's good news."

"Why do you ask?"

"Well, you know, they were over here playing the other day, and my kids are sick now. I just wanted to make sure your kids are fine. You know, since Persistence had those sneezes," she said, when what she really meant was---did your kids make my kids sick.

"Persistence has bad allergies," I said, explaining sneezes and runny nose to a disbelieving audience for the zillionth time, "Poor thing comes by it honestly," I gave a little laugh, "My allergies are horrible, especially in the summer. I even had that bad asthma thing from that sinus infection. She's the same."

"Well, allergies can make it easy to get sick," she said, "I mean, I heard that. So many viruses, you never know who has what."

"Right," I said, "Hey listen, the kids are getting a little out of hand, I better go."

"Sure," she said.

And I wondered how many other invitations would come our way after this. I wondered whether it was worth it to me to try to work it out. I wondered whether it was worth it to me to call her again. I weighed my children's socialization against my own feelings. I find the older I get, the less tolerance for stuff like this I have. I even find less and less burning in me about the injustice.


"My daughter did what?" I said.

"Well, it was all the kids, they were all in the middle of it, so..." my friend trailed off.

"She'll help make amends, clean up," I said, "And then we'll deal with this at home. I'm so sorry."

I took my daughter aside, "This is not cool, kid, go help clean up and no more monkey business, okay? Clean up and then we go home."

"But, Mom, I didn't..."

"You were there," I said, "You are at fault too. Go. Clean."

My friend and I watched the kids scamper to clean.

"I don't know what got into my daughter," she said, "She's never done anything like this." She stared at me. I wasn't sure which thing she thought I could explain: why her daughter had done this, or why it happened while my daughter was there.


I had been avoiding this talk, but this friend wouldn't let me get away with it forever.

"We haven't seen you much," she said, stating the obvious, pointing out the elephant---the one I had hoped we could ignore until things changed, got better, or I figure out a solution. Then we'd go back to normal and we could pretend, because in the end, it shouldn't be a big deal. I hoped.

"Oh yes I know, I've been really..." I bit back 'busy.' So often I bite back that excuse, true as it might be. In this case, it was true, but not the real reason. "Look, there have been some problems, when the kids play. I don't know what it is with my kids and that girl, but it goes badly every time... My kids have to...well, I'm holding them accountable for their part, and they were grounded, but that was for them, you know? To teach them a lesson but also to get some space."

"I know," she said, "We have trouble with that child too, and I don't like the behavior. Did I tell you about the time she... and what about the time she... and then the incident when..."

I stared, horrified. I'd thought the behavior I'd seen in my house was bad enough. I had done my best to deal with what came, but the straw that broke the camel's back for me and my husband was the day our daughter was at this child's house for a playdate, and when he went to pick her up, she wasn't there and the family had no idea where the kids were. Unconcerned, because they were used to this, they said, "Oh, they're somewhere, at someone's house." My husband frantically combed the neighborhood, knocking on every door of every family we knew with kids. We finally found our daughter at the house of a child who was friends with the other girl, but whom we didn't know. We were supposed to be okay with this because everyone was okay. Our worry was supposed to be needless, groundless. We were supposed to understand that playing could mean anywhere in the neighborhood; after all, it's a nice one, with lots of nice families and the kids would only ever go to the house of someone they knew.

I knew the girl's parents, knew they were loving and did what they thought they should as parents. We just had different ideas. I knew they were nice. I wished I could be nice. But I couldn't keep letting it go on as it was. It was trouble, troubling, and some danger. So my husband and I decided the best thing was to guide the kids in other directions, and be kind but limit interaction. I kept telling myself I was choosing the best thing I could for my kids, but it still felt bad.

"I had no idea," I said, "I thought...well I knew it wasn't just at my house, I guess, but no, I didn't know. I guess, well I have to ask, how can you be okay with her at your place, with your kids at her place? I mean, I know not everyone, well okay nobody, is going to make the choice I have, but...?"

"I don't know what else to do, you know? She's a kid, and how do you look at someone and say yeah, your kid is not okay to play with?"

But that's just what I had done.


I looked with dismay at the playdate schedule. Somehow, we were unavailable for nearly every single get-together. My work schedule and travel schedule was amazingly the exact opposite of everyone else's. I felt that once again, we'd lose touch with local friends and classmates during the summer.

I called people, initially, for some spontaneous get-togethers, but most were busy: camp, class, activities, daycare, and so forth. "Maybe next week," they said, "Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday?"

"Rats," I said, "The kids are visiting their grandmother that week. Maybe the next week? We're pretty wide open all summer, just a few things, like next week..."

"We're just so booked this summer...had to keep the kids know," they said.

I did know. In past summers I had sat on floors with them and plotted out coordinated camps, classes and activities. We'd abstained this summer because I was working more, and had hired a sitter, who hadn't quite worked out. But on top of that, we decided our schedule and budget didn't really allow sitter and camp. Camp had gotten so expensive. Then, after the sitter left, it was late, so many things were already booked and with prices of everything higher, we decided sending me to the insane asylum in the fall after multi-tasking working and mommying all summer was cheaper than childcare.

Just another side-effect of the economy.


"Are you working full-time now?" my friend asked.

"Well, I'm either working or seeking work, full-time," I said, "It's a lot of work to get work," little laugh.

"Yeah, it seems like everyone is heading back to work or something these days," she said, "I keep thinking about it...but I think the kids need to get a little older."

"Only do it if it's what you really want, really need, as in your drive to work, or your budget needs your income," I said, "The mom job is full-time regardless, and the rest...well, it makes it all more complicated."

"Yeah, that's why I'm taking my time," she said.

I either heard or projected a feeling of peer pressure and internal pressure to be more, more than just mom, in her words, although she really seemed happy with her life as it was.


My daughter hung up the phone sadly, "She's not home again."

"Did you leave a message?" I asked.

"No," she said, "I can't." My heart was torn between pity and a feeling I needed to toughen her up. She needed to learn how to use the phone. She needed to not let her shyness hurt her or others.

"I'll call her mom later, and leave a message," I promised, "Do you want to call Carrie to play?"

"No," she said, "Carrie just wants to play teenager. She watches those shows you won't let us. And anyway, I don't want to play teenager."

I believed her, and we stood there, beside the phone base.

After a second, the moment fell off her like a too large jacket.

"Persistence, hey Persistence! Want to go play pet shop with the animals?" she called out.

"Yeesssss!" came the responding cry from the other room, "Let's go!"

They charged upstairs happily.


Every day, I watch the choices I make filter down, in many ways, on many levels.

What can I say about that. Possibly nothing more than: it is what it is.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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Christina said…
Wow, that's tough. My girls aren't old enough to have to deal with that level of socialization yet, and now I'm dreading it even more. I think I'd be someone who shifts my daughters away from bad influences, too.

Although I think there will come an age where I won't be able to guide them away from bad influences anymore. I can only hope I'll have taught them well enough to make the right choices by that point.
Robert said…
Best advice I can give: nobody said this parenting stuff was easy. It's tough to keep your kids away from things "everyone else is doing" but if it's not right, it's not right. We face it from time to time, since our daughter goes to a preschool affiliated with a church we don't attend. She gets invited to birthday parties along with all her classmates, but only to so many playdates. I can only assume it is because of my choice to leave that church, which apparently meant to those friends "leave them". I know they were quite rude to us when I first moved back here, though some have softened and some have even done some things to make amends, we're still outsiders to what was once my circle of friends here. As you say, though, it is what it is. We have to make the best of our circumstances and hope our children learn good principles and social skills along the way.
Anonymous said…
Ok, had to jump over here to comment too. I was completely unprepared for the politics of parenting. Or how differently folks choose to parent their children. And then diplomatically having to reconcile your parenting with all of these other parents - and then your child too. ("But Adam gets to play in the street!" ...Oy.) And then the defensiveness factor too. Nothing makes parents hackles raise faster than any sort of comment about their parenting technique. And my final realization is that parents are never, ever, ever sane. We are far too blinded by love to be objective or rational enough with our decisions. We just take deep breaths, dive in and pray we do our best. Certainly we parents have the best intentions, at the least... right?
(BTW, hope this doesn't seem a bit much - and am thinking your readers are just gonna say "duh" -but you are a fabulous writer. Seriously, excellent.)

Anonymous said…
I agree with you and understand how hard it is to make these decisions even if they filter down. I did the same thing the other day out of fear, worry and danger. My friends child is just too rough and aggressive. At her house I had to jump into their pool, fully clothed to save my daughter from being drowned. It is tough and I am completely dreading the next time we are invited over and I have to politely decline. But, my daughter's safety and my sanity are worth it. I don't blame you one pit and it is not easy to work out all the personalities, parenting styles, etc. But in the end, you have a right to defend your style, your values and your personality to the fullest.
SciFi Dad said…
To echo the sentiments of others, parenting is never easy. We all have to live with the effect our decisions have on our kids, whether those choices were thrust upon us by circumstances beyond our control (like economics) or they were made with complete freedom.

The key, at least for me personally, is to try and remember that what's most important is that our kids are happy, and while we may not realize it sometimes, their happiness often depends on our own. To that end, we have to come to terms with our "grown up" issues so that they don't become little kid issues as well.
Unknown said…
I know, I know. I'm kind of bad at this aspect of mommying. I feel like I haven't given my oldest kid enough friends. I just am not quite on the same page as some other parents. It makes is complicated. Also my schedule is so different with the much younger siblings and neither being a working mom (at office) nor at home full time -I do work, sometimes overnight. It interferes with family life, sleep, social life, etc.
Anonymous said…
Oh yes, we deal with play date steps and missteps all the time. Just go with your instincts. If a kid or family is bad news, stay away. Don't keep engaging them out of politeness.

BTW, we don't let Adam use the phone yet, he can only answer if it he sees the caller ID is someone we know (most likely me or grandmas). But we always do the calling for him and give him the phone once we reach his friend.
Liv said…
this made me a little sad. i hate playdates. mainly, i think i'm worried at my own level of social awkwardness. i dunno if i'm equipped to deal.
Jennifer S said…
I'm often torn between letting go and worrying about the possible influences or dangers that could change my children's lives.

I'm afraid I've come down too hard on the side of caution. My children choose their own friends now, of course, but I have some control (outside of school) about how much time they spend with those friends, and where. The day will come when my ability to guide them will become limited. But I wonder all the time if I'm closing off their world too much, with worry or because it's more comfortable for me.

I wish I knew.
we_be_toys said…
Man, I can so relate to this, and no - no playdates at the house where no one keeps track of the kids.

Every time we find a kid who seems like they might be well behaved, intelligent, not plugged in, something rears it's ugly head and we're back to just us.

The last playdate we had revealed a kid who's every comment and interjection, while playing with Playmobil, had to do with the internet and killing. Yikes. I wasn't even that bent, knowing that there isn't any internet for kids at my house, but the parents showed up an hour late, with their take-out dinner in hand, and smoking like chimneys. Wow. Guess my time isn't worth a plug nickel. Not the best first playdate behavior. Guess we're back to the beginning again.
Thank god for having two kids close in age!
Anonymous said…
Sometimes I envy my folks. They just sent us out the door to navigate the neighborhood in the summer and packed us off to school again in the fall. There was no having to deal with making nice with your child's mom because there was no arranging of time and place for getting together.

I loathe the whole play date thing. I avoid it as much as possible. Activities are kept at minimum because girl isn't old enough to have a life too independent from my own.

Other parents parenting skills or lack thereof? Well, I have issues with even my closest friends and my own siblings when it comes to what is okay and what isn't. I set the boundaries for my girl and I am not very diplomatic about it. Everyone seems to deal with that and what they gripe about in my absence isn't my business anyway.

The greatest day of my life came when girl began to entertain herself. Now I can send her outdoors to play or upstairs to her room or down to the playroom - and she goes and she plays.
Florinda said…
So many aspects of life are like a multiple-choice test with no single right answer, and yet "all of the above" or "none of the above" doesn't work either.

I've worked fulltime, outside the home, since my son was three years old, and I know it cut him off from some playdates, organized sports and activities, and other aspects of his social development. But come to think of it, it cut ME out of that too. Maybe it didn't have to, but the price of running ourselves ragged to keep up was too high.

My stepchildren have been in the same boat for the last few years since their mom started working post-divorce, and they have the additional complication of the Shared Custody Shuffle.

I think that our circumstances may have reduced the amount of parental politics in my life, but then again, I haven't always known the parents of my kids' friends, which is not an ideal thing. But as you say, it is what it is.
Jen said…
Ohhh you've captured quite a bit here.

How on earth are allergies going to make someone more susceptible to viruses? Is that what that woman meant? Or was she saying that because she really didn't believe you when you said it was allergies?

And why are people so passive aggressive? Either say nothing or say you think your kid got sick from your friend's kid...the game playing that we adults have to endure....MIND NUMBING.

Your kids will get back into the groove once school summer without all those kids won't make a difference in the long run...although I commiserate with your mom-guilt over that one. Truly.
Anonymous said…
Wow - this one is something of a mind-boggler. We never really had to deal with things like playdates etc. with my son. We did have some concerns (more like scared p**pless worries) about some of his 'friends' in high school, but by that time he pretty much knew where the line was, and he really never wanted to cross it.

Nice picture at the top of the post, though.

Gross|Photo said…
Beautifully written. As a grandpa I see my daughters and grandkids going through the very same trials. It just seems that they grow so fast and you want to keep them safe. Are we in the minority in this. My grandkids will be home schooled and people say, "you can't shelter them forever!" To hell we can't, at least until they have a better sense of judgment and decision making.
jeanie said…
I know the song you are singing, Julie.

Doubly hard when you take your own relationship (or not) with the other child's parents also.
Julie Pippert said…
Christina, that's all I can hope, too.

Once my kids hit school age, I noticed something more: the balance between helping them fit in enough to not get eaten alive and maintaining their own sense of self and self-worth. I don't want them worrying about what others think, but I do want them being considerate and aware that it *does* matter.

Robert, the matter of church is an issue for us, too. The politics of playdates and birthday parties are crazy in some cases.

Caroline, thanks and yes, I wasn't quite prepared for it either. I'm not sure why it needs to be so much as it is, and yet, it is what it is LOL. Yes, we are probably not quite rational about it, and definitely all these different boundaries can be intriguing rubbing alongside one another.

Momish, thanks for those words, especially the understanding. Yes, you're right. I think the thing is knowing that at this stage I get to make all the choices and who I am and what I decide, the values I adhere kids are unwitting passengers on my trip.

SciFi Dad, yes, it's not easy, but their happiness also gets more complicated the older they get. It's a challenge to keep up.

Karen, that's it exactly. Yes, that's it. It helps to know you get it.

Angela, thanks. Many thanks. I tell myself that, but you know how it is. Also, SO GLAD you weighed in on the phone issue. I feel like there is such a rush to grow up kids. I take flak for some of my choices, I know, but I haven't pushed the electronics. I don't want phone and computer and electronic games and so forth. I want my kids to know a childhood without that for themselves. Among other reasons.

Liv, the challenge for me is that, hmm, I don't view all interactions the same way, and I'm a very INTJ sort, which can rub wrong. So yes, it is a challenge. The upside to school aged is they make their own friends, and the interactions are more from that angle---if both kids are keen to play together, we tend to make it happen.

Jennifer, I hear you. I can only say that we can do what we think is best, even if the why we think it is unclear. I'd rather my kids learn to make good choices, even if sometimes it is erring on the side of caution, by my guidance now. I'd rather them think "I'm not comfortable in this and that's okay so I'm bailing and two hoots what anyone thinks" when 16 and teen peers do something stupid. I know I did that many times. It didn't earn me the popular card (teens are less understanding of independent thinking than TV shows would have us believe---and I can't say their adult counterparts are much better all the time, self included LOL) but it did earn me the self-respect and less regret card.

We be toys, it is a challenge, especially as my kids get older. This wasn't my situation, but a woman I know was telling me a mom was helping girls at a 10 yo slumber party set up MySpace pages. UGH! Of course of course many parents are nice and kids too, this isn't my point. I'm saying mainly that sometimes I worry about how my choices affect them, and if it really is for their good.

Annie, I admit that occurred to me. We went to camp or something in the summer, but it wasn't all summer. It seemed like people stayed home more back then. My mom never wondered if kids would be home or around. She never called to set up something formal. We were sent outside and played all day. Now, people are so jampacked. It can be hard to connect. Time and boundaries.

Florinda, I think you hit the nail on the head: it's a multiple choice test with no right or wrong answer because the ideal is perfection which is impossible. It's a trick question, there you go, LOL. Yep, it is what it is.
I am just flabbergasted at the parents who didn't know where your child was. What. the. hell?!

I don't get mad easily but I would have been livid. You obviously handled it better than I would have.
Robert said…
Another comment in here reminds me of an article I read a while back about couple-dating. Basically, it was pointing out that dating seems hard, but it's four times as hard to get four people (two husbands and wives) to all enjoy each other. Throw in kids, and suddenly it's like group-dating. That'll give almost anyone a complex if you think about it too hard.

That said, we've been lucky to make some wonderful friends and our kids get along well. We'll see how we do in our next environment, but I suspect things will be better in a different town.
Whirlwind said…
What a great post. I would have been livid if I let my daughter go over a friends house and then found out she was elsewhere. And no, she would not be allowed to go back.

We are dealing with similar things. The kids want to play with their friends but it's so hard to facilitate and coordinate their schedules! We do have a few coming over tomorrow to tie-dye some shirts with us though.
Bon said…
wow, Julie. this was an amazing and poignant series of vignettes, craft-wise, but it wrenched me too. i don't know how to deal with that stuff about boundaries and differences in parenting styles even with toddlers, within our families, and having real issues arise in that realm is one of the few areas of parenting that cause me serious projected anxiety. the hurt of the semi-accusations, the weirdness of it all.
Christine said…
isn't it weird how just when they come out of their babyhood and we think things are easier without diapers, and nursing, and bottle, and tantrums that so many other difficult things come up.

you mentioned the conflict between your feelings and your child's social growth. i know exactly what you mean here,julie. this crap is HARD!!!
Anonymous said…
I hear ya Julie. It seems like everyday I am trying to decide between do I want to be fulltime SAHM or halftime SAHM and halftime worker.

I pray a lot.
As long as my kids are smiling more than crying; I take that as a good sign.
Ally said…
I loved how this post wove through many recent parenting decisions and dilemmas. We can all relate on some level. Thanks for sharing all of this, and for what it's worth, I'm with you on all of this-- sticking with your gut sense, staying the course with your own parenting style. I am your fan.
Anonymous said…
So much to consider. So much to ponder here. I've been where you are. Some days I'm still there and it's a tough road.
flutter said…
every little choice, yes?
Anonymous said…
The trickle down effect. It is tough to see the effect that your parenting has on all aspects of our children and community. We sometimes have to make tough choices. We need to know that these tough choices are best for our children and our family though. Also, know, that in the end, our children turn out just fine.... sometimes in spite of the decisions we make.
I don't care what neighborhood those people live in. Not cool.


I'm not looking forward to the politics of play dates.
Gwen said…
You've captured so much of the "politics of parenting" so well, Julie. A lot of it is undercurrent, innuendo, passive-aggressive, isn't it? In every relationship you have to draw your own boundaries, I think, of what you can accept. I mean, all parents fail, especially me, but there are some failures I can tolerate and others I can't. So right now there are houses in the neighborhood in which my children can play and houses they can't. And while I feel a certain sadness for the children in the banned houses, I still believe that protecting my kids is my main responsibility.

What I've learned not to sweat, for some reason, is how the parents feel about me. I don't like everyone in the world, so I don't expect everyone to like me. It's no big thing--just chemistry, right? And who can explain how that works?
crazymumma said…
my head is spinning after this post because we have had to deal with almost every situation you write about.

and oh, I have so many things to say but I am so very tired I can barely string this sentence together.
Mad said…
So far my child hates playdates and other children. Each time we try again, I walk away feeling yucky and she is in tears. Needless to say, we don't try often. And yet, I am fully aware that these are the easy days. How much harder it will be when she likes children whose families make me bristle.
You know, we've not yet done play dates ... hence my terror of them.

What you've described is exactly what I fear, especially since I already feel I don't fit in anyway.
le35 said…
I know that for me, my trickle down effect is staggering on my children. "I know that 4 is too soon to send a child to school." But to make peace, she's in a part time preschool program. ONly half day instead of the public whole day 4 year old program. I just can't do that. . . But it definately hurts my play date chances.
painted maypole said…
oh, how hard it is to navigate these waters. i feel your pain on oh, so many of these.

it is what is

Stephanie said…
This is the part of being a parent that makes me crazy. Every single thing I do affects these little people, who are dependent on me for every single thing and whom I love more than I can describe. I get tired - so INCREDIBLY tired - of being the person who is supposed to know what to do, how to do it, and how it's going to affect my children, every minute of every day.

We do the best we can do and hope for the best. At least, that's all I know to do.
Anonymous said…
I bet the parents of "that girl" would want to know about inappropriate behavior. It's not a critique of others' parenting to share information about their kids' behavior. Parents cannot correct behavior they don't know about.

My wife and I loathe the idea of playdates and having to "manage" our children's play schedule. We both got to just go "out to play" "on the block" when we were kids. The boundaries were clearly drawn, but within that we were "free range children" and we learned to handle ourselves as such. We want that for our children.

What enabled that was a block full of parents who kept a watchful eye over *all* of us and corrected *any* child who misbehaved. Threats to "call your mother" struck fear into us like nothing else. Cooperative discipline and care was how this informal network was managed.

Of course, they didn't have the ability to make thinly-veiled passive-aggressive blog posts to their virtual blog friends. They had to "use their words" to communicate in real life with their real neighbors about their children.

I guess that's what I expect our neighborhood to be like as well.

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