It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Flexibility is a virtue

Sunday night. My phone rings. Emily’s mother. “I know Monday isn’t one of her usual days, but I was wondering if we could switch with Thursday?”

“Oh, sure. No problem!”

Emily’s mother is such a sweetie. She’s in a bind, she needs the support, I can hardly say no. It’ll make my plans for Monday a little awkward, mind you. Timmy’s not going to be here today or tomorrow — he’s off somewhere with mom — so, with only three kids for Monday, I’d planned a fairly ambitious outing. Two busses to get us here.

Fun, no?

Can I manage that with four kids? I consider the logistics. With four, I’ll need a stroller, for sure, if only to give them something to hang on to. Strollers are a bit awkward on a bus, but the busses on the routes we’ll need to take will all be of the low-floor variety. The entry drops down for wheelchairs (and strollers!!), they have no stairs, and wider-than-normal aisles. You can even flip up one set of seats (assuming no one’s sitting on them) to make a niche for stroller (or wheelchair). About as convenient as a bus can be, really…

Emily’s not a great walker, of course. She’d need to be in the stroller for at least part of the day, anyway…

Four kids is kind of a lot to keep track of in such a busy place, and this being the last month of school, there may be some end-of-year class trips. If the place is crowded, keeping track of them could be very difficult…

I cogitate. What the heck. It’s a hot day. The air conditioning in the museum will be nice. And even if they only ride the busses there and back, the tots will be thrilled with the outing. We’ll go!

I’ve got the water bottles filled, the spare diapers and snacks tucked in the bags. We’re putting on hats and shoes, when …

Timmy and his mother walk through the door.

I greet her with a smile. “Oh, hello! I thought you were out of town today.” She nods, vaguely.

“Oh, yeah, well, that didn’t work out.”

Thank you for TELLING ME.

She does the hug-and-kiss and wanders off.

Damn. You know, if your plans change, why would you not INFORM the others who might be impacted by them? Yeah, I’m at work. Yeah, I’ll be here anyway. But maybe that extra child will change the shape of my day, alter plans. Maybe COMMON SENSE AND COMMON COURTESY would have you pick up the fu… phone and TELL ME?

Or maybe not.

I cogitate some more. Four was pushing it. There is no way I can manage five on and off the bus, keep track of five in the museum.

Good thing I was saving the happy news about WHERE we were going till we were on the bus. Because now? Now we’re going TO THE PARK!! Won’t THAT be fun?


It will, of course. They love the park.

The park appears busier than normal as we approach. Way busier. Way, way, waaaaay busier. I stop. Is it an end-of-year picnic for a preschool? Because that would be cool. Lots of kids to play with, lots of adults for me to chat with.

Hm. Balloons and streamers. A table full of food. Looks a little more organized than yer standard preschool potluck picnic. And … yes. A table full of presents. And a humungo birthday cake.

It’s a party. A birthday party.

If I had one or two kids, I wouldn’t hesitate. But with five? More cogitation. More mental totting up the risks and benefits…

Nope. There is no way I could keep five of them behaving properly. No way one of them wouldn’t start tearing into the birthday cake, or begging food off a guest, or ripping into a gift, or muscling their way into the pinata goodies…


We turn around. End up back at home, playing chalk in the driveway. Not quite what I’d envisioned for the day. Flexibility is a virtue. Guess that’s why I feel bent out of shape.


June 9, 2008 - Posted by | outings, parents, the dark side


  1. I cant believe she didnt tell you that he would be there when you thought he wasnt going to be, its that thing about imagining you do nothing all day and are available for their benefit! oooh makes me cross! x

    Well, you know. My job is to look after kids, and she’s just bringing a kid who’s normally here, right? But of course, it’s not so simple as that, and a courtesy call is just good manners. Surprising how often this sort of thing happens.

    Comment by jenny uk | June 9, 2008 | Reply

  2. Damn – a birthday party in a public park? Surely that parent should expect that random strangers would bring their children & they will need to be catered for too? I would:)

    If I’d gone with one or two children, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Yes, they’d have joined in, but I’d have been able to monitor them closely. I mean, yes, you can — should!! — expect to have to cater to other children when you hold a private party in a public park, but you might also hope (foolishly, perhaps) that they’d be reasonably tightly supervised by their attending adults. I wouldn’t have been able to provide that level of supervision, not in those circumstances.

    Comment by juggling mother | June 9, 2008 | Reply

  3. What kind of contract do the parents sign when they sign up to have you be the caretaker of their child? I think you need some extra rules in there. “Minimum 24 hour notice for extra care or changes of days, or time and 1/2 charges will apply”. Add to that, “No toys or high heeled shoes from home allowed”

    After all these years I have a fairly detailed contract. It suits so well that I haven’t tweaked it at all in three years or so. However, I really like the minimum 24 hours notice idea (with an ‘except in case of emergency’ line), and you can be sure I’ll be putting that in the next one!

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | June 9, 2008 | Reply

  4. Booo on unthoughtful parents!
    What would she have done if you had already left for the bus?
    Probably be m,ad at you of course.
    Poor Mary, poor tots…
    But a nice walk is always good 😉

    Me, I wish we’d been gone when she arrived! That would have been totally natural consequences, just like we do with the tots. Poetic justice.

    Comment by Jennifer | June 9, 2008 | Reply

  5. Oh, what a shame to have to abandon a really fun plan! Good thing you are quick on your feet.

    We’ll get there this summer. With Emma home for holidays, I have a skilled and able assistant. Plus she likes the pay. Heh.

    Comment by kittenpie | June 9, 2008 | Reply

  6. Juggling Mother: We live across one street from a fabulous victorian walking park. There is a wading pool and a well built and maintained playground. There is always a birthday party going on in the summertime, it seems. Sometimes it’s my kid’s party. We find that most kids ignore us, and those that don’t, we certainly allow to join in. I’ve sponsored or attended probably 10 parties in Tower Grove. Free entertainment, no cost for the venue, and most attendees are in walking distance. It’s perfect.

    Comment by Bridgett | June 10, 2008 | Reply

  7. I can’t imagine not calling ahead to say your plans had changed! While yes, your job is to be there — how did she know the other parents for that day hadn’t cancelled as well and you decided to not be home that day?

    I find it interesting that she doesn’t communicate but that she obviously feels that everyone else should communicate with her — otherwise she would’ve called to ensure you’d be there?!

    She means well. She’s a very nice woman, just very often rather socially oblivious. (Like in this instance: she just assumed that I’d be here, because I’m always here! She informed me when he wouldn’t be here because that’s a departure from the norm; she didn’t inform me when these plans changed, because that’s just back to normal. Why would I need to be told?)

    The social unawareness can make her a bit of a challenge as a parent. However, I know it’s not personal, and there is no ill-will in it. She means well, I often remind myself. Then remind myself some more. She means well. She means well…

    Comment by Cindy | June 10, 2008 | Reply

  8. The kids are the easy part….It’s the parents that’ll drive you crazy!

    Comment by annie | June 10, 2008 | Reply

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