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Home Invaders

After a certain age, you aren’t much invited into people's houses. Until you become a mom that is. Read this mom’s tale.

Home Invaders

When you’re a little kid, you’re always on a playdate in someone’s home. This continues into high school, and then, of course, college, which allots an eyeful of living situations while traveling dorm to dorm. As a young-adult, you hop from home to home via house parties, drunk sleepovers, and one-night stands. What all these home visits have in common is their beginning. They start with a budding friendship based on the “I like you/You like me” theory. And then you have kids and everything changes. The “I like you/You like me” groundwork morphs into “My kid likes your kid/Your kid likes mine.” And so the home invasions begin.

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No one talks about the parent's playdate experience. It would’ve been nice to have another parent just say, “Heads up, you’re going to find yourself sitting in a kitchen with someone whose surname escapes you. Be polite and act like it doesn’t feel weird.” You blindly walk into people's homes and people blindly walk into yours with only little children's common interests as a jumping off point. And that is a playdate!

A new mom recently asked me how my son has so many friends. "Wolfie has more friends than I do and he's only 3," she quipped. "How did he make all these friends? How did you meet all these people? The park?!" Yes, the park. All the parks. And the local play center. And the pool. Basically any place with kids is a perfect opportunity to make friends.

Once Wolfie forms a friendship it's my turn to bring it all home...literally. Asking a family to come over on a playdate is a little like asking someone out on a date. It's awkward and you hope they say yes, and you are open to whatever day works for them. Thank goodness Wolfie has a tendency to ask people he likes, "You coming to my house now?" I pounce on his invitation and chime in, "What a lovely suggestion, Wolfie. Let's make a playdate!" Thus, totally avoiding that “let's go to the prom” sensation.

I think all children are fascinated to see other people’s homes and experience the way other families live. As we age, the fascination wanes. Unless we are dating the individual, seeing their home isn’t at the top of our to-do list. We’re fine meeting at restaurants and bars. Entering other’s apartments might even be considered intrusive. Well, parenthood puts entering new homes back on the list! Thanks to my son, I’m in on the adventure again, taking steps into unfamiliar territory. I am a mama, masking my own feelings of a clumsy invasion with a reassuring smile, encouragingly saying “Go ahead sweetheart. Let’s walk right in.”

Wolfie and I have invaded some lovely homes. I’ve envied people’s closet space and applauded families lucky enough to have a nursery. After all, this is NYC, where an apartment with a washer/dryer is rare as a yellow diamond. “Wow, you have two bathrooms,” I’ve gasped. “You never mentioned this at the jungle gym!” We’ve entered cozy homes full of stickers and crisp apples, and rowdy homes offering vanilla granola.

There have also been instances where parents who seemed very put together, yet turned out to be hoarders. I've held my child tightly while walking a tightrope between a cumulous of clothes and curios on my left and tumulus of tools and toiletries on my right. I’ve sat on floors because there was no room on a couch covered in shopping bags full of old hair dryers and bath toys. I've wondered, with an echo of Seinfeld, "Who aaare these people?"

I've never just popped by unannounced. Maintaining a home along with being a mom is a huge feat. Surprise visits are cruel. You can clean constantly but there will come a time where you're out of the house for days in a row and laundry will pile up, damp towels will inexplicably amass in the bathroom and the floor will get so sticky that the dust bunnies themselves will beg for a good swiffering.

However, on one occasion I was so taken aback by a home I could not wipe the disbelief off my face. The mother must've noticed. She quickly explained, “you'll have to excuse the mess, but what’s the point of cleaning? We don’t own the place. We’re only renting.” I was floored. We live in New York City! Everybody rents in New York City! A rental is no excuse for pillars of old magazines rotting in a living room. I wanted to jump up and call out the nonsense but said nothing instead. Besides, it's hard to jump up from an Indian style position on a floor. But I’d like to point out that if I have pushed a stroller 20 minutes to your door in the blazing sun, in 98% humidity, and you offer me a glass of water and I turn it down… your house is a disaster. Only a skeevy glass would force me to turn down water!

My home is part of the playdate equation too. I figure people already have preconceived notions as to what sort of person--and mother--I am from our time spent on the playground. I suppose they like me okay since they accept the invite into my apartment. (Parents usually don’t carry their kids over the threshold of someone they abhor.) When the time comes to bring it all indoors, I know personality has gotten me this far, now the home fills in the blanks. The eyes are no longer the windows to the soul, my actual windows are.

The goal is to make my home childproof and inviting, a cocoon of friendship and safety. I go through my space leaving no pillow unturned the day before a scheduled play date. There is an impression I need to make: I am a well put-together, responsible adult! And I don't think I can make that impression with a shoe pile by the door. Having been raised by an obsessive parent fixated on neatness and keeping up appearances, I feel I'm being judged. So, I look at my home with fresh, harsh eyes. "Is the bathroom clean? Has the rug been vacuumed? Are the toys tucked away to give the illusion of neatness while still being easily accessible? Is that a dust bunny? Do I have gluten-free, peanut-free snacks available?” Keep in mind, my son can eat an entire Polish Kielbasa, but other kids have dietary restrictions. Time to step it up!

Once our guests arrive, it’s on like Donkey Kong. Tazmanian devils have been released in my living room… and I love it! Legos, paint, puzzles, Play-Doh, let’s do it all! Of course, at some point the little ones are immersed in play and an opportunity arises to talk to the parents one on one. I get that sweaty palms first date feeling again. Self-conscious, hoping I’ve made a good impression, I push away the anxiety. I choose my words carefully and make small talk. Little by little, I try to loosen up and be myself. The playground does establish a degree of familiarity, but it isn’t like inviting my classmate to a party at my dorm. Nor is it like meeting my favorite coworker for a happy hour drink. I find myself experiencing something unique to parenthood. I am actually getting to know a person my son had a hand in choosing; and I am getting to know them in the most intimate of settings... our home.

With each new playdate comes a new experience. I have no clue what Wolfie and I are walking into. All I can do is be polite and grateful for each invitation. When it is my turn I can only try to be accommodating and keep an optimistic outlook. Sometimes there’s no connection between parents; Wolfie plays cheerfully while I pretend not to feel like a weird invader. Other times, I get lucky and I find myself sitting in a kitchen with someone whose company I genuinely enjoy. I find myself forming relationships with people I wouldn’t normally be friends with based on my child’s friendships. The “my kid likes your kid/Your kid likes mine” groundwork actually morphs into “I like you/You like me.” Unexpectedly, rich new friendships of my very own are created with only little children's common interests as a starting off point. With that, I happily join Wolfie in asking, "You coming to my house now?"

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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Balance board

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Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

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Detective set

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Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

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Sand play set

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Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Water play set

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Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

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Mini golf set

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Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

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Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

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Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

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Croquet set

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The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

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Wooden digital camera

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Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

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Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

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Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

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Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

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