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7 Ways to Entertain Your Baby While You're Lying on the Couch

When Orlando mom Kim Prunty gets home from work, she wants to spend time with her 9-month-old, Will -- but sometimes she just wants to crash. She's become an ace at entertaining her son while horizontal. Her repertoire includes:

  1. Participatory songs like "If You're Happy and You Know It," "Pat-a-Cake," and "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"
  2. Lots of board books
  3. Mirrors ("Like most men, Will loves looking at himself. He can stare at his reflection for a good bit of time.")
  4. Blowing bubbles
  5. Noisemakers -- rattles, change purses, anything you can shake
  6. Wiggly Giggly -- a colorful, mesmerizing ball that makes silly noises
  7. Peekaboo ("I play the game with whatever is covering me up while I'm trying to relax.")

5 Tricks for Feeding a Baby with Less Mess

  1. Serve finger foods when possible. Pureed squash doesn't lend itself to hands-on eating, but cooked pasta and cereal can go right onto the high-chair tray. No spoons or dishes necessary.
  2. Gear up. Protect the floor with an old sheet or anything easily washable or disposable. The circumference of the surface should be in direct correlation to the baby's flinging potential. (Consult your old physics textbook for the exact formula.)
  3. Roll slippery pieces of fruit, like peaches and bananas, in crushed cereal before placing them on the tray. There's less chance that they'll go sliding out of little hands.
  4. After she eats, give your baby a warm, damp washcloth to play with while she's still in the high chair. Rinse off the tray while she cleans herself up a little.
  5. Get a dog. It will sniff out and lick up any errant bits of entree.

One Cool Thing to Do with Your Baby in Tow

Become a regular at a restaurant where the waitstaff loves to carry your newborn around while you eat dinner.

Make Friends at the Playground
Draw on your old dating experience by breaking the ice with a compliment, suggests Marisa Thalberg, founder and president of Executivemoms.com. Try, "That's the cutest diaper bag I've ever seen!" Or ask a question -- "Where did you get that great stroller?" "It's really not so different from meeting a guy in a bar, like you used to do before marriage," adds Thalberg. Then start talking about common ground. Ask about her children -- you'll have plenty to discuss. Make sure you get her number so you can meet up for coffee or a playdate.

3 Unwritten Rules of the Playground

  1. If your kid is being bullied in the sandbox, refused a turn on the seesaw, or pushed down the slide, it's quite all right to tell someone else's child (in a nice way, of course) to knock it off. It's not okay to yell at him, give him a time-out, or take away his toys.
  2. Just because there are lots of other moms at the playground watching their kids, it doesn't let you off the hook from paying attention to yours. If your child is stuck in the monkey bars 10 feet off the ground, put down your BlackBerry and untangle him.
  3. Yes, we know there's nothing sexier than a man at the playground pushing his kids on the swing. But in most cases that's someone else's husband, so back off.

How to Decode Parentspeak

Parents don't always say what they mean. Thanks to Metrodad.com, we scored a useful translation of some common parenting phrases.

  • When they say: Let's do a playdate next Saturday.

    What they mean: Will you please watch my kid next Saturday so I can get some free time to myself? I'm begging you!
  • When they say: We're so tired by the end of the day.

    What they mean: We haven't had sex in ages.
  • When they say: We're not sure when we're having another.

    What they mean: We're not sure we even want another. The one we have right now is kicking our butts! How do people have more than one kid?
  • When they say: He certainly has a lot of energy!

    What they mean: Your kid is a hyperactive monster! He must drive you insane. I pity you.
  • When they say: Looks like you could fit a whole soccer team in that car!

    What they mean: Since you have a minivan, will you drive my kids to the soccer game next week?
  • When they say: That's such a cute age.

    What they mean: I remember when my kids liked me. They'll get older and hate your guts.

Just Say No to Plans -- Guilt-Free

Follow this smart advice from Parents manners columnist Peggy Post, etiquette expert at The Emily Post Institute, in Burlington, Vermont.

  • How to get out of a "Mommy and Me" class

    Be straightforward. Simply say, "It's been great, but my life's just gotten pretty crazy. I need to cut something out, and I'm afraid this has to be it."
  • How to get uninvited to yet another jewelry (or kitchen-gadget or scrapbooking) party

    People will stop inviting you when you stop saying you'll go. Tell the hostess, "I can't buy anything, so you really should give my spot to someone who'll appreciate the invite." That should scare everybody away.
  • How to tell your neighbor you don't want to carpool

    Be up-front, but take the blame. Say, "I thought carpooling would work for me, but I'm so anxious when someone else is driving Johnny." If it's a relationship you want to preserve, add something like, "I wanted to be honest, but I still want us to do things together." Then set a date to meet.

What to Do If You See Your Neighbor's Babysitter Doing Something Questionable

Ask yourself:

  1. Is this something most parents would have a problem with?
  2. Would I want to know if it were my nanny?

If you answer yes to either of these questions, you can feel confident that you're doing the right thing by telling the parent what you saw, says Washington, D.C., clinical social worker Jennifer Kogan. But remember, some people might not want you to butt into their private life no matter how good your intentions, so if you sense the mom really isn't interested in any details, move on. You've done what you can.

15 Playdate Commandments

Thou Shalt Not:

  1. Forget to ask: "Are there guns? Unsupervised Internet? Adults you don't know in the house?"
  2. Stay too long. (An hour is plenty for the littlest kids.)
  3. Leave without helping to clean up.
  4. Bring a sick child.
  5. Schedule playdates at naptime.
  6. Supervise the kids any less rigorously than you would your own.
  7. Leave out toys that everybody can't play with. (Put away things that are difficult to share.)
  8. Let things be one-sided -- always doing just the inviting or the accepting.
  9. Bring a sibling or a friend to tag along.
  10. Neglect to have your children say, "Thanks for having me."
  11. Feed snacks without asking about food allergies and parental preferences.
  12. Drop off a child who isn't 100 percent potty-trained.
  13. Plop the kids in front of the TV or video games for the duration.
  14. Forget that guests always go first.
  15. Gossip to another mom about a child's behavior. What happens on a playdate stays on a playdate.

7 Snacks to Serve (That Kids Will Like and That Won't Make Moms Roll Their Eyes)

  1. Bite-size muffins -- try something nutritious like banana, zucchini, or pumpkin
  2. Individual baggies of trail mix
  3. Portable bites such as string cheese, yogurt sticks, and cereal bars
  4. Fruit kabobs
  5. Rice cakes a la hummus
  6. Roll-ups (Spread a tortilla with cream cheese, top with turkey and shredded lettuce. Roll, then slice into pieces.)
  7. Frozen grapes (for children over 4)

3 Things to Say If Your Kid Bites Another Kid

All you can really do is make sure the child is okay, apologize to both the mother and her kid, and then leave, says Kevin Osborn, coauthor of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby. If you know the other parent well and can joke around, you might try saying:

  • "We've been trying to get him to stop hitting. I guess it's working...sort of."
  • "Well, at least she's had all her shots."
  • "I'm so sorry. He's teething.?

Then you have to talk to your child seriously about the "no-biting rule." If he's old enough, a time-out is also in order. If you appear to take the situation too lightly, you and your child can end up with a bad rep.

What to Do If You Catch the Kids Playing Doctor

"The best way to handle this one is to take a deep breath and not make a big deal out of it," says Kogan. In a calm voice (no hysterics, please) say, "We don't take our clothes off when we're playing with friends." Then help the kids get dressed and find something else for them to do. Later, have a brief conversation with your child about what is and is not appropriate. Teach the kids that they must always keep their privates (bathing-suit areas) covered. Tell the parents of any other children involved, and plan to keep an eye on the kids a little more closely during future playdates. "Don't panic," says Kogan. This is very normal behavior, especially for kids around 4 to 6. "It's important to remember that for the most part, kids don't have an adult understanding of sex and that they're just exploring."

What to Tell the Pediatrician's Office to Have Your Kid Seen That Day

The three symptoms that will nearly guarantee your child a spot on that day's roster, according to Lola Culwell, longtime manager of an Austin pediatrician's office, are: a high fever that doesn't go down with treatment, lots of vomiting, and inconsolable crying. (Insider tip: If you are pretty inconsolable when you call, that helps too.)

For more run-of-the-mill symptoms like an earache, a rash, or a cold that just won't go away, your best bet is to call the moment the office opens in the morning. As the day wears on, the nurses making appointments are a bit more discriminating about who gets in that day. You can always try just showing up, but then you'll have to wait behind everyone else who already has an appointment -- unless your child is spouting blood or has a broken bone. But in that case, you probably should've gone to an emergency room.

A Surefire Rescue Technique When Homemade Baked Goods Are Due Tomorrow Morning at Preschool

Buy grocery-store cupcakes, take them out of the plastic container, smooth out the tops a bit so it looks as if you've iced them yourself, and put them on a pretty plate or tray. Extra credit: Throw on a few sprinkles if you've got a jar in the cupboard.

Atlanta-area veterinarian Will Draper, DVM, tells us these pets don't shed or take up lots of room -- plus they're easy to find sitters for when you go out of town for the weekend.

  • Grow-a-Frog: Watch the metamorphosis from tadpole to frog -- no touching necessary
  • Hamsters, gerbils, even mice: These pocket pets are easy to feed and maintain. Short life span, but inexpensive to replace. (Harsh, but true.)
  • Hairless felines: Sphynx cats (also called "Canadian hairless") are practically bald; without that irritating shedding, cats are very easy to care for.
  • Betta fish: Bowl, water, food. Done.
  • Madagascar hissing cockroaches: Seriously. They hang out in a small tank, eat vegetables (and even dog food), and your kids' friends (hey, their parents too) will love to come by to hear them do their hissing thing. Just make sure their home has a secure screened cover so they can't escape.
  • Cactus: Does it get any easier than that?
  • Pet rock: The one pet that is easier than a cactus or betta fish.



Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

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