I’m a big fan of the Cheap Trick: the itty bitty effort that packs an impressive punch. The trifling gesture that draws the sort of “ooh”s and “ahh”s you never have, and never will, deserve.

But I’ve mastered so few of them. I can’t make a three-ingredient crowd-wowing cake, or sweep my hair into a head-turning up-do with the flick of a wrist. I’ve never even figured out how to rock those cool ribbon embellishments atop a wrapped present.

I have one great trick, though. And to make up for the undue kudos it nets me, I’m going to share it with you.

Starshine Roshell

The next time a friend complains of being overtired, overwhelmed, and over-worked, put your hand on her shoulder and say, “Why don’t you drop your kids at my house this afternoon for a play date, and take a few hours for yourself?”

And say it like you mean it. Like the idea doesn’t terrify you. Because here’s the crazy thing, the dirty little secret about having other children over to your house: It’s actually easier than not having them.

Everyone knows the Law of Progeny Pandemonium, that the chaos within a family home increases exponentially with each child you shlep home from the hospital. But the law doesn’t hold if the youngsters bursting through the front door are not your own.

In fact, there’s a shocking reversal-of-chaos phenomenon that ensues when your offspring have someone else to play with. Someone else to nettle and tug on and tease. Someone new, who finds those tired old Lincoln Logs “cool!” and the long-forgotten swing set “awesome!”

Sure, they need help reaching toys on high shelves. They demand snacks. They make messes. But the way I see it, any playmate who’s potty trained is less trouble for me than enduring another mind-numbing round of Go Fish or folding my unlimber body under the coffee table for Hide and Seek (or as I like to call it, Hurt and Creak).

Even as I’m getting credit for being a generous friend – racking up points as the “fun” mom who relishes the blessed company of all precious children – I get to paint my toenails in solitude or check my email or hole up in my bedroom with a saucy book while the kids are … while they’re … okay, I have no idea what they’re doing out there but that’s really the whole point.

“Except for the occasional making of sandwiches, saving the playmate from drowning in the pool, and spinning them on a tire swing, I get tons of work done,” agrees a friend of mine who knows the play-date trick. “It’s so worth it.”

The greatest part of this scheme is that even when your friends get wise to it – when they realize that by dropping off their kids at your place, they’re actually doing YOU a favor – you won’t be reproached. You’ll be rewarded with a reciprocal play date at their house so that they, too, can appear to be givers while surreptitiously avoiding the dreaded daily “what do we do till dinner?” dilemma.

About the only downside to hosting play dates at your home is that it’s addictive. My neighbors have discovered the buddy-buffer trick and now we both dispense with any pretense and simply ask to borrow one another’s kids. All the time.

“Can I borrow your son for an hour while I try to get some yard work done?” they shout from their lawn.

“Sure,” I call back, “if I can I borrow yours tomorrow morning. I need to practice my up-do.”


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