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Understanding the Delicate Politics of Preschool Parties

May 30, 1999|VICKI IOVINE

Dear Vicki: My daughter, Alicia, has been going to a very nice private preschool, and I thought she was a popular and well-liked little girl--at least until now. She came home in tears yesterday saying that one of her classmates had a birthday party and didn't invite her.

How can a parent do this to another person's child? When Alicia had her birthday party, she invited every child in her class. What are the rules of preschool parties?


Dear Already: People who are emotionally uninvolved, like child development experts, say that the number of guests to a young child's party should be the same as the number of years being celebrated. In other words, a 4-year-old should only have four guests. Deep in my cortex, I know this is sound advice, but I've never once followed it.

Like you, I have usually invited the entire class on the theory that it was my social obligation to pay back for all the parties we'd been to already. By the time I'd thrown my fourth or fifth party, however, I learned that you can cut the number of tiny guests right in half if you limit the guest list by gender. No one seems to find being uninvited at all insulting when all the little boys are neglected together.

Parties are expensive and exhausting for all concerned, and you might face a time when an "intimate get-together" is really all you and your kid are up for. In that case, the party invitation rule doesn't apply--if you invite three kids or fewer you're excused from the "invite one, invite them all" commandment.

P.S. Is anyone besides me overwhelmed with the whole "party favor" thing? Let me know.


Dear Vicki: My ex-husband and I share joint custody of our two boys. Don't let that fool you, though--the kids spend every school night with me, I take them to the doctor, little league practice and piano lessons. Their dad (and his girlfriend, usually) hangs out by his pool or takes the boys to movies.

So last Sunday, my 2-year-old youngest boy, my baby with a halo of blond ringlets, was dropped off by my ex with a crew cut! "Bob" said that Christopher "looked like a girl with all that hair, and it was up to a man to cut it." I think that's a crock and that Bob really just wants to get to me. What should I do?


Dear Mommy: Your upset is certainly understandable--I would probably be homicidal since I bristle when the volunteer mom combs my kids' hair on picture day--but you wrote me just in time, because the answer to your question is "nothing."

You shouldn't do or say anything, especially in the presence of little Christopher. The ringlets are gone now, no matter what. To show upset will achieve nothing but to make Chris feel less adorable in your eyes or, worse, feel like his mommy thinks his daddy is a jerk.

You know and I know the truth--but one of the greatest gifts you can give your fellas is the right to believe that their daddy is the grooviest guy on the planet. And, equally important, Bob must support you as the goddess mother that you are. Anything less is emotional larceny.

Maybe you are right; perhaps Bob cut those curls to put you in your place and reinforce his authority as the dad. Fine, he's entitled, sort of. And if you act like it's no big deal, he may be inspired to discuss his child-grooming plans in advance. That's the goal, to make those decisions together without the undertow of revenge.


Dear Vicki: I've just been invited to the baptism-christening of the baby of a couple my husband has known since high school. Am I supposed to bring a gift, send flowers, light a candle?


Dear Holidays: I'm going out on a limb here, but I don't think a child's induction into religion is a Toys R Us moment. You are asked to participate as a sort of spiritual witness, to share in the specialness of the occasion.

If you have a way with words, a commemorative letter will be treasured by the parents and saved for the child.

If you're a talentless but loving person like me, look for a small book of meditations and write your own blessing as an inscription. Just try to find something more inspiring than, "Now I lay me down to sleep. . . ."


Vicki Iovine is the harried author of the "Girlfriends' Guide," a columnist for Child magazine and mother of four. Write to her at Girlfriends, Southern California Living, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or e-mail Please include your name and phone number.

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