Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Lies We Tell Ourselves

I know I am going out on a limb speaking on racial issues, and I’m probably going to say something wrong, but I'm going to speak what I think is truth anyway.  Particularly in light of the current political climate, I have been trying to educate myself more on racial issues, to confront this idea that, as Ta’Nehisi Coates would say, I think I am white, to acknowledge my white privilege, and to deal with my own subtle prejudices.  So, please forgive me if I step on toes while I try to work this out in words and force myself to take a good look at myself and the world I live in and, in doing so, make myself a true advocate for racial justice.

I have a favor to ask all my friends who, like me, think we are white: please stop sharing the story of that cute little boy who got his hair cut. On its face, this is a sweet story: boy cuts his hair to look like his best friend's hair and is gleeful that on Monday the teacher won't be able to tell them apart because of their identical haircut. Only here is the twist for us adults: he is white and his friend is black! There is a lesson to learn here! Clearly kids don't see color like we do!  There is hope for the world!

This is an example of one of the lies that we who think we are white like to tell ourselves. We, “enlightened” white people, like to tell ourselves that we can raise children who Don't. See. Color. Racism is thereby eradicated!  Pat yourself on the back because your child is colorblind!  But the story is sweet because we adults know it isn't true. Kids are naive. That kid with his new haircut is going to school, and his teacher will easily tell him and his friend apart because one appears white and the other appears black.  (And do you think this story would get nearly as much airplay if the races were reversed in the story?) 

As I understand it, the Japanese language does not have separate words for blue and green. Leaves, grass, the sky – all the same color.  (I assume they are shades of the same color, but I have no idea, not being or speaking Japanese.)  But we, who speak English, do have separate words, and, as a result, we can't “unsee” leaves and the sky as being different colors  - green and blue.  Similarly with race, maybe there was a time in ancient pre-history when people didn’t have separate words for black and white (though I bet we did or at least for other differences among humans) but even so, we do now, and, culturally, we cannot “unsee” that difference.

While we get an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back when we share this story and congratulate ourselves for being good white people who raise good white children, what we lose is the opportunity for real discussion about race and difference and marginalization and equality. Because the fact is that we all SEE color and notice race (and lots of other differences but let's focus on race here since it is at the heart of the story). And what we want are not necessarily clueless children who “just don't see color” but children who see it but don’t make JUDGMENTS about it, who don’t make ASSUMPTIONS based upon it, who even appreciate and understand that their friends may be treated differently BECAUSE of it.

There was a time when I comfortably thought that I didn’t view my black friends as “black,” just as my friends (who maybe happened to be black).  But when I started examining my white privilege and the subtle stereotypes and prejudices I had absorbed in my Southern upbringing, I realized that that was BS and not only untrue but unfair to my friends because that view ignores and diminishes their experiences that have arisen out of being viewed as black.  These are experiences that make us different (that maybe make us seek out friendship with each other because of appreciation of our differences, sure), but they are experiences that simply are not the same, even if we live in the same place at the same time and do the same things.  True friendship doesn’t allow us to ignore our differences and focus on liking each other on some shallow level.  It forces us to acknowledge our differences and learn from them and TALK ABOUT THEM and come up with ways together to keep them from having us or our children lead drastically different lives with drastically different opportunities and risks because of those differences. 

We who identify as white and benefit from the privileges that accrue to that status cannot hope to raise colorblind children because that denies the world in which we live. If we want to do right by our fellow humans, we must hope to raise children who see color and all that it means in this world and try to see beyond it to a real person with a real background and experiences and who will strive to make sure those differences don't mean different treatment.  It’s great to have children who think that it is totally cool to have a haircut (or a shirt or a common interest) with a friend of a different background, but it really isn’t ok to have children who don’t see and understand the differences.  Because the reality is that children who are viewed as black have different experiences than children who are viewed as white – even if they have the same haircuts - and we do a disservice to ALL of our children when we encourage them not to see those differences.  We do a disservice to ourselves and to our black friends when we lie to ourselves that colorblindness is possible or, more importantly, desirable.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Allowance

Allowance.  How much, for what, when?  This topic regularly comes up with parents.  There are a variety of approaches to allowances, and every family will have to decide what fits with their values, parenting style, and child’s (or children’s) personalities. 

When our daughter was going into first grade, we gave this issue a lot of thought.  I read a couple of articles and books, including the fantastic Kids, Money, & Values by Patricia Schiff Estess, which I recommend finding at your local library.  Here is where my husband and I finally shook out:
  1. We decided that, in our household, an allowance would be purely a money management training tool.  It is not a carrot or a stick.  We do not require that our child (currently only our daughter gets an allowance, though our son’s time is coming, in about a year) do household chores to earn her allowance.  Nor do we withhold allowance as a punishment.  Why?  Ultimately, our view is that no one pays us to do the little chores that keep the house running.  Cleaning up after yourself, gathering trash, doing laundry, unloading and reloading the dishwasher, etc. – these are all just the price of admission for living in our home.  No one is going to get paid to do these things.  Not us.  Not the kids.  And if we give ourselves permission to remove the allowance as punishment then we’re depriving our child of the opportunity to do what we have established as the primary purpose of giving her an allowance:  learning to manage money.  She can’t manage what she doesn’t have.
  2. That does not mean that the allowance does not come with strings.  Our daughter is now expected to make the vast majority of her discretionary purchases.  She knows that if we are on vacation and she just has to have that adorable stuffed cat to add to her collection of a million and one stuffed animals then her Daddy and I will ask, “Did you bring your money?”  We may buy her brother the stuffed cat HE wants, but he’s still living on Mama & Daddy’s discretionary dime.  If our daughter wants something non-necessary, she has to budget for it.  No money = no purchase.  Why?  We want her to distinguish between what she needs and what she wants.  Food, basic clothing, shelter, basic school supplies – those are things we provide because she needs them.  The one-hundredth stuffed cat?  That’s something she wants.
  3. That also doesn’t mean that we would never pay our kids to do chores.  Why?  Well, we pay someone to mow the lawn and wash the car, for example.  If one of our kids shows an interest in something that we already pay another person to do – well, we’d strongly consider just paying our child to do it.  We didn’t have kids to gain free labor, so it seems fair to pay them to do something we’d be paying someone else to do.

  4. Barring a truly exceptional circumstance, which has occurred only once, we don’t advance allowance.  Why?  There’s really no money management goal behind this one.  It’s simply because we don’t want to have to remember from week to week that we’ve already forked over the allowance she thinks is due. 
  5. That said, we will occasionally loan money if she hasn’t brought her purse.  Why?  Well, her Daddy and I have credit cards.  We do this all the time.  Understanding credit is part of managing money.  She pays us back as soon as we walk into the house.  No long-term memory required.  And we don’t change interest… yet.

  6. We do have her allocate her money among three permanent categories and one temporary category, but we do not dictate HOW she allocates her money.  Why?  Again, this is a money management tool.  We think the best way to learn is by trial and error.  She won’t learn if we don’t give her some freedom to make mistakes with her allocations when it really doesn’t matter (or to feel really good when she thinks things have worked out perfectly).  The three permanent categories are spending, savings, and donation.  Typically, she puts her weekly allowance in a special jar, where she may also stick any change she finds or any money she gets as a gift from a friend or relative, then every few weeks she pulls out the money and divvies it up among her wallet and a couple of specially labeled Mason jars.  The temporary category was her idea:  Christmas savings.  Turns out the kid has a generous spirit and LOVES buying her gifts to give family at Christmas.  She’s pretty good at it, too.

  7. HOWEVER, remember the title of that book?  We also want to impart some VALUES with our money management training, so we match savings and donation but not spending.  Why?  Matching indicates the relative importance we put on saving for the future and supporting charitable causes.  She decides how much to save (but boy does she love to double it, and she is VERY proud of her bank balance) and how much to donate as well as to which charity.  We make the match.

  8. Finally, we have no set schedule for increasing the allowance amount.  Our daughter was going into first grade when we started this training experiment, and she is now going into fourth grade.  She still gets $5 a week.  She hasn’t asked for a raise, and, for the time being, the amount seems to meet her limited discretionary needs.  If she asks for a raise and is willing to explain why she thinks she needs it or if her Daddy and I just decide independently that her circumstances warrant it absent a request from her, we’ll do an increase.  (And I am expecting a request in a year, when her brother starts getting an allowance.  Why?  Because she’s older and will think she deserves more.)
This system has worked for us.  Our daughter understands that money isn’t unlimited, that it is rewarding to see your bank balance grow and to know you have savings, that supporting a worthy charity makes you feel good about spending your money, and that spending on yourself often pales in comparison to buying something that puts a smile on the face of someone you love.  And as she gets older and starts actually earning her own money, we’ll add additional money management training tools like a checking account and credit card.

I’d love to read comments  from others about the system you use, why, and how it works for you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Confessions and lessons

I am still trying to get my head around the playground incident today.  I’m still trying to determine whether I did right or wrong by keeping my mouth shut.


#1:  My son is a pretty rambunctious four-year-old.  He can be rough and tumble and swear he has an almost unlimited supply of energy.  (As my sister describes it, he is either completely off or completely on.)  I don't make excuses.  He's tough.  We are constantly working on paying attention, considering others, slowing down, etc., etc., etc.  He is also a pretty introverted kid.  While he loves his friends (hugs and kisses for everyone!) and enjoys playing with them, he is equally likely to announce that he “just wants to play by himself.”  We are constantly working on boundaries.  Yes, you can play by yourself.  No, you can’t shove the other kid away.  Yes, you can say, “I don’t want to play right now.”  No, you can’t growl or roar at the other kid.

#2: I’m a pretty laid back parent.  I don’t follow my kids around the playground.  I may read or chat with another similarly-minded parent while the kids are playing.  I keep an eye out and have an idea where they are, but I don’t hover, direct their play, or interfere unless I see them doing something harmful or dangerous or mean to another child.

#3: I expect other parents to discipline my kids, not to the exclusion of me doing it, mind you, but when they see something I don’t, they should feel free to immediately chasten or command or send them to me.  If I see another child doing something harmful or dangerous or mean, you better bet your boots I tell them to stop, and I expect other parents to do the same to my kids.  I’m not the type of parent who will yell at you for disciplining my child for something I don’t witness.  I’ll thank you.  Honestly, it took me several years as a parent to realize that there even WERE other parents who didn’t operate this way.

So, I wasn’t sure how to handle the mom today who came over and very sharply told me I needed to supervise my child.  Apparently, he wanted to have the small play structure to himself and was expressing that wish by pushing other kids off and pulling hair.  Not ok.  He was racing the mom coming to berate me; he knew he was in trouble.  I pulled him out of play for a time-out, and we discussed the rules for staying at the playground:  equipment has to be shared because it’s a park for everyone;  no pushing or pulling hair or mean behavior of any kind is acceptable.  “But I want to play alone” isn’t an excuse because there are other places to play alone.  After about five minutes on the bench, I set him free, and he ran off chastened but happy to go play by himself on the hill.  I wish that was the end of the story. 

As he got out of earshot, I could hear the other mom – standing maybe 20 feet from me – telling her child “Stay away from that boy.  He’s a bad kid.  He pushes and pulls hair.”   Not briefly but on and on and on and loudly.  I resisted the urge to say, “I can hear you” because I’m pretty sure that was the point.  She was clearly trying to send a message to me that I was a bad mom and my child was a bad kid.  I guess maybe I was supposed to scream at him or spank him or make him leave the park instead of quietly disciplining him and returning him to play, and I guess she thinks it’s ok for an adult to call a four-year-old child names and to teach her child that bad behavior makes someone a bad person, not someone having a bad moment.

The thing is, I have been in her shoes.  My kids have been on the receiving end of bad behavior from other kids.  But here’s the other thing, per confession #2 above, I tell my kids that they need to work it out or just go play elsewhere, that maybe that kid is having a bad day and they should just steer clear.  And per confession #3 above, if I see the behavior, I tell the other kid to stop.  I don’t go yell at the other parent.  Because maybe they are reading a book or having a chat or just taking a break from having a rambunctious four-year-old climbing on them.  I don’t mind.  And I certainly don't start telling my kids or anyone else that the offending kid is a bad kid.

And now I’m mad.  At myself.  Because I feel like I should have said something instead of saying nothing.  I loathe confrontation.  My son didn’t hear these hurtful comments, so I just sat and said nothing.  But I did hear them, and I feel like I didn’t stand up for my kid or myself.  And now I think, who’s to say that this other mom won’t feel free to share her judgments on other kids who make a bad behavior choice?   Why should she go around labeling kids as “the bad kid” and teaching her kids to do so as well? 

So, I will do what I do so well as the non-confrontational introvert that I am:  I will write about it and think about it and maybe get a little teary about it and then I will resolve to share what I have written about my experience.  Because maybe other parents will recognize themselves in this situation – maybe they see a little bit of me in themselves or maybe they see a little bit of the other mom in themselves – and maybe they’ll be a little braver and bolder about speaking up or a little kinder and less judgmental with a kid who was showing his ass like mine was.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Don't Dis the Playdate

I read this blog as a result of a friend’s Facebook share:  http://www.dadncharge.com/2014/07/banish-playdate.html?m=1.  It got me thinking.  I had several responses pop into my head, a number of them pretty snarky, so I’ll try to clean them up here, both in terms of organization and niceties.

1.  When children are very small, playdates are about the parents, not about the children.  And that’s ok.  Let’s face it, three-month-olds don’t use the phone and they don’t ride bikes.  They don’t care if there are other babies nearby, much less if said babies want to play.  The fact is that parents of little children often need an outlet.  Some need adult conversation because they are at home all day with little people who babble nonsense words.  Some work full- or part-time and appreciate the opportunity to talk to other people who are in the same situation, people who actually WANT to hear about their precious bambino blowing spit bubbles when she smiles or having diaper issues or getting gas after eating squash.  Or whatever.  The point is, it’s not about the kids.  And the adults who it IS about need that time together.  For whatever reason. 

2.  Even though those kids are very small and it is all about the parents, those early playdates can lead to the creation of lifelong friendships.  My best friend for my whole life is Rachael.  We grew up next door to each other.  But we became friends because our similarly situated mothers (who are just night and day in personalities) liked each other and hung out.  Sure, later, we had access to phones and bikes, but, initially, we were friends because our moms were.  And forty years later (man, that makes me a little teary), we are STILL friends.  Similarly, when you ask my kids who their friends are, the ones that top the list consistently are the ones they have known forever.  Because I set up playdates before they were old enough to pick up a phone or ride a bike.  (Yes, they have what I call “friends of the moment” – friends from their class or from camp or from meeting at the park – and sometimes those friends  become long-term friends.)

3.  Frankly, I think this dad is waxing all nostalgic for a time that didn’t exist for many of us.  Maybe he grew up with the ideal suburban childhood with friends around every cul-de-sac or corner.  But not every parent had that childhood.  I certainly don’t have much nostalgia for spontaneous play with all my friends.  Remember Rachael?  Yeah, she was also my ONLY friend who lived near enough to do spontaneous play.  I grew up in the sticks.  If I wanted to see any of my other friends, guess what?  I had to pester my mom to call their mom to set up a time.  Because even though we could use phones and bikes, we couldn’t DRIVE.  Because they lived miles and miles away.  Down state highways (one fondly referred to as “Death Road”).

So, sure, let your kids have spontaneous play as much as they can.  I love it when my kids have pick-up play with neighbors, and I regularly point to the front or back yard and send them on their way to engage in hours of self-entertainment (or really, since there are two of them, in hours of mutual entertainment).  But don’t dis the playdate.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Alone vs. Lonely

Contrary to what you might think, traveling solo can be not so great for an introvert.  “What?” you say.  “I thought introverts loved being alone.”

Hang on a second.  I am a bona fide introvert.  But let me be clear about what that means.  Do I like being alone?  Sometimes.  Do I like being lonely?  No!

Like most introverts, I’m not shy.  I’m not a loner.  I like people.  I can be very, very chatty.  However… I like my interactions to be with one person or maybe a few people at a time.  An evening in a room full of people at a party?  Blech – feels like a slog that I have to make, makes me feel exhausted.   An evening all by myself?  Nice, every once in a while.  An evening in a pub with a couple of close friends?  Bingo! 

When I travel alone, I often feel surrounded by strangers, like I’m at that party where I must interact with lots of people… or no one.  Not a good feeling, let me tell you.  Where an extrovert may find herself feeling energized by the presence of lots of people and the opportunity to meet and chat with new people, I often find myself feeling a little anxious, a little lost, and a little depressed.  I need people, just not a lot of them, and I definitely need MY people!

I was feeling a little that way this morning while at a conference, which I have been looking forward to and am very excited to attend.  Sitting in the lobby trying to figure out what to do next, I was struck by how much I was NOT enjoying myself.  So many strange faces walking by.  Nothing familiar.  I wished that my husband or a good friend were there for me to chat with, someone to make me feel not so … lonely.  But then, I saw a familiar face and ran into some folks I know and like.  We chatted, and, all of a sudden, I felt more calm, more at ease.

I am now "charging my battery" up in my home-away-from-home hotel room while I wait for the next meetings to start.  Alone, sure, but not lonely!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I firmly believe in vaccination.  My kids are vaccinated.  I am vaccinated.  My husband is vaccinated.  (Even our cats are vaccinated!)  I actually think everyone who isn’t immune-compromised (or otherwise medically unable to be vaccinated) should be vaccinated.  (Yes, everyone.)

I think vaccines are fantastic.  We modern parents can revel in the sniffles and coughs and colds our children bring home.  Our kids have the luxury of passing such minor nastiness around to each other over and over and over because, unlike millions of children in past generations, they will likely survive through childhood and adolescence to adulthood and have plenty of time to suffer the coughs and colds along the way.  We have the benefit of being able to focus on other things – like understanding, treating, and maybe even eradicating diseases and disorders that cannot be vaccinated for, like childhood leukemia, autism, genetic disorders, and birth defects – because we don’t have to worry about our children being maimed by or dying of completely preventable diseases like polio, chicken pox, mumps, measles, rubella, and diphtheria.  This is an amazing thing.

The other day, I saw a vague Facebook post about vaccines.  I clicked the link.  I read the article.  It turned out to be another “what if vaccines really do cause autism?” piece that left me scratching my head.  It seems that this furor dies down only to rear its head again when I least expect it.   I don’t understand it.

All the research indicates that vaccines don’t cause autism.  I trust the research.  I know, some people are frustrated because we can’t PROVE that vaccines don’t cause autism.  But, we can’t prove that vaccines don’t cause autism because the scientific method isn’t intended to prove such things; it’s intended to suss out causal connections.  A scientist may posit that “vaccines cause autism” and then set out to do original research or compile and analyze completed research results to see if the evidence supports the proposition.  In this case, the evidence doesn’t support the proposition.  The first line of this paragraph is a firm statement even if it doesn’t sound like it in our day-to-day speech.  This is how scientists talk. 

I understand the urge to demand PROOF that vaccines don’t cause autism rather than a statement that there’s no evidence that vaccines do cause autism.  I’m a parent.  I get it.  When our children are suffering, what we parents do is worry and fret and demand answers about why.  I truly, truly understand that inclination to blame vaccines because kids manifest many of the most diagnosable autistic symptoms around the same time they get a number of key vaccinations.  But that inclination is not productive, and correlation is not causation.

This constant focus on the correlation of the timing of autism’s onset and vaccinations tires me.  It tires me and frustrates me.  It actually makes me want to shake people sometimes.  Here’s why I think the constant tilting at the windmill of “vaccines MAY cause autism because you can’t PROVE it doesn’t,” is truly, truly harmful:

1.  It diverts attention, resources, and research from true vaccine injuries.  Like chemotherapy, radiation treatment, surgery, and a host of other medical interventions, vaccination is not without risk.  That’s why my pediatrician provides information on all vaccines and requires me to sign an acknowledgment that I’ve read them EVERY TIME my child gets a vaccination.  The attention, resources, and research should focus on reducing these risks and identifying children at risk.  Parents should be able to make informed decisions on proven risks to specific children.  To do otherwise discounts and denigrates the needs of the small group of children who are actually harmed by vaccines and jeopardizes the prevention of such harm.

2.  It diverts attention, resources, and research from understanding the true causes of and the best treatments for autism.  The anti-vaccine movement is so LOUD that it’s hard to pay attention to anything else going on in the community of autism.  The desire to blame something/anything cannot be allowed to drown out the call to find the real cause (or, more likely causes) or to divert needed funding and time from research into the best prevention and treatment measures.  To do otherwise is a travesty for the children and families dealing with autism each day.

3.  It leaves our most vulnerable children, well, more vulnerable.  Healthy children should be immunized.  Why?  To protect the unhealthy and most vulnerable.  Most vaccinations require that more than 85% of a population be vaccinated in order to provide “herd immunity” to those who are not vaccinated.  Some require vaccination levels over 95%.  Ever person who chooses not to vaccinate their non-immune-compromised child places an immune-compromised child (or adult) at greater risk of preventable illness and death.  In my view, that’s morally unsupportable.   The only people who should be “hiding in the herd”  of the immunized are those who NEED to hide in the herd because they cannot receive vaccinations .  We must insulate our most vulnerable members of society from sickness via inoculation of those who are not vulnerable.  Ask a parent who has a child with leukemia or HIV/AIDS how important it is that all the children around their immune-compromised child be vaccinated against preventable (and deadly) childhood diseases.  Hell, ask the parent of a six-month-old who isn’t old enough for vaccination whether they want their six-month-old to hang around with an infected child after a “chicken pox party.”  (For that matter, with regard to chicken pox, talk to someone who’s had shingles.  My sisters and I all three had chicken pox as a child.  One of us developed shingles.  It was the most horrible, excruciating, and pathetic thing I have ever witnessed.  I can’t think back on seeing my baby sister like that without my eyes welling up.  Sure, lots of kids survive chicken pox (though some don’t) but if a kid (or adult) develops shingles down the road because their parents thought vaccination was risky in spite of all the evidence, I’m just saying those parents shouldn’t expect a big thank you note for the chicken pox party.  Why would you subject someone you love to the risk of something as horrible as shingles??)

So, I stand firm in my support of vaccination.  It’s the right decision medically and morally.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Missing Toy Parts? No Problem!

Usually, toys come and toys go, but sometimes, as all parents know, your children become attached to a particular toy (often inexplicably!). And then, one day, that toy goes missing or loses a key part. What’s a parent to do?

Over the past five years, I have trolled eBay and Craigslist for replacement parts (and toys), contacted several toy companies, and, in some cases, repurchased a toy. It occurred to me the other day when contacting a company about a missing part that I have some helpful tips to share with other parents.

Tip #1: If a toy comes with a manual or other information, keep it.

I have a binder for all of our warranty information, instruction manuals, or other important documentation for household items. In that binder, I have a pocket for toy info. Since I never know which toy will be a hit with my kids and which a bust, I now err on the side of keeping any toy info, at least until it becomes clear that a toy is not a favorite or my kids outgrow it and I give it (and the info) away. Believe me, I kicked myself a couple of times for not keeping information for a toy and finally just started keeping it all. This practice has been especially helpful for toys that do not have identifying information for the manufacturer printed anywhere on the toy itself.

Tip #2: If a toy doesn’t come with a manual and either you or your child really like the toy, keep the receipt or make a note of where it came from.

My daughter once lost her favorite stuffed animal, a small sock monkey named Alice. I had no idea of the manufacturer, and, with Alice missing, I had no way to find out the information. I did remember that my in-laws purchased Alice at the Biltmore Estate. A brief search of the internet and a call to the appropriate Biltmore gift shop allowed me to replace Alice with Alice v.2.0.

Tip #3: Never hesitate to contact a manufacturer.

If you have followed tip #1, it will hopefully be easy to find contact information for the manufacturer in the documents. If the documents you kept don’t have any contact information for the toy manufacturer or distributor, you can usually find a website or at least contact information online if you know the company’s name. If you don’t have the documents and there’s no identifying information on the toy itself, it can be a challenge to identify a manufacturer for some toys, but it is usually worth a Google visit to see if you can track down the information with a description of the toy in the search box. I have also had some luck by searching eBay or Craigslist for the toy and finding the manufacturer information that way. Just because you don’t know or have the information doesn’t mean that some other person hasn’t figured it out and posted it online.

When I contact a manufacturer, I asked about their replacement policy. Some will replace parts (or whole toys) without any proof of your ownership. Others require information from the box or toy itself.  Many companies provide replacement parts or toys for free while others may charge for shipping or for the replacement itself.

Tip #4: Buy from companies that back up their product by providing replacements easily.
When I contact a manufacturer for a part, I also make clear that I am a loyalist. When a company provides good service, including the replacement of missing parts for a beloved toy, I remember that. And I buy from them again, even if it’s just to get a gift for my children to give a friend. To that end, here are the companies I highly recommend:

1. Pockets of Learning
This company makes lovely soft toys, many of which can be embroidered with your child’s name. They replace missing parts for free. We have a tea set and a Noah’s ark and needed a new cow for our ark. Customer service was very friendly – they were out of the type of cow we had and sent us a new set of two – and the shipping was fast.
(800) 635-2994, or (401) 247-1991
fax: (401) 247-7860

2. Phidal Publishing
This company makes the popular My Busy Books, which incorporate a large board book, a play mat, and 10-12 toy figures. We have two Thomas the Train sets. Our son lost the Gordon out of each set (because he carried them EVERYWHERE). Customer service responded very quickly by email and even sent us three replacement Gordons instead of two. This is a Canadian company, so you may want to email instead of call.
1 (514) 738-0202
fax: 1 (514) 738-5102

3. Parents by Battat
Many toys have the Parents label. Among others, we have the magnetic sketch board with a beanbag lap desk bottom, four animal magnets at the top, and a magnetic pencil for drawing. The bunny magnet didn’t make it back from a trip to Dayton. A call to Battat got the piece replaced at no charge and quickly.
(800) 247-6144

4. Melissa & Doug
Another maker of many, many popular toys, Melissa & Doug does not always have replacement parts in stock, but they were very responsive when I contacted them through the website about a missing part.

5. Alex toys
Alex makes mostly arts and crafts toys and games. While I’ve never tried to get missing pieces from Alex, we got a great Games to Go set at a consignment sale that lacked instructions for all the included games. You can find instructions for many Alex products at www.alextoys.com/instructions. Very helpful!

If you have other suggestions, feel free to list them!