How to take young children anywhere

Mimo and I have a regular date on Fridays. Usually, we take the kids to visit a museum or paint pottery, or we drop by Union Market for smoked fish and ice cream. But last week, when I got to her house, she was sitting in her favorite chair, surrounded by a mountain of photo albums. We spent the whole afternoon pouring over pictures from her amazing life. Our grandpa, Didi, was elected to congress the year that I was born, and spent the next 28 years dragging me and the rest of his grandchildren to completely inappropriate places. For that brazen disregard of protocol and better judgement, I will be eternally grateful.

These days, my kids and I don't have occasion to crash state dinners, but I do look to my fearless grandparents as inspiration when deciding whether to get a sitter or bring the team.

If you're feelig bold, Here are my top 5 tips for bringing your kids anywhere...*

*I also feel I need to insert a disclaimer for anyone who has been to church with my kids. I don't know what it is -- maybe the hyper-familiarity of once-a-week worship with so many of their best little friends? But my tricks don't seem to work there. Once we walk through the chapel doors, it's kind of in God's hands....

- Dress the part. I know it's shallow, but people, especially strangers, are more likely to tolerate a pint-sized entourage if it's absolutely, irresistibly, you're-a-bad-person-if-you-don't-want-to-kiss-this-baby cute. And, no matter how precious the raw material, adorable duds are non-negotiable. This is particularly true for those of use whose children continue to give the impression of baldness well into the third year....

- Prep your posse. Let your kids know what to expect. If we're going to a speech, I like to read them a book or let them watch a movie about the speaker. If we're going to a gallery, we'll learn a little about some of the artists whose work we'll see, or a bit about the history of a particular style or period in art history. If I don't plan well enough in advance to get a children's bio from the library or Amazon, putting Wikipedia into language they understand does the trick.  I try to let them know about how long they have to behave, and keep them updated as the event progresses. I also believe unapologetically in strategic bribery. If the kids know that their good behavior is going to be rewarded with something specific that they really want, they're pretty good at trying their best.

- Make them work. Give kids a job to keep them occupied. I like to let Phinny and Hettie push the stroller through museums. Once or twice in my life I've been organized enough to have some sort of event-specific Bingo game or scavenger hunt, which motivates them to really pay attention to what's going on around them (though -- word from the wise -- be sure to warn them in advance NOT to yell "Bingo!" at the top of their lungs in a crowded auditorium. Quiet victories, friends. Quiet victories...). Amazon has a great collection of historic, scientific, artistic and geographic coloring books, as do many gift shops at museums and National Parks. Sometimes, it's as simple as a pad of paper to draw pictures about their feelings during a speech. I prefer to make the task somehow related to our situation, however tangentially, rather than merely distracting.

- Brace yourself. People disapprove of children. Not all people, thankfully. But a lot of them. You WILL get dirty looks from strangers who think your kids are their business -- even in completely child-appropriate situations, even when your kids are behaving perfectly. Some people are just ruffled by the existence of small humans. That's not your problem. When those looks inevitably come, remind yourself that everyone was once a kid. And I promise you that every single child that ever existed -- including the one that grew up to be the sour-faced meanie who was obviously, aggressively disgusted by my children sweetly frolicking at the pool -- has gotten on the nerves of some grown-up stranger at least once or twice. So, just prepare yourself for some disparaging glances and possibly snide remarks, and take comfort in knowing that the disdainful stranger was once the small person acting out and getting on other people's nerves. Also, make sure you really appreciate all the incredibly kind strangers who will go out of their way to compliment your monsters and remind you how precious and fleeting this time with your wee ones is.

- Always have an exit plan. Quit when you're ahead -- which usually means leaving before you're really ready to go. If all else fails, cut your losses and RUN, don't walk, as soon as you realize your kids are DONE. Practically, this means a few things. I try to schmooze right at the beginning, so the key people at any function know how glad I am to be there -- and that I might need to make a quick exit. I try not to buy tickets that are so expensive I couldn't bear leaving at intermission. I aim for seats on the aisle, and case the nearest exit before festivities begin. I try not to carpool unless it's a) in my own car, and, b) the other party has another viable option for getting home if I need to bail early. My sisters can attest to this, since I've abandoned them at venues all over D.C....