Ever since my sister in law and I realized that both of us weren't letting our kids play with her sister's (my other sister in law) kids I've been obsessed with the thinking about what role class plays in how we teach our children to play and whom to play with. It wasn't always this way in our family but after our younger sister in law gave birth to her second baby from a second father (both fathers being ex-con's) I saw us both sort of give up on her.

At first the issues were isolated. While my sister in law (I'll call her K) and I exchanged mommy and me ideas and what was appropriate music, tv, and books for our kids, we'd hear stuff from the other sister in law (I'll call her D) and what she was doing. Our kids were knee deep in Elmo and Baby Einstein while hers were watching MTV rap videos and rated R movies like American Me. While ours were learning ABCs from They Might Be Giants Here Come the ABCs, D's kids learned the A** word, the Bi*** word, and C*nt word. Mind you, all of our kids range in age from 5 to 2.

Then there were the futile attempts to get together for family parties where the kids could play and get to know each other. K and I brought healthy snacks, breast milk, organic formulas, and Ben and Jerry's ice cream while D's kids drank apple juice and soda in bottles with a lolipop in hand.

For her part, D most definitely felt like we were judging her--though before she came clean about the R rated movies and the swearing we hadn't really thought about it. She'd make comments about how our kids were dressed. That our daughters' ears weren't pierced yet (hers were at birth). We made comments that working full time at a fast food joint while her live in boyfriend without a job but with a former crack habit might not be the best idea for a babysitter. She yelled and screamed at us. We tried to make up for it by taking her daughters school clothes shopping and getting them books and art supplies. She often got evicted and lived in her car. It just got to be too much.

My son thought his cousin (D's daughter) his own age a bit scary. She used some words he'd not heard before. She was tough already. D had shaved the babygirl's head so her hair would 'grow in right.' The baby looked scary. My kids were a bit uneasy.

It wasn't that hard to cut them out. We felt bad for the girls. K looked into adopting them. Other family members tried social services. But D caught on to all of us and sort of disappeared. Now my kids barely remember them. They have two more cousins out there but K and I have decided that without us being able to control the situation, we really don't want the other two cousins playing with our kids.

Some would say we are being snobs. So be it.

But now K's girl and our kids our all in preschool and kindergarten. While K's daughter and my son are in private schools which operate as their own Sorting Hat in some ways (Diego's school with its project based learning and emphasis on art and science attracts a certain type of parent---and the school has a giant Obama sign in front). K's daughter is in a preschool in West Los Angeles which presents diversity in creative entertainment industry parents, some ethnic groups, but not an economic diversity. My daughter is in the state preschool next door to us. Ethnically its a little diverse: Native American kids, Mexican American kids, white kids, Pacific Islanders. Economically and culturally its a mix of working and non-working poor, working class, and lower middle class kids.

Our house is one with tall bookcases as the predominant feature--five of them. They dwarf the little TV which only plays dvds or old videos, no actual TV. There's a piano. There's our personalities, and what we value.

Some houses have lots of books. Some have guns. Some have a TV in every room. Some go to churches on Sundays that this mommy considers cults. Some are family sundays at the art museum. Some are Chuck E. Cheese. Part of me wants to expose my kids to various lifestyles. They should know what's out there, shouldn't they? But then I think of D and her kids. I think of the swearing, cursing, and the smoking out I've seen within the families of my husband's softball team. Do I want to explain what pot is? Now? I correct my kids' grammar all the time. My daughter has already said, 'the other mommies don't do that.'

When we protect and shelter our children, what are we protecting and sheltering them from? Our fears? Bad grammar? Illegal activity? Are we consciously or subconsciously trying to steer them towards the middle class? Towards being educated? We choose wood toys from catalogues over plastic toys from China--what is that doing to our children?

When Diego asks if he can go over to Johnny's house and I know that Johnny's mom is watching TV and the kids are playing outside with all manner of objects out front, do I swallow my objections and let him go cause Johnny is basically a good kid? Do I say no, tell Johnny to come over here? Play with Timmy instead because Timmy's mom makes her own gogurts and shops at the co-op too? How far is too far? How much choice do we relent and give in to? How much do we police our children? Can we stop ourselves from answering 'what's the worse that can happen'?

And what about D and her kids? Do we try again and again and again?