Last-Minute Survival Guide for Parents

Need a kid’s costume, pronto? Desperate to find a replacement babysitter for your dinner reservation? Help is on the way.

  • Ingela Ratledge

You Need: A Halloween Costume
The bad news first: A white sheet and a kid do not a ghost maketh. To cobble together a costume, read on.
The quick fix:

  • For girls: Her closet probably has the makings of a fairy princess―a leotard, a wand, a tutu. Just add glitter gel to her face and hands. “Whether the costume is accurate to a character doesn’t matter. Kids will go for it,” says Laurel Burke, co-owner of the Spook Shop costume store, in Bellingham, Washington, and a film production designer. For a crown, cut points into a sparkly or colored translucent school folder and glue the ends together, says Burke.
  • For boys: Got a big cardboard box? Cut off the flaps and cut holes for arms and a head. Spray-paint it silver or decorate it with markers and you have a robot. To make feet, cut a hole into the bottoms of two shoe boxes for him to put his ankles through, then have him put on his shoes underneath.
  • For both: Superheroes fly with everyone. To make this costume, all you need is a cape, an eye mask, and a logo. If you can’t find an eye mask, draw one on with face paint; you can make a logo out of construction paper according to your child’s whim. “Suddenly, he’s Super-Pickle!” says Burke.
  • For more quick and easy ideas, see Last-Minute Halloween Costumes


You Need: A Gift for a Teacher
If you had planned ahead, you might have bought a thoughtful, pampering gift. Or, at the very least, a "World's Best Teacher" mug.
The quick fix: Gift cards are a slam dunk, provided they’re not too specific (such as one for a clothing store that might not suit someone’s taste), says Fran Shea, a kindergarten teacher in Putnam County, New York, who has been an educator for 18 years. Stick to spa treatments, dinner at a local restaurant (pick one that is on the way to school to save more time), department stores, or bookstores. “I love those,” Shea adds, “because I can buy books for myself or the classroom.” As for the amount, anything from $5 to $50 is fair game―but $100 is too much.

 

  


You Need: A Birthday Card
Construction paper and markers can be cute, but they also say, “We forgot!”
The quick fix: For a less harried alternative, click the icon above to print out a card on heavy stock paper. Or try yahoo.americangreetings.com/printables for card downloads (registration gets you free access for a month). For the future, consider ordering a set of personalized gift tags to keep handy. The styles at roseberrycreekdesigns.com have all kinds of kid-friendly pics―ladybugs, trains, baseball gear―to go alongside your name ($16 for 30 tags). The site wittydoodles.com has tags with cute stick figures ($29.50 for 30 tags).


You Need: A Birthday Present
What, your closet of generic go-to gifts for this type of emergency is empty? Oh, right. You remember to stock it only when Target is closing in four minutes and you have zero time to shop.
The quick fix: For this emergency, hit the Internet. The website gifts.com lets you select a participating store from hundreds of options (including KB Toys and Nickelodeon), choose a dollar amount, and print out cute, personalized gift certificates. (The certificates can also be e-mailed directly to the recipient.) Know any young movie buffs? They’ll give two thumbs-up to Fandango Bucks―illustrated, brightly colored movie passes from fandango.com.

 

  


You Need: A Snack for the Class
Pity the fool who faces grade-schoolers at snack time with nothing but a sack full of string cheese.
The quick fix: When you find the schedule (under a pile of mail) and realize it's your turn in the rotation, make this quick crowd-pleaser, suggests Sandra Lee, host of the Food Network's Semi-Homemade Cooking.

  • First, cut a bunch of apples in two (each kid should receive one half) and place them curved-side down on a baking sheet.
  • Using a melon baller, scoop out a shallow area in the center of each apple.
  • Fill in the holes with whatever premade granola you have (crunchy granola cereal works, too). If it contains nuts, alert the teacher in case of allergies. Sprinkle the apple tops with cinnamon.
  • Bake at 325 degrees F for about 1 hour, or until the apples are soft. ("The bottoms will feel squishy," says Lee.)
  • Let the apples cool; refrigerate overnight if necessary. Can be served cold or at room temperature.


Tip: Need a snack but don’t have time to turn on the oven? Make your own mix: Combine cereal (Cheerios, Chex, Life―whatever you have on hand) with nuts, pretzels, and chocolate chips (optional). Divide among small sandwich or snack bags.


You Need: A Babysitter
Lindsay from down the block just bailed, and your boss's birthday bash is hours away.
The quick fix: Assuming you've already struck out with the trusty standbys (Hi, Mom!), consider tapping into less obvious resources.

  • Ask a mother you know from playgroup or a parent from your child's class if she knows someone reliable (er, like herself).
  • If your child can handle a group setting, call your local community center, country club, or church to see if a youth activity is planned for that evening.
  • You could also try joining one of the many nationwide sitter services, like sittercity.com or absolutebestcare.com. "There are no guarantees, but 95 percent of the time we can accommodate members," says Douglas Kozinn, president of Absolute Best Care. The company charges $295 and up per year, plus 20 percent of the $10 to $15 hourly sitter rates, for access to sitters with criminal-background and driving checks, legal-residency verification, and references.


Tip: Still no sitter? Check urbanbaby.com. Some cities have message boards where you can post an SOS to other members. “Help! Know any great sitters available last-minute? Desperate!” might work.

 

  


You Need: A Science Project
No time for elaborate presentation boards. You need something fast―wow factor a plus.
The quick fix:

  • Option 1: Consider a research paper, says Joan Horvath, author of What Scientists Actually Do (Stargazer, $17) and a state science-fair judge in California. “What we’re looking for is process―did the child come up with a good question and answer it?” she says. Address the question “Are kids of tall parents more likely to be tall?” Ask your child to form a hypothesis, then track down guinea pigs. “Find five or six families and measure them carefully,” says Horvath. Using the data, your child can write a conclusion about whether or not the hypothesis proved correct.
  • Option 2: Stage a product comparison between butter and margarine (can tasters tell the difference?) or different brands of rug cleaners.
  • Option 3: Show how yeast works by baking one loaf of bread with it and one without it. For bonus points, beef up your presentation with facts about the history of yeast. Check out westernyeast.com.


You Need: A Passport
By the age of one month, every child must have a passport to leave the United States. That includes travel to Canada (currently required for flying; as of June 1, 2009, for driving), Mexico, and the Caribbean.
The quick fix: Call the closest passport agency to make an immediate appointment, or if you don’t have one in your area, look online or in the yellow pages for a passport-expediting service. You could also call a travel agent: “Most of them will know of an expediter or have a preferred company they use,” says Martha Gaughen, an Atlanta-based travel agent who specializes in family trips. In addition to your child, here’s what you’ll need to bring to the passport office: your child’s birth certificate or a certified copy of it, two passport pictures of him or her, proof that you’ll be traveling within the next five days (such as a ticket or an invoice), and a payment method. Also, both parents need to be present―if only one is available, a notarized letter is required. Here comes the kicker: You’ll pay dearly for the rush. According to Gaughen, securing a 24-hour turnaround on a passport can cost as much as $600, plus another $100 to a travel agent, if applicable―so say good-bye to lunch with Cinderella at Euro Disney.