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What's next… toddler cell phones?

Glue stick? Got it.

Crayola markers? Check.

Peanut butter and jelly? Slathered and packed.

As the first school bell signals the end of summer, you may think your children have everything they need to start the year off right.

But some stationery designers claim a kindergartner’s pencil case is incomplete without a stack of crisp kiddie calling cards.

“Let’s make a playdate!” say the cutesy cards from Baby Idesign, a New York company whose popular calling cards were recently touted in the Wall Street Journal. The striped and argyle-patterned cards are custom printed with a child’s name and phone number, and should be packed — according to the product press release — “in children’s backpacks or lunch boxes so they can hand them out to all their new friends.”

The cost: $60 for 50 square cards.

“It’s really, really hot right now,” explains creative director Ilene Segal, who designs her cards with ladybugs, teddy bears and “choo choos.”

While they’re undeniably adorable (my spoiled inner child has threatened to throw a public tantrum unless I buy her the polka-dotted dragonfly cards right this instant), I find them troubling, too.

First, there’s the “whatever happened to childhood?” factor. Remember when kids who wanted playmates had to hoof it down the street and knock on a neighbor’s door? I’m convinced there’s ingenuity and spontaneity lost when “Can Johnny come out and play?” makes the slick transition to “Here’s my card. Have your people call mine.”

There’s this, too: If we encourage our sons and daughters to schmooze grown-up-style, how long before they’re demanding to have their play dates at Starbucks and blowing air kisses instead of exchanging those heartfelt little kid hugs?

For me, the most terrifying aspect of kiddie calling cards is putting my children’s social calendars into their own hands. I have enough trouble harnessing their schedules without them being in charge.

How many times have we picked up our kids from school only to be told that they had invited a schoolmate to come over THAT afternoon, and that we were now obligated to call the child’s parents and either offer to pick him up or explain why today is not a good day?

“It’s not that little Parker isn’t welcome, Mrs. Evans, it’s just that I desperately need to get the market and, well … can he read a shopping list?”

Wouldn’t personal calling cards only fuel this kind of awkward interplay?

Ms. Segal insists her cards aren’t intended to disrupt moms’ lives.

“I think that people are like, oh, no, baby business cards,” says the thirtysomething designer, who does make baby calling cards printed with the phrases “Your crib or mine?” and “Meet me for a bottle.”

Though she can imagine eventually designing a line for ‘tween girls, with e-mail addresses and cell phone number printed on them, she swears the current line of cards is more for parents’ benefit than for kids’.

“They’re not meant to be anything but playful. All of my friends are new moms. You’re on the playground, you’re at Gymboree, you’re in a playgroup and it’s really nice to exchange information. Why not do it in a cute way? You meet someone on a playground — are you really going to take out a pen and paper?”

Some clients even buy calling cards for their dogs, to exchange when they meet another friendly mutt owner in a park. A popular design says, “Let’s wag tails.”

Explained in that way, the cards do seem sort of sweet and harmless. My son’s birthday is coming up next week and I’m thinking of taking him shopping to let him pick out his own set.

He’ll just have to check his Blackberry and see if he’s available.

Published inColumnsParenting

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