Everyone knows that the only thing worse than little kids getting your house all sticky is other people's little kids getting your house all sticky. Of course, that makes hosting a play date a nervous-making scenario. But here's one thought that gets me through even the stickiest of play dates: This kid's mom is going to have to reciprocate in the not-too-distant future.

Being low on time and in babysitting bankruptcy, my sanity hinges on those two glorious hours that my kid wrecks someone else's house. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I have a revolutionary strategy for maximizing the rewards I get for hosting play dates.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who dreads play dates. On many occasions, I've arrived at play date pickup to find the other mom waiting at the front door before I get all the way down the walkway. She has a smile on her face... but has developed a slight facial tic that I hadn't noticed before. My son's shoes and backpack are right by the door to expedite our departure, and she seems to visibly relax as we head to the car. She's served her time.

Play dates are brutal. And they stay brutal until the kids start calling them something else. By the time your kids say, "Can Ryan come over to hang out?" the pain of the play date is over. Kids that come over to hang out are old enough to entertain themselves and solve their own conflicts. Since hangouts are scheduled by kids and not parents, the kids have selected each other based on compatibility. The success of a hangout doesn't hinge on magic markers, costume changes, or me posing as a mummy while they wrap me in toilet paper.

The play date set, which I will define loosely as ages 3 to 8, is all about satisfying immediate needs and really not at all about social graces. They open up my refrigerator and pull out the gallon of milk, announcing, "I need a cup." No kidding. They take a bite of their lunch and say they're full and then ask for a snack, almost all in one breath. If you tell them you don't have any snacks, they open your cupboards to prove you're a liar: "You've got cookies!" If the play date starts to get a little boring, they come right out and call it: "Your house is boring." Little kids have no filter.

Since these kids want to play catch with golf balls, ride cookie sheets down the stairs, and use my second floor balcony as a balance beam, I can't take my eyes off of them for a second. So if the play date is going to last two hours, I have to get off the phone, shut down the computer, and be vigilant. Which brings me to my breakthrough — if I'm going to be vigilant over two children for two hours in order to purchase two hours of free time, why not invite one more and be vigilant over three children for two hours to purchase four hours of free time? Why not invite four?

Think about it: I supervise five boys for two mind-bending hours. But I purchase eight hours of free time, since I get to farm my kid out to four other houses now instead of merely one.

Brilliant, I know. The Nobel Prize people should be calling any day now. And I'm going to keep milking this system until all of my kids and their friends are old enough to just hang out.