Thursday, May 6, 2010

Independence Day

Shabbat #17

Guests: Shelly, Don, son A. and baby brother R. Catherine and son C. We all know one another from preschool, though up until recently most of our conversations occurred at drop off and pick up. Not around the table. Which turned out to be much more fun. Don, a man of few (albeit brilliant) words, periodically dropping lines like I play in a band. Who knew?

Menu: Antipasto Platter, Chicken Spedini, Roasted Vegetable Pasta Primavera, Mixed Greens, Toby's Whole Wheat Challah, Noci Croccante (Hazelnut Brittle) with Gelatto.

What I Learned:

Ben has known A. and C. just about as long as he has known me. At the ripe old age of five, the three have grown up together. Ben affectionately refers to them as his "best buddies" - so diplomatic in not choosing a favorite. Like a politician.

Yet, for as close as they are they only recently started having "playdates."

This is my fault.

The mere mention of a playdate used to send me into a self-reflective panic.

My initial reaction? Wow. I must really look like I am losing it if someone else is offering to take care of their children ... and mine. Quickly followed by -- Wow. If I let them, then maybe I am really losing it.

Then there was the whole issue of giving the rest of the world a peak behind the curtain.

Was I ready for someone to discover that I was not the put together mom they saw at drop off and pick up? That my day job was primarily a means of promoting personal hygiene and that without it I would nearly always be in sweaty running clothes. If the playdate included lunch, would Ben ask why his did not come in a box with a cheap toy? (Because lots of them did.) Or request ketchup. On everything. A condiment I considered both a fruit and a vegetable, depending on the day. And what about all of the other complications and struggles I carefully kept wrapped up and tucked aside.

And so our "playdates" were mostly at Nana and Papa's. And Judy's. My confidants who knew that "playdate" was code for "I need help."

Until last winter.

Over the school break Shelly called. For a playdate. And I obliged. Not because I had complete confidence that she could care for three kids at once (she is after all a graduate of MIT and Cal Tech), but because I knew it was finally time. Time for Ben's discovery of his own independence to win out over my insecurities.

So I sent him. And he came home beaming. (And if he covered his lunch in ketchup Shelly did not let on.) The next weekend I took Ben and A. to the train show. (Which I worried may have been slightly ambitious on the way there as my car filled with 5-year old animals noises - but turned out to be a breeze.) And then Ben went to C.'s house. And C came to ours.

And I was beaming too. Because I discovered (though it defies all mathematical logic) that sometimes it's actually easier to take care of three kids, rather than two ... as long as one of them is not yours. Maybe because Ben thinks it's uncool to have a meltdown in front of his best buddy. Or because his "old" toys are suddenly cool again if his best buddy deems them so.

These days it's hard to stop Ben from running next door to Keaton's or cutting through the back to Grant's. And when he's not, chances are there's one (or more) additional little people at our house.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Over Ben's fire engine bed hangs a giant bulletin board. Filled with years of artwork, ticket stubs, baseball cards, the trapping of all things boy. And a photo of the four of us at the beach. Ben clutching Steve's leg. Sarah in a sling around my chest. Just weeks old and so small only I know she's there.

On Sunday night I went to tuck Ben into the fire engine. And there he sat. A construction paper heart with a photo pasted to the middle dangled from his finger by a strand of yarn. A picture of Ben hugging A. "I love this kid," he said through his impossibly long eyelashes. And then turned to hang it on his bulletin board. From the same thumbtack that secured our snapshot. His paper heart leaving only my head peaking out from behind.

And that night as I left the room I realized that letting go of my own insecurities would not be my greatest hardship. Not even close. My greatest hardship would be letting go of him.

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