(Another re-write of an old post... :) )
Last night, my 5 –year old son Caleb and I found our selves alone. My oldest, Alexandra, was at a sleepover and my husband was at a class reunion in California. We had scads of uncalendared time before us, which is a rare occurrence in our house. We are usually overscheduled: piano, Taekwondo, soccer, school, doctor appointments. Free time is like a clear diamond, precious and rare.
As I pulled away from dropping Alex at her friend’s house, I had an idea.
“Hey, buddy,” I pitched excitedly to the back seat, “Wanna go on a date with me?”
“Sure, mama!” Caleb accepted with a small shy smile.
“OK, Buddy, pick anywhere you want! Wait…but just not Chuck E. Cheese, Ok?" I loved supporting the idea of kids being kids but didn’t love the migraine I knew I’d take home with me.
He thought for a minute, knitting his eyebrows together and concentrating very hard. I began trying to silently guess what his choice would be. I was banking on ice cream, fast food, or the Lego store. His face suddenly lit up and he said confidently,
"Mama, I want to eat at your restaurant. I want to stay home with you and play."
Shocked, I replied, “Are you sure buddy? No Cold Stone, no McDonald’s? No Lego store?”
“Nope. I want to go home with you.”
“OK,” I fumbled, “It’s a date!”
How could I say no? Even with the tantalizing promise of mint chip ice cream and chicken nuggets, he opted for solo time with me. He wanted to eat food that I made. Not excited about the prospect of dragging out ingredients and deciding how to assemble them into something edible, I said,
“Bud, I think mommy’s restaurant is kind of, well… closed. What if we go through a drive through and eat the food at home on the front lawn? How about a picnic?”
“Yeah!” he shouted enthusiastically! I was grateful for the compromise. Now he had the best of both worlds. Fast food and hang time with mom.
When we got home, I laid out a thick blanket on the green grass and we had our picnic underneath a bright blue cloudless sky. We played "superheroes" while we ate. This game consisted of my son inventing 2 Superhero good guys and one Superhero bad guy. He and I played the good guys and we pretended there was an evil villain lurking in the shadows, ready to take over the world. And, of course, between bites of greasy French fries and chicken nuggets, we just had to stop him.
My superhero’s name was Supersonic. Ironically, the name Caleb chose for me had nothing to with anything “sonic” or remotely related to sound. It just sounded cool. My powers consisted of Laser Vision, Super Strength and Nostril Power. Oh, and I could fly. Caleb had his own host of powers I can't fully recall, mostly because he kept adding new ones every fifteen seconds. But I do remember the bad guy had Super Ultra Vomit Power.
We sat in the sunshine, Caleb talking and imagining at a dizzying rate. Not a surprise if you know my son. He has never been short on words or creativity. He narrated a complex story line as I patiently nodded and listened, throwing in a "Wow!" or "Cool!" or "No way!" at appropriate moments. I also threw in "One more bite," and "Watch your drink!" a few times.
At first I thought I was giving Caleb the gift of my time, that he was the one benefiting from our game. Then, I realized, sometime after Vomit Power Man tried to douse us in puke and I warded him off by blowing with my Nostril Power, that I was the one who needed the playtime. The reality that he's growing up hit me like a ton of bricks. I greedily soaked up the time with my son, trying hard to memorize every detail, every nuance of the experience. His small white teeth, his thick dark hair, his little dimple, his wide smile, his pudgy fingers, the sparkle of adventure in his eyes.
I know there will be a day when he doesn't want to play superheroes with me on our front lawn, when eating at “my restaurant” will not be his first choice. The value of these moments, these stolen seconds of unscheduled time with my son, is incalculable. Someday, when he drives off to college, waits for his bride at the end of the aisle, or becomes a daddy himself, I will pull out this memory, dust it off, and remember the little boy who wanted to eat at my restaurant and play superheroes.