I live for weekends with Ben.
Weekdays are so crazy that I sometimes forget to have fun. And having a six-year-old can be pure fun. Don't we look like we're having so much fun?
On the weekends, we take things a little slower. We spend more time on the couch, less time in the car. I generally don't schedule nights out with my friends; it's all about Ben and his activities. Weekend time is family time, even if "family" is just him and me.
I always want to remember how sweet the weekends days were at this age. Because before long, Ben will be begging to go off with his friends and he'll be staying out late and doing God knows what else.
But for now, it's just us.
This last weekend was a slice of heaven, perfection. Albeit, a little tiring.
I love Saturday morning pick-ups. I love to see Ben's face when he races from his dad's car to mine, his smile widening with each step. I even love the inevitable greeting: "Mommy! Did you bring my Nintendo player?"
Target, with a six-year-old, can be totally entertaining. We take our time; there's hardly anyone in the store at 8am. Ben points out hats for me and stops to try on adult sunglasses. He laughs at his reflection. Then, he carefully examines each pair of flip flops, finally settling on the gray pair. He gazes from the red swim shoes to the black. "Red is the best, right Mommy?" Red it is.
We look at t-shirts, but he rejects every design because nothing is "cool" enough. The grocery aisle is next. "What's Jell-o?" he asks. I forgot. He knows how to read. Last stop is the aisle where the nutrition supplements are located. What kind of Zone bars this week? "Fudge graham," he says. "Can I have one now?" I still have him convinced that a Zone bar is a treat.
On to Starbucks. Americano for me. Chocolate milk for Ben. The barrista looks down at him. "You are a cutie, aren't you?" she says. Ben shyly looks away.
Next stop is the gym. Negotiations commence. "OK, Ben, you go to the kiddie room for 30 minutes and I'll give you your Nintendo player." "I'll go for 45," he counters. It's a done deal.
Back home to change. We strike another deal: "I need 30 minutes to get ready. I'll take you to the Lego store this afternoon if you play quietly." I get a distraction- free shower (but of course I can't wash my hair!).
I am impressed with my young son's ability to reason and to understand give-and-take situations. On the weekends, we have time to work on this. It makes a huge difference.
Unfortunately, Ben's mastered time quite well and can call me on any and all delays. As I'm vacillating between a skirt and a dress, he pops in my room, points to his watch, and says, "You're late, Mommy!" Yes, I am. The dress wins.
I'm walking down the hall, he trails me. Then, he body slams me from behind and I trip over my high-heeled sandals. He grabs the back of my dress, pulls it up and bursts into laughter, as I make a mental note to myself to start wearing board shorts and tank tops for the rest of the summer.
After a short discussion of appropriate behavior around girls in dresses, we head to the movies. We're meeting a group of friends for "Toy Story 3."
Ben has never had movie popcorn. I know, I know. But he didn't have a donut until he was five, either. I'm into delayed gratification. It's how I was raised. He has his whole damn life to ruin his arteries with movie popcorn. Besides, I always whip out a Zone bar and he thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread.
But today, we are seated next to other kids and other adults; parents who believe that super size popcorn buckets and giant Cokes are okay for young children. Somehow a bucket gets passed to Ben. Ever the permission seeker, he turns to me and whispers, "Mommy, can I have some?" Of course I relent because I'm not going to be that mom who is a total pain in the ass about what her kid eats.
We love the movie. I love the way we look at each other and laugh over a funny line. I love when Ben leans into me during the darker parts of the movie. I love how he gets the humor of "Big Baby," the purple bear and the Ken doll.
After the movie, we head to the Lego store in the mall. We're hurrying because we're supposed to meet more friends downtown in just an hour. I tell Ben that he needs to make his selection quickly and he glances at his watch and says, "OK, Mommy. I'm on it!" I love that he has an appreciation of schedules, that he knows the importance of arriving on time.
Lego set in hand, we make our way downtown. We're joining friends at McKinley Park for Pops In The Park.
We park about 18 miles away from the park, or at least it seems that far, given the temperature and the proximity of the car to the park. I hand Ben his McDonald's happy meal (see, I'm not that mom) and contemplate having him carry the wine. Decide instead that he can handle the blanket and we're off on the death march to the park. I figure I'm in for a slew of complaints about the heat, the walk and his hunger but he carries on without a peep. Except for, "Mommy, are we late? Are you sure we're not late?" He is so my child.
I love that Ben is me, through and through. Cognizant. Aware. Conscientious. Eyes wide open.
We're not late but our friends are. In fact, they won't be there until much later, according to the text message.
Not to worry because all of a sudden the park envelopes us and we are surrounded by friends. Old friends. New friends. Facebook friends. Out of touch friends. Friends of friends. And friends I don't know. "Hi! I've been in your (insert 'yoga,' 'pilates' or 'spinning' here) class! Remember me?"
Everyone oohs and ahhs over Ben. "He's so big! He's so grown up!" And my own personal favorite: "He looks just like his dad!" (Not!)
We settle into our spot, blanket spread with the friends-of-the friends because they have lots of kids and because they make room for us and because they have the best wine. Which they quickly offer up.
What's great about age six is that finally, I can set Ben somewhat free and enjoy adult time. He runs with the kids; I enjoy the friends-of-the-friends who I'm deciding need to be elevated in status to "good friends." Because they are cool and they are not boring me with small talk and their wine is damn good.
The band is great. The music is great. Sitting in the shade with my new friends is great. Watching Ben release four balloons is not great. Going back and forth to the balloon vendor four times is not great. My son dissolving into tears over the loss of the orange balloon is not great.
Fortunately, there is ice cream and ice cream is the greatest bribery tactic of all time for good behavior. Until the ice cream melts and the cup goes sideways and all of the contents (ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry) slide into Ben's lap. My new friends are uber-resourceful, shoring up tons of wipes.
Midway into the concert, Ben runs to me and does something that he's never done: he asks me to dance. Certainly, he must have gotten this idea from someone else because never would my child do this. Ever. He does not dance. Not at home, not at school, not with friends, not even in the car when I blast Lady Gaga.
So off we go - front and center - on the dance floor. The band has just started, "Ride, Sally, Ride!" I start to dance; Ben goes rigid. He stands as still as a tree. I move his arms. Nothing. I grab his hands. Nothing. I lean down and get him to at least call out, "Ride, Sally, Ride!"
The Twist is next. I'm intent on getting him to move. I stand behind him, twisting his torso. He gives me a mortified look. I twist next to him, in front of him, all around him. He doesn't move a muscle. Then he takes my hand and give it a gentle tug. "I'm done with dancing. Let's go back to the lawn."
I think to myself how quickly he's become self-conscious. He gets it from me, I'm sure. It makes me a little sad.
Back at our spot, our other friends are just arriving. They have brought a five-year-old, Cheetos and wine. Ben immediately embraces the other child and they are fast friends. I love that he offers his friendship so freely. We are all happy for the next hour.
Ben and I don't arrive home until late on Saturday night. We're tired. Sticky with ice cream and spilled wine. My dress has hot fudge smears and his clothes are covered in orange Cheeto dust and grass stains. We both fall into bed, exhausted.
On Sunday, we negotiate another work-out for me and a play date for him.
Ean, Ben's best friend joins us for a day at the pool. They swim for four hours straight, taking quick breaks for lunch, watermelon and Popsicles. I sit in the shade and melt. 106 degrees. Occasionally, I jump into the pool and, to their delight, pretend to be the "Mommy Monster."
When I load up the boys to take Ean home, I notice how tired they both look. But that doesn't stop the banter in the backseat. I turn up Lady Gaga and try not to listen to the "poop" and "butt" references.
Eventually, their banter goes too far and poor Ean's image of me as the "nice mommy" is forever shattered.
When we get home, I make dinner and attempt another negotiation. Chicken - not in nugget form - is being served. I offer up Ranch dressing as a condiment to help take the edge off of "the disgusting, slimy, yucky, gross, ew-ew-ew chicken." It works. But I still have to listen to "disgusting, slimy, yucky, gross, ew-ew-ew" with every single bite.
Ben survives the plate of chicken and goes on to demolish a plate of ravioli, carrots, tomatoes, a yogurt, a handful of Cheetos, a scoop of cashews, a cheese stick and two cookies. "I'm still hungry," he tells me after I've done all the dishes. I toss him a Zone bar which goes down in about three bites. I think to myself, "Is he too young for protein shakes?"
Ben goes to bed early and I stay up late.
By Monday morning, he is off to camp and I am ushering clients into my home.
I looked at the calendar just tonight to see when I can look forward to another weekend together. To my shock - and amazement - he and I have only one weekend left before our big trip to Southern California. In August. The way that custody and vacations line up this month is crazy. But it makes me reflect and appreciate weekends like this past one.
Knowing that we have only one summer weekend remaining, I gave Ben the power to decide what we should do. He immediately asked to visit my sister in the East Bay. He wants to swim in her pool, terrorize her cats, play hide-and-seek in her house and master her old pinball machine. He also wants my sister to spend countless hours reading "I Spy" to him.
I can't think of a better weekend plan.