Three boys popped themselves out of my minivan as I unbuckled Lilah from her seat. “Do you boys want to play outside for a few minutes while I make lunch?” I asked.
“Yes!” shouted Benjamin, not-yet-four and full of excitement that a six-year-old was over for a playdate.
“Nah,” said Zachary, prompting his friend to reply in the same vein. Crap. I was sort of hoping they would stay out at least long enough for me to run to the bathroom.
They filed into the mudroom, kicking off shoes and moving quickly into the kitchen to make space for the next child. “Come on,” Zach urged his friend. “Let’s get away from Ben.”
There was no place to get away from Benjamin. The house is small, and the child was persistent. I had not so much as opened a jar of jam before I heard wailing from the next room. “Get him out of here!” shouted Zach.
This was Zach’s first playdate with Elliot. He and Zach were spinning their wheels, trying to figure out what to do together, as they hadn’t yet developed a rhythm to their play. Zach’s room is so tiny that it is hard to open the dresser without banging into the bed, so there is nowhere to play up there. All they have is outside – which they had already rejected –, the small living room, and the adjacent sunroom. Where Benjamin was.
For me to make lunch would mean walking away from the children, all of whom were required to be in the same space. And as soon as I walked away, Zach turned from playing with his friend to fighting with his brother. No one wanted to see a repeat of our last two playdates, during which Zach had gotten so anxious that his brother’s presence had sent him into a tailspin.
I managed to sit Lilah and Benjamin at the table long enough to shove a slice of cheese in each child’s hand. That meant I was left with two things that somehow had to be done simultaneously: feeding the younger children and helping Zach and his friend find something to do. Were I to turn away from feeding Benjamin, he would be down from the table and in his brother’s face, triggering a meltdown. Were I to turn away from the older boys, Zachary’s anxiety would kick into high gear as he tried to control every detail of the playdate.
I dumped some hummus on both plates, then turned to the older children. “Would you like to play Guess Who?”
“Yes!” Elliot replied.
“No,” Zach moaned at precisely the same moment. “The other kid always wins!” The truth of the matter is that the kid who goes first pretty much always wins, but try explaining that to a kindergartener.
Seven minutes later, we had somehow managed to arrange a game of Guess Who, with Zach and Elliot on one side and Benjamin partnered with me on the other. Since I had to keep excusing myself to reheat pizza and spread peanut butter, that meant that poor Benjamin was pretty much holding his own against a five- and six-year old. He asked three turns in a row if the mystery person was bald. Fortunately, he was so thrilled to be playing with the big boys, he could not have cared less whether he won, lost, or contracted pertussis.
After the children were fed, I sent the older boys into the kitchen to roll cookie dough into balls and place it on a sheet.
“I think we’ll have nine,” Elliot told Zachary.
“And there’s three already baked in the cake stand,” Zach pointed out. “So we’ll have twelve.”
“Great! We’ll have a dozen!” I made a mental note to congratulate their teacher on her math instruction.
An hour later, the boys had eaten cookies, Benjamin and Zachary had argued over a broken toy, Lilah was weeping on the couch, and I was pacing by the window, hoping Elliot’s babysitter would arrive to pick him up so that I could put Lilah down for a very overdue nap. Then it took five minutes for Elliot to get on his shoes while he and Zach both tried to convince us the playdate should go longer. I waved goodbye and whisked Lilah up for her nap.
“Will you read to us?” whined Zach eight minutes later, as I came back down the stairs.
“One minute, baby.”
It was an hour-and-a-half later, and I still needed to pee.