We have a basement rec room that is largely unused unless we have overnight guests, in which case presto-chango! it is our guest room, or the kids have friends over, when it becomes a free-for-all room.

Henry has a friend over. It is her first time visiting us and of course, the two of them head to the basement. I am getting dinner together when I hear feet pounding up the stairs.

The pounding stops. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” Henry says. “Are you coming?”

“No, I’m staying down here.”

There’s a pause. I know he is processing her expression of independence. Henry rarely chooses to be alone. He is either trailing after his siblings or he is being trailed by his friends. He does not comprehend self-selected solitude.

“Okay,” he calls down. I hear a few more footsteps on the stairs, then: “Oh, Janie*, don’t worry about the scary monsters near the door over there. I turned the light on so they won’t bother you.”

He emerges from the stairwell and before I have composed myself, he darts into the bathroom. I am not surprised to hear small footsteps on the stairs shortly thereafter.

“I’m just coming up to check on the dog,” Janie says.

“Paco’s fine, honey. You know, it’s perfectly safe for you to play downstairs – you don’t have to wait for Henry.”

“No, thanks,” she says to me. Turning away, she calls to him through the bathroom door. She sounds exasperated. “Alright. I came up and am right here sitting next to the wall.”

“I hear ya,” he calls back. Janie and I listen to the sounds of the toilet flushing, the faucet running, the hand towel holder squeaking. The door slides open and he is there, looking for all the world like the cat who ate the canary.

He grins at her, then at me. “We’re going to go back down to the basement. Okay, Mom?” They depart without further ado.

He doesn’t understand privacy but he is a budding master of psychology. My apologies to all of Henry’s friends, present and future. If this is what he’s like at five, Lord knows how he’ll be at fifteen and twenty-five.

*Not her real name.