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Small has his heart set on a being a bad guy this Halloween. He wants to be a Goomba.

“A what?” I asked.

“Mom, they’re the little mushroom guyth on Thuper Mario Brotherth.”

I hadn’t a clue. Showing more patience with me than I often do with him, he flipped open our Nintendo DS (yes, we have one – I relaxed my stance on hand-held video devices after the kids saved their allowances for three months to buy one).

“Look, I’ll show you,” he said.

Thanks to the internet and an inspired mom who blogs at What I Made Today, I now know exactly how to turn Henry into the creature of his dreams.

As soon as his father came home, Henry danced over, exclaiming, “I get to be a Goomba for trick or treat!”

Brendan shot a confused look over at me then scraped the backs of his fingers under his chin in a gesture he must have picked up in college. “He’s gonna be a mobster for Halloween?”

“A mon-ster, Daddy,” Henry corrected. “A Goomba monster!”

I think the mobster costume might be easier to make.

Small and I were at the mall today enveloped in consumerism, surrounded by homogeneity and comforted by grease masquerading as “meals.” Don’t get me wrong. I love to shop. But in a nod to our reduced income over the last year, I have made an effort to avoid places that might tempt me to hand over the plastic.

I discovered today that my not-so-silent struggles to embrace a level of frugality I once eschewed have made an impression, however slight.

As Henry munched happily on his bribe (“If you behave yourself while Mommy tries on these swimsuits, we’ll go to the food court for lunch.”), the frosted blonde sitting at the next table over began rummaging in her large Coach handbag. Coins clanged on the linoleum. Henry froze. “She dropped money!” he mouthed at me. “I’ll get it!” He was out of his chair in an instant and onto the floor.

I made a split-second decision not to point out his unsanitary choice. In that same moment, I overheard the woman murmur to her ringletted, preschool-aged daughter, “It’s just loose change. Leave it.”

But there was no calling him back. For 1) he has adopted his older brother’s selective hearing tendencies and 2) I had already resolved to roll with the situation.

And that is how I ended up watching my four-year-old do the army crawl through flecks of ketchup, bits of lettuce and the mushed remains of an errant french fry or two underneath a strangers’ table at the food court.

Within seconds, he had cheerfully deposited one penny, two dimes and a quarter on the table next to the daughter. The mother barely looked at him when she thanked him. Completely unperturbed by her overly bright tone, he registered only her two-word expression of gratitude. My gratitude was for my compassionate son and his social inexperience.

His brown eyes gleamed with self-satisfaction as he returned to his seat. I leaned forward. “That was a very kind thing you did. You’re very helpful. Thank you.”

Smiling, he returned his attention to his uneaten McNuggets.

Germs be damned. I didn’t remind him to wash his hands.

Small is quickly becoming a germaphobe. I can’t pinpoint the origin of his latest obsession but I know for sure that it isn’t me – I believe in the three five thirty second rule, will eat off someone else’s plate with his/her utensil, and have been known to “clean up” the kids’ creemees (Who can stand the drips?).

Just for the record: I won’t eat off just anyone’s plate so no need to fret that I am becoming a freegan.

Anyway, for weeks now, Henry has refused to drink from any water bottle he suspects has been contaminated with someone’s spit. The family is not allowed to take “bites” of anything Henry has on his plate and he will not eat anything that has been served to someone else. Until today, I was the sole person exempt from this rule.

As of 1:32 p.m., eastern standard time, I was deemed unclean like everyone else.

It happened like this:

“Mommy, I wan’ a drink.”

I handed him my water glass. “Here you go, buddy,” I said.

He peered into it skeptically. “Doeth it have your germth in it?”

“Umm,” I hedged. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”

“But it hath your germth.”

“It’s fine, Henry. You’re thirsty, aren’t you?”

“Why are your germth fine?

“Because you’re my son. You came out of me.”

The explanation just slipped out. I don’t know what I was thinking.

“What??”

“Well, you know that when you were a baby you were in Mommy’s tummy. And then…you were born.”

We looked at one another.

“I want another glath.”

I got him one.

I know when to say when.

We are eating lunch. Henry picks at the PB&J he requested. I am devouring a freshly-made garlic and herb turkey wrap that I impulsively procured from a gas station deli. It tastes like manna from heaven. I am too busy stuffing my mouth to make conversation.

“Mom?”

I freeze, mid-chew. Oh no. Here it comes. Had I insisted that he try some, he would have refused. But when I’d rather not share, he decides he wants some.

“Can I have yourth?”

I hand him half my sandwich in silence, selfishly hoping he won’t like it and will hand it back. This is a good bet since it is stuffed with banana peppers, red onions, chopped lettuce and tomatoes.

He takes a bite, then nods his head vigorously. “It’th good.”

“Really? You like it?”

“Yup. Did you know dere’th bacon in dere?”

Why, yes. Yes, I did. Damn that delectable smoked swine.

I relinquish my meal with only the slightest hint of a grimace. “Good for you for trying something new.”

On the bright side: Less sandwich now means more Girl Scout cookies later…

The signs were there. Yet, I chose to ignore them. I was bound and determined to make things work.

This snowshoeing play-date was going to happen, damnit, and it was going to be FUN.

My first sign that not all was as it should be was when I woke up this morning feeling like an alien was trying to claw his way out of my pelvis—either through my lower back or straight out of my uterus.

My next signs came as I was picking up Henry from pre-school. He came right over to me when he saw me open the playground gate. He was quiet and his eyes looked a little glassy. While it might be typical for your child to be ecstatic to see you at pick-up, my boys have always wanted “one last (insert any activity here – slide, turn on the swing, race, etc)” before acknowledging that I am there to take them home.

Then, to top things off, as I was buckling our snowshoes, I noticed that mine didn’t quite fit. I hadn’t thought to try them on before taking them out for the first time this year. Never mind that they aren’t actually mine but rather, my husband’s. I must have been delusional to assume adult snowshoes would be one size fits all.

And yet, I pressed us on. “It’ll be fine,” I assured Henry, his friend and his friend’s mom.

But it was not.

The snow was crusty, not fluffy, and almost immediately, we were faced with a steep incline. Henry began whining. I whispered encouraging words.

Did I mention that this was a first play-date? You know, the slightly awkward, put-your-best-foot-forward-and-test-the-waters get-together between parents and their kids? The one where you and your child attempt to make a good impression? Or, in my case, where I try to act—and to get my child to act—normally enough so that the other parent doesn’t leave believing we are Satan and her spawn?

Alas, it was not to be.

The whining escalated to whimpering which converted to crying. I ended up carrying him up and then down the hill while Henry’s friend’s mom kindly carried my ill-fitting snowshoes. Total play time? Fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes of Hell.

And now my little cherub is asleep.

Who’s betting on whether we’ll get a second date? Not me.

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