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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.

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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