When a Six-Year-Old Cries

Fall_Images-117“You’re supposed to be spending the day with me,” Etani said, tears springing into his eyes. “Not talking to other people.”

Etani, who’s six, and I were walking along Siskiyou Boulevard. The baby was on my back, gurgling happily. I had picked him up from school at 1:30 p.m. and we spent the afternoon doing research for a food-related article I’m writing for the New York Times. Etani’s “research” included a Mt Fuji at a restaurant downtown: green tea ice cream with chocolate syrup, mandarin oranges, and whipped cream flecked with coconut flakes.

But now we were in a hurry. We had barely enough time to walk home so Etani could change into his soccer gear.

“We’re not even going to be on time for practice,” he spluttered.

When you live in a small town like Ashland you see a lot of familiar faces. We’ve had nothing but cold wet weather lately and today’s bright sunshine enticed people outside. So Etani and I couldn’t walk more than a block or two without running into someone: an editor friend and his son, Hesperus’s old French teacher. While I enjoyed talking to Madame, Etani waited by my side, silent but miserable. He was quiet and polite while I was chatting away but his feelings were so hurt that he burst into tears the second we were out of earshot.

I remember how frustrated I used to feel when my brother and I were with my mom at her work at Boston University and she would talk to everyone (except us) for what felt like hours.

I don’t want my son to feel like his mother is more interested in other people than in him.

“I’m sorry,” I said as we turned onto our street and started up the hill. “I didn’t mean to talk for so long.”

Then I suggested the Question Game. Wiping his wet face with a grubby hand, Etani agreed.

I asked my first question: “If you could spend the day doing anything you want with anyone you want, what would you do and with whom?”

Then: “What are your three favorite sports?”

And: “If you could travel on an airplane anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?”

Finally: “What are three things you like about being six?”

Busy talking, we walked up the hill in record time. Even though Etani had some business in the bathroom and I needed to leave a note for the girls, fill a water bottle, grab my computer, and buckle the baby into the car, we made it to practice with two minutes to spare.

I still feel badly that I hurt his feelings. I wonder what my son will remember when he thinks of his childhood. The interminable wait for his mother to stop talking to other people when she was supposed to be having Alone Time with him or the Mt Fuji, the brilliant sunshine, and our long discussion (”I would go to Yogurt Hut, the mall, and the ball place. Let’s see, who would buy me lots of stuff at the mall? You’re not the kind of person who would let me have whatever I want, Mommy, so I think I would want to go with Grandma Suzy…”)?

What about you? How do you handle spending time with your children (or your spouse, for that matter) when you run into people you want to talk to? Do you tend to remember the happy times or the sad times from your childhood? Do you worry what your children will remember from theirs?

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