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Two weeks ago, I took care of Simon’s friend Caroline so the two could go to tennis camp together. The experience was enlightening, reinforcing a few things I knew, teaching me other things I only suspected to be true, and providing one pleasantly surprising discovery. Such as:

Having two kids is easier:

When we were at the house, having Simon and Caroline together was a much easier job than watching Simon alone. Simon is very social; he doesn’t spend much time working puzzles, drawing, or partaking in other solo endeavors. He’s more of a card game, board game, soccer game, tennis match, running race, make believe kind of kid. When it’s just the two of us, I’m the entertainer/playmate much of the time. With Caroline here, my job was to provide food and beverages and otherwise stay out of their way.

Except when it’s not:

Things might have been easier at the house, but they were decidedly harder at the pool, where they insisted on going three days out of five. It’s one thing to give one kid boosts out of the pool, catch one kid when he or she jumps into the pool, “watch this!” when adjured by a child about to do a special trick, or carry one child back to the loungers when the cement pool deck is too hot for tender feet. It is an entirely different thing to give boosts to, catch, watch, and carry two kids at the same time. I had help one day (thanks Evie!), but the other two I was a one-woman act. I’m amazed my back is still functional.

Some phases are nearly universal:

One day, Caroline had an uncharacteristically tough time of it. I talked to her mom, and it turned out she had a terrible time going to sleep the night before because she’s starting to deal with bedtime fears. It’s not about mummies, cancer, or the sun becoming a red giant and devouring the Earth (“you know, the usual”) with her, but it’s a definite fear of bedtime and of being alone in her room. It’s the same with another good friend and at least one reader of this blog.

On a happier note, gross stuff seems to cross the gender line in its appeal at five. When Simon started talking about poop, burps, and gas the first time, I tried to intervene lest Caroline decide that a week with us was a week too long. I didn’t get very far, though, because she eagerly chimed in and picked up the baton. Five-year-old girls: Princesses who tell poop jokes. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

Differences are good:

Simon and Caroline have very different interests. Caroline is all about music, drawing, and dance, while Simon is way more interested in sports, math, maps, and science. But their temperaments are very similar, so for much of the week they happily and naturally drifted to the center. Both liked tennis camp; geography and science facts were melded into Caroline’s role-playing games; Caroline encouraged Simon draw and color way more than usual; and they both spent a lot of time singing and dancing.

When Simon plays with his older cousin Ben, his independence and physical ability are tested and/or enhanced. With Caroline, his artistic side got a decent work-out. They aren’t muscles he’s used to using, but it’s good for him to explore that side. Meanwhile, super-artsy Caroline was encouraged to explore her own sporty and analytical side. I think the week was a broadening experience for both of them, and I’d love to do a repeat next summer.

Simon is more independent than I thought:

Which isn’t to say that he’s super independent, but he’s less dependent than I feared. I had assumed that kids who spend all day in childcare would by necessity be more independent than those who have been home with a parent. And some are. At least one of Simon’s good friends can and does do things on her own that Simon wouldn’t dream of.

But Simon likes to pick out his own clothes and dress himself, buckle his own seat belt, tie his own shoes, open and close car doors, bus his own table at restaurants, and find his own way in familiar buildings, whereas Caroline is still happy to be taken care of in these respects. The endearing result of this disparity was that Simon treated me to countless scenes of chivalry during his week with Caroline: He tied her shoes, buckled her seat belt for her, opened and closed doors for her, brought her water at restaurants, and took care of her trash after meals.

Less chivalrous was his abandoning of Caroline at tennis camp the last two days. Thursday and Friday, Simon insisted on being dropped off at the facility’s entrance and finding his own way to the right tennis court, after which Caroline and I would park and walk in together.

Friendship at five is the real deal:

Within ten minutes of dropping off Caroline on their last day together, a day that came at the end of five days of togetherness, Simon told me that he already missed Caroline. I’m sure he did. He told me the same thing after our last play-date with Ruby and after spending Sunday afternoon with Ben. In all of these relationships, Simon is happy to make accommodations for the different interests and abilities of his friends, as they do with him. And while he had some friends of proximity and/or convenience at KIP, others bonds were forged on deep and heart-felt affection. I hope we can sustain a few of these bonds as the kids go off to new schools next year.


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