Friday, 14 November 2014 11:37


By Kate Towne Sherwin | Families Today

Every once in a while the elements of our day align in such a way that my second son and I are the only two around.

Maybe Dad has the other boys with him on errands, maybe the little ones are napping; whatever it is, it’s usually a time when I think, “Hooray! I can lie down, or read this magazine, or surf the web, or do some writing, or clean this room, or fold this laundry”—you get the idea.

Inevitably, though, where I see a big flashing “Me Time!” sign, my second boy sees the perfect opportunity for one-on-one mom-and-son time.

It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with him—in theory, I’d love to. But when it comes down to it, in the moment when no one else needs me, when it would be the perfect time to spend with my boy, I admit that it takes all my patience to not yell, “Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy with me?”

It also doesn’t help his cause that what he always wants to do is play a game. Connect Four, Junior Scrabble, and Go Fish or War are his go-to favorites. I start to feel itchy and tired when I think of having to play a game, it’s really not my favorite thing to do. But how can I, in good conscience, say no to a request like that, in order to focus on myself? I mean, it’s not like I’m withering on the vine, about to blow away in a puff of smoke because I need a nap or anything like that. If I really needed to say no, I just would. But most of the time, when he asks to play a game, all that’s standing in the way of some good bonding is my own selfishness. So we do usually play a game or two, and he loves it, and I’m always glad (in hindsight) that we did.

When he had his birthday this past summer, I knew just what I wanted to do with him. I always try to think of some small thing just the birthday boy and I can do together, and for Gabe I thought of this: going to Panera for a cookie and lemonade (and strong coffee for me!), which I know he loves, and bringing the Connect Four. I imagined us like old friends playing chess in the park, except it would be a mom and her son playing Connect Four in Panera.

I didn’t tell him what we were doing until we were in the van on the way there—it’s a common tactic I employ with the boys, because if I tell them too soon, I risk the other boys finding out and freaking out that they’re not included; or devastating disappointment if something comes up at the last minute that forces us to cancel; or too much talking about it which makes me want to plug my ears and say, “La la la” and forbid them from saying another word about it.

When I did tell him, he was mostly excited, but a little apprehensive—I could tell he was a little weirded out by this idea, a little embarrassed, a little like, “I hope no one sees me playing Connect Four at Panera with my mom.” I told him we didn’t have to play if he didn’t want to—we could just eat cookies and then go home—but as soon as we were seated he thought, maybe we could try playing for a couple minutes. And then he was hooked—I think we played six or eight games of Connect Four before he decided he wanted to play checkers instead. Since we didn’t have a checkerboard, we imagined one on the table. You can imagine how strange that got, not knowing where the squares should be and, in Gabe’s case, not caring. He jumped my checkers left and right all over the table with glee. I would have called foul except he was having such a blast. It was a good birthday.

Like Gabe and his games, I’ve been really trying recently to figure out what particular things or activities are loved by each of my boys. The youngest three are still pretty easy—hugging, reading, singing, chatting are pretty much all they ever want me to do with them. But I’m very aware of the older boys getting older, and how it’s not so easy for me to figure out how to reach them. I assume it will only get worse, and I worry that they’ll float away like balloons if I don’t figure out ways of connecting with them.

In that vein, I’ve been really pleased to discover that my oldest loves me to read to him. As reading out loud is one of the things I’ve always loved to with my boys, and I like to keep tabs on what they’re reading as they get older so I can address any questions or issues as they arise (even middle school fiction can be heavy stuff), this has been perfect. He’s a night owl, so we read after the other boys are in bed. The most recent one we’ve read is “Wonder,” by RJ Palacio, and it sparked a lot of great conversation between us about some really important things.

My third, who’s only in first grade and still seems to waver back and forth between little boy and big boy, has always been kind of tough for me. He’s very sensitive to pain—emotional or physical—and so he spends a lot of time upset about this or that perceived slight, or about injuries sustained when roughhousing with his brothers (which is funny because he’s very strong, and loves to roughhouse…until he gets one too many injuries, and then he spends the rest of the day in a funk). He’s always been this way (it seems to me he spent the first years of his life crying nonstop), but I’ve recently discovered that, in his sensitive way, if I put the baby in his lap when he’s in a bad mood, he’s absolutely unable to stay mad. He just loves babies, especially his baby brother, and when the baby starts grabbing at his face he just melts into a tender smile, and he hugs the baby and kisses him, and then he’s good for the rest of the day (or until the next incident).

I love figuring things like this out about my boys, and it makes me hopeful. I don’t know what lies ahead, when they’re teenagers and beyond, but I worry about it, and I wonder—will spending regular individualized one-on-one time with them now and going forward be enough to reduce the parent-child stress that seems inevitable later? I’m sure every parent has tried all sorts of tricks to ease the growing pains, and I’m sure it’s somewhat hit-or-miss. But I do know for sure that it can’t hurt, and besides all that—it’s just really nice learning even better the ins and outs of these amazing, quirky, funny, smart little boys I’ve been given.


Kate Towne Sherwin lives Saratoga Springs with her husband and their sons ages 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and 7 months. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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