I've started a new tradition with my two older boys.
Once a week, on alternating weeks, I take one of them out for a mother-son coffee date. The other one stays at home with Husband and Baby and the two of us get a whole hour together, one-on-one, just the two of us.
One-on-one time is something I've been trying to fit in for a very long time, but it's somehow been difficult to manage until now. Our schedules are extremely busy on weeknights because of the children's heavy involvement in sports. We so often have something planned on the weekends - one of our zillion family field trips and traditions, holidays, a family birthday (there are a lot of them in a family this size!) It's often the case that there literally isn't a free hour in the week to devote to a single member of the family.
Baby takes up a lot of my time and attention - more than necessary, probably, which is in a large part my own fault; I have always been a very hands-on, do-it-myself kind of mom and with all three of my kids have never been particularly comfortable leaving them, even if it's with my husband or my mother, let alone a babysitter or anyone else. But as a result, it's been next to impossible to carve out any individual time for anyone in the family - myself, my husband and I together, or one-on-one time with any of the kids.
I've made sporadic efforts to institute some kind of alone time with one or the other of the boys over the years - the odd lunch out together, the occasional swimming date at the local rec centre. But none of these things have ever taken hold as a regular, ongoing thing.
My two oldest boys have always been treated almost as a unit rather than two individuals, for which I feel bad. They are only a year and a half apart. My eldest, as the first child, was babied that little bit longer; Middle Child, because he had a big brother to keep up with, developed and matured that much sooner. They have always been very close in size and development. And, from the time they were infants until we moved in with my husband when my eldest was four, I was a single parent. It was just the three of us; we were a team. And, though I'm not sure if it was the right thing to do or not, the two boys were lumped together as "the boys" and treated as a single unit. It was the only way I could manage with two toddlers, and neither of them seemed to mind - they've been best friends since birth, those two.
But as they're getting older, I feel like they should have more of a chance to be individuals. It's not like we treat them exactly the same - they each have their own friends, they each choose the sports they want to participate in, they're starting to differ in the kinds of shows and books they like, they are most definitely their own little people. Both my husband and I have lots of accidental alone time with one or the other of them - when Middle Child goes outside to help my husband in the garage, I pop Baby into his high chair with some carrot and cucumber slices and my eldest and I sit down to a game of cards, or when he and my husband head out back to kick the soccer ball around I take the youngest two to play at the park. The kids do get time with each of us and without each other - but it's never really alone time because Baby's always there.
So I've started these weekly coffee dates, and the boys just love it.
I've explained how this is what adults do when they want to get together for a talk and a visit and they feel very grown-up that they get to do it too. We walk over to the Second Cup on the corner and order a large hot chocolate each. The boys like theirs loaded with whipped cream and make a great production out of sprinkling the top with cinnamon or chocolate. We take our big, steaming mugs over to the corner by the big fireplace and curl up in the big leather club chairs for a cozy little chat.
Sometimes our talks are serious - talking over the temper tantrum Middle Child threw on a family outing the day before, working through Eldest Child's nerves over his upcoming soccer tryouts. Sometimes they're silly - once my eldest and I spent our entire date talking about the movie he imagined about a story he'd written at school about aliens and rocket ships and space soccer and monkeys and toast. (Yes, toast.) And sometimes we just sit and chat about nothing. I'll hear about things that happened at school that week that they forgot to tell me in the daily after-school chaos. They'll ask questions about when I was a kid. We'll fantasize about our next trip to Disney World, or just chat about what we're doing that weekend.
And I feel like we're getting to know each other in a different and amazing way.
It's only an hour every second week for each boy, but these private coffee dates are so special.
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