Bless my son, Ben. Bless his little yogurt-drink-addled-four-year-old brain, which has reached the all-important (and all-consuming) “Let’s play make believe!” stage. Maybe he’ll be a famous method actor one day and support his mother in her old age. But in the meantime, curse me, and curse my husband, Jason, for not also creating a brother to entertain him. Because there are a lot of things I’ve aspired to be in life, but here’s a (not comprehensive) list of things I don’t want to be: A tarantula. A baby tarantula. A mommy tarantula. A customer at my kid’s shitty store, where he only sells me toys I’ve already bought him. Elsa, Anna or the octopus from The Little Mermaid. A kitty cat. A kitty cat with black fur and green eyes. A kitty cat with spotted fur and blue eyes. The Bad Guy Who Gets Put in Jail. A puppy. A princess. The Beautiful Unicorn. The Joker. Or Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, The Hulk or Captain America.
“Then what superhero do you want to be, Mommy?”
“I’m superhero cleaning-out-the-kitchen-drawer.”
You know what’s boring, kid? Following you around the house pretending I’m a subway. Let’s play Binge Watch HBO! Let’s play Fail at Making the Latest Recipe from Bon Appétit! Let’s play Shop Online for Clothes for the Kid Who Looks Cute but Plays Stupid Games!
While I adore my only child, there’s still a certain chill that crawls up my spine every time Ben starts calling out in a singsongy voice (you know, the kind you hear in horror movies with children who do terrible things): “Who-o-o wants to play with me?”
Silence. Jason and I both sit very, very still. Perhaps he won’t see us?
“Who-o-o wants to play with me?”
For Ben’s sake, I’m happy to report that at least one of his parents cares about his amusement. I watch as Ben drags Jason victoriously down the basement stairs like a freshly killed antelope and cross my fingers that they won’t emerge for at least 27 minutes.
The evenings can be long, but they’re not the most dreaded of challenges. That, as every parent knows, is The Completely Empty Weekend. No swimming lessons. No Grandma and Grandpa taking him to the park. (Take him out for lunch, too! He loves lunch!) No birthday parties.… Just a deep, dark hole where, at the bottom, I’m Olaf for 48 hours straight. Cue the sudden avalanche of overly cheery texts to other mothers.
Does Ewan want to come over for a playdate? SMILEY FACE!
I’m sick. Don’t think I can make it over there.
I’ll come get him! THUMBS UP!
Before she can say no, I squeal out of the alleyway, snatch Ewan from his mother’s loving arms and triumphantly deposit my quarry in front of my starving (for love) child.
Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m a totally neglectful mother. There is stuff I do enjoy doing with Ben. Crafts, for instance—an activity I used to consign to things one only does under duress in a post-apocalyptic universe where you have to complete the latest ALEX kit to get a slice of bread—are a time chewer I can get behind. First of all—and this is key—you get to sit down. Second, you have a demented toilet paper roll monster at the end of it. Similarly, I’ve come around to board games. Hello, sitting! And also, you get to look like one of those creepy commercials of families playing board games. Cuddling and watching old children’s movies full of offensive stereotypes and retrograde gender politics? Bring it! Reading together in bed? I’m there. Online shopping? Totally in.
I know I’m supposed to cherish this precious pre-big-kid time, when Ben is eager for my attention. I know that I’ll turn around and suddenly my only role in his life will be as provider of food and yeller of “Pick up your clothes!” That soon enough he’ll be all stink and video games, and he won’t want me to play with him. That he’ll barely acknowledge my existence at all. So I try. I try to care about Batman’s terrible fate. (Spoiler alert: The Joker locks him in the front hall closet.) I try to feel excited about taking my “dog” for a walk around the living room. Hopefully, as Ben gets a bit older, there will be more things we’ll enjoy doing together. Like our toes. But for now, sorry, I gotta go! I’m totally late to pick up Ewan.
A version of this article appeared in our November 2015 issue with the headline, “Play Hate”, p. 34.