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Photos: Cheryl Fleming

Women of all ages and stages have dead-serious, and often quite different, opinions about many reproductive and lifestyle choices—from contraceptive methods and  labor and delivery choices to breast-feeding or not, and for how long, to being a stay-at-home mom or a back-to-work mom with two full-time jobs, to choice of parenting styles, and menopause management. Yet there is one life-event that most women seem to look forward to with unabashed joy: the day that they become the “mother of the one who has reproduced.”  But this was the Big Transition for me.

My son is happily married and now has a child.  Before this event was even a twinkle in his eye, The Son decided during Christmas Eve dinner preparations to ask his mother what name she wanted to use when the blessed event occurred. The conversation began innocently enough. “What would you like to be called when we have a child?” He then offered choices: words from centuries past, all starting with the letter G.

“Call me Auntie Mame,” I responded.

“I don’t want you to be an Auntie Mame to our child,” he responded.  “Can’t you just be normal for once?”

The Daughter-in-Law, clever negotiator that she is, saw that this Christmas was heading farther south than Palm Beach, where we were.  “How about Coco?”  She asked.  “You know, for Chanel!” I was thrilled.  The Son wanted anything but Auntie Mame combined with Hello, Dolly to be involved in the life of the not-yet-conceived child, so the name of the famous French designer would have to do.

Time passed.  A child was born.  He is The Kid and I am Coco. The Kid and his family live near the city and we see them often, but  until recently, always in a structured setting. The Parents of The Kid are always calm and kind, and say things like, “Good listening” when he responds to behavior corrections.  Much better parenting than I came up with.  

For Christmas this year, The Husband and I gave The Son and Daughter-in-Law the gift of one Kid-free night a month. Weekends are Nanny-free in their home, so this gift would be a monthly Friday date night, along with a much-needed Saturday-morning sleep in. (Their desire for some adult time may have been muted by the fear that sleepovers with Coco and The Husband might damage The Kid in some profound way.)

The first night was chosen. I received emails from The Son about meeting Nanny and The Kid at the train station, delivery of homemade foods by Nanny, fold-out sleeping thing, how much The Kid loved water and baths, and how nice it would be if there could be more room for The Kid to play in our apartment. The aubergine living room and dining room were created with Nick and Nora Charles in mind, not a 2-year-old: glass tables with sharp edges, a glass 1930s bar cart with more glass on it, glass dining room square table with sharp corners just the right height to cause a nasty cut, and a piano with a heavy lid, just for starters.

I decided that I might as well make our first Friday-night sleepover a memorable one.  I rented the party room in our building for the playtime on Friday night so The Kid could run without danger, scheduled a photographer to create memories of the night, and lit out for FAO Schwarz for . . . things and themes.  I met a personal shopper there at 6:15 p.m the night before the big event and moved at light-speed through every “appropriate” area for a 2-year-old boy (It is possible that I may have bought age-inappropriate gifts for The Kid in the past). I decided that it would be easiest to work with themes, since I did not know what he would find interesting, and I could save the ones that didn’t work for future sleepovers.

1. Art Theme:  Easel and paper and many choices of crayons, paints, brushes, stickies, and colored tape.

2. Construction Theme: The Kid likes working machines.  I bought him a very large bright-yellow dump truck that had fat Legos in its back that could be dumped out and put back in again or used in other, more constructive, ways, and, for make-believe, a construction-worker dress-up outfit with a bright yellow hard hat and safety goggles and a red net vest with attached hammer and saw.

3. Music Theme:  In the short time that I was there, the brilliant staff at FAO Schwarz personalized a song that went into a monkey, who then sang in a somewhat manic way when I pushed his foot,” Hey KIIIIDDDD!!!, let’s sing the ABC song!”

4. Exercise Theme:  Monster Feet to walk on with elastic ropes that fit into the hands in order to lift the feet and acquire skills for balance.

5. Emotional Connection Theme: The Kid loves, loves, loves Elmo. I found a new Elmo that is the “Playskool Sesame Street Big Hugs Elmo Plush.”  This Elmo hugs and sings about hugging. Then, if another button is pushed,  Elmo sings a lullaby followed by “Night Night,” Then, I swear this is true . . . the Elmo snores.  Who wouldn’t love this Elmo?  I secretly wanted this Elmo to stay with me. Coco needs hugs.

6. Books:  I was running out of time, so I bought only one . . . and it fit into my construction theme!  Good Night, Good Night Construction Site! 

I was beginning to pay for my purchases when I realized that I had no tiara or magic wand, and The Kid would need a fairy godmother, after all!  My personal shopper understood the urgency of this and immediately sent someone to fetch these important accessories. I put on the tiara in the checkout line, then moved my arms in Queen Elizabeth fashion with my magic wand. There was no certification for becoming a fairy godmother, so I had to be content with impersonating one.  I hoped I would not be arrested or judged harshly at the end of time for this.

No one other than Tom Hanks in the movie Big ever had more fun at FAO Schwarz than I had that night. 

The next afternoon, The Kid arrived with Nanny.  The Husband, known as Pop Pop, casually took The Kid into the bedroom in order to minimize separation anxiety.  As Nanny left we heard the sounds of  a boy  jumping and bouncing on the bed.

I was dressed for the evening’s event as a special fairy godmother in a floor-length bottle-green velvet dress with a train, wearing my tiara and carrying my magic wand, when The Father of The Kid appeared to say goodnight. He was calm in appearance, but encouraged us to “Facetime anytime, anytime, no bother, really.” He did roll his eyes when he saw my evening dress.  “Just a little dress-up, dahling,” I said. The Mother of The Kid had been kind enough to let this little drama play out on its own without her presence. How smart is she?

We descended to the main floor of our building on the elevator with mere mortals who were not dressed for a fabulous first-night sleepover party with The Kid, Coco, and Pop Pop. The toys had been arranged in thematic order so that The Kid could choose his favorites. The photographer was waiting.

 The Kid seemed wary.  Daddy was gone. Nanny was gone. 

 But COCO and POP POP were there with fab toys! 

The Kid was not amused.  He was the very definition of pensive.  

0049Photo: Cheryl Fleming

He hated the singing “Hey KIIIIIDDDD!!!” monkey. 

He did like the photographer, and slowly developed an interest in the construction worker silo. He wanted to wear the worker-vest at once.

0012Photo: Cheryl Fleming

He liked the bright-yellow hardhat and goggles.

0017Photo: Cheryl Fleming

The truck was unable to attract attention, but we did lots of stuff with the hammer and saw.

0032Photo: Cheryl Fleming

Coco and Pop Pop worked hard to figure this playing thing out. Slowly, The Kid warmed up.

0063Photo: Cheryl Fleming

After lots of activity, he began to look sleepy around half past eight. The fairy godmother and Pop Pop said goodnight to the photographer and took The Kid upstairs for bed. 

0247Photo: Cheryl Fleming

I had been given specific instructions from The Father about diapers and creams and removal of clothes and bath and nightclothes. After his bath, The Kid insisted on putting his day clothes back on and refused to put pajamas on. I could tell that he was determined to leave when his parents returned from “Working Hard” and that he knew that putting on those nightclothes would be a strategic mistake. Lots of people I know, including The Father of The Kid, had on occasion slept in their day clothes. I also knew that The Parents would never find out, since The Kid was not old enough to rat me out, so I just messed up those pajamas as if they had been worn. The Kid needed amusement to get through the “Why Have My Parents Abandoned Me?” stage and Wile E. Coyote on the NetFlix channel, even though forbidden by The Parents, worked like a charm. He passed out peacefully in bed with Coco and Pop Pop.

At 1:30 a.m., The Kid woke up and wanted out and out and out. I gave him the prescribed milky in the prescribed container. I sat in a soft chair with The Kid in my lap and began to read the Good Night, Good Night Construction Site book (staying in that construction silo).

“Dump truck loves to work and haul
He carries loads both big and small. . .
One final load spills on the heap;
Now Dump Truck’s tired and wants to sleep
Shh. . . goodnight, Dump Truck, goodnight

I told The Kid at the end of that page, “See, the sky is dark where the Dump Truck is sleeping. The sky is dark outside our window too.  The moon is out.  It is time for us to sleep.” I read every page with the same Greek chorus about dark and moon and sleep and soon. The Kid settled down and was ready for his bed again.

We all slept well and woke to a cheerful alarm at 6:30 a.m. “I want out, Coco.” The Kid had breakfast and changed into new day clothes. The Parents were “working hard,” so they had a chance to sleep in till 10 o’clock. 

The inter-generational family celebrated the success of the first sleepover with breakfast around the corner at our favorite diner, where The Father, who used to be just The Son, had been a regular back in the old days. 

Such a Great First Night:
Working Hard To Get It Right.


(Images: Cheryl Fleming)