"When's my 'Mommy and Me' day?" my son Will asks.
"Your special day is next Tuesday," I say.
"So, after last day? After the other day?" He wants me to be more specific. The calendar poses a perpetual conundrum in our household; the whole concept of time lost on my 5-year-old triplets.
"Tuesday is four days from now," I reply patiently.
"Yea!" Will is elated and mulls over how to spend his coveted two-hour time slot.
Our "Mommy and Me" ritual began two years ago. My next-door neighbor and fellow mother, Christie, and I were out in our front yards, watching seven children (my three and her four, all of whom were age 6 and under) ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk.
The routine was familiar. We alternately chatted and then barked out instructions: "Buckle your helmet!" or "Slow down!" As usual, the kids played, snacked, and joked.
Another neighbor drove by in her SUV, two bikes strapped on top. "Robby and I are spending the afternoon at a new bike trail," she sang out.
Robby is an only child. His mother is tireless in her pursuit of memory-filled activities for her son. Off they drove.
"I wish I could take one of my kids out alone like that," lamented Christie.
My shoulders dropped, too. Spending special time with one child requires extra effort when you have a full house. Most times it's simply not feasible. I quickly declared that we should not, under any circumstances, feel guilty. If we had only one child, I reasoned, it'd be a whole different ballgame. Christie and I continued our volley of one good excuse after another as to why we could not fully relish the fleeting moments of our kids' childhoods.
Then we hatched a plan.
"How about we work a swap?" I suggested. "You take one of your kids out one afternoon, and I'll watch your other three. Then you watch two of mine, and I'll take someone out."
And so our action plan for individualized time began. Our quest: to spend quality alone time with each child.
We set three ground rules to make the most of our two-hour, twice-a-week afternoons. First, there was to be no errand running. Although a grocery stop might be tempting without the extra baggage, the time had to be kid-centric.
Second, each child was to decide how to spend the time, even if it didn't appeal to Mom. Third (although at times at odds with Rule 2), moms could influence choices to keep them low-cost.
The kids were remarkably quick to catch on to the concept and christened it "Mommy and Me" time.
Christie's daughter, McKenzie, went first. Now 8, she is the high-energy, sometimes bossy gang leader. She proudly gussied up for her first private time with Mom.
I stood with the six others waving "goodbye" as they drove off. No one was jealous. No one cried. On the contrary, the kids speculated about how McKenzie was spending her time. They also brainstormed how they were going to capitalize on their valuable opportunity to be alone with Mom.
When McKenzie returned, the other kids were like paparazzi, encircling and questioning her. She and Christie had visited the paint-your-own pottery studio, a dicey visit to make as a group.
McKenzie was beaming. Christie looked refreshed and happy, stroking McKenzie's hair. "She's like a different child when there's no one else around," Christie shared with me quietly. With her mom all to herself, McKenzie didn't need to perform cartwheels in the street to gain attention.
Like McKenzie and Christie, my children are elated, and I am renewed after our alone time. A minivan with just one car seat occupied is quiet - and meaningful, uninterrupted conversations are common during the rides to and from our adventures.
Just as Christie had observed changes in McKenzie's behavior, I, too, discovered previously unnoticed attributes in each of my children during our alone times.
For instance, I am always surprised when my daughter, who is rarely affectionate with me, holds my hand frequently. My stuttering son doesn't stumble one whit during our activities since he doesn't have to compete to speak. And the son who's a classic follower when around other kids shines as a leader during our times together.
Our excursions have included bowling, nature walks, crafts, and miniature golf. We have yet to try the bike trail that started the whole thing.
More important than any one activity, though, has been the commitment we've made to "Mommy and Me" time. Simply being alone and away with each child - talking, sharing, and laughing - has been everyone's biggest reward.
Like a date night with my husband, spending time one-on-one allows us to connect in ways previously unattainable. I'm learning more about my children and about myself as a mother during each cherished visit.
Every child deserves to be an only child at least once in a while.