I limped into CVS on Saturday evening in search of chocolate ice cream. Since Peter was the one craving it, I probably should have sent him to the store. My body sagged from the fatigue of a long, hot day at the zoo. The infected scrape on my knee was raw from the chafing of the “non-stick” pad meant to protect it. I decided it was less hassle to go shopping myself so I could buy supplies for my wound.
It was also less hassle to let Peter stay home from the zoo that day. “I really don’t care for zoos,” he had informed me. Having experienced Peter’s impatience when forced to attend events he deems “boring as hell,” I didn’t mind that he skipped the outing. While Peter would not be there for Philip’s first trip to the zoo, this was preferable to a day spent ignoring the query, “When are we leaving?” as soon as we entered the gates.
After filling my basket, I got in line at the counter behind a mother and her three daughters. The youngest turned around.
“Hi, M!” I greeted her.
She beamed in response. “Hi!”
“How do you know her name?” demanded the next oldest child.
“That’s Philip’s mom,” M explained.
We refer to M as “Philip’s girlfriend.” She has been his preschool classmate for the past two years. She sits beside him at every opportunity, holds his hand in line and watches out for him. During my visits to the preschool, I have witnessed Philip reciprocating her friendship with a smile.
“Look, Mom! It’s Philip’s mom,” she exclaimed to her own mother as she hugged me. “You have chocolate ice cream,” she observed when she peered into my shopping basket.
“Stop looking at her things,” M’s mom chided. We chatted briefly, confirming that Philip and M will both be in the afternoon class this year.
“Where’s Philip?” M finally wanted to know.
“At home,” I told her.
“Alone?!” M inquired with concern.
“No,” I chuckled. “He’s with his dad,” I assured her.
Still perplexed, M asked, “He has a dad?”
Peter drops off and picks up Philip from preschool every day. He has been the stay-at-home parent, spending countless hours with our son. Until Philip began preschool, Peter never had time alone save for the short periods after work or on weekends when I would take Philip to the store or the library.
I don’t demand that Peter come to Philip’s field trips, observe in the classroom or attend other preschool activities. I don’t want to feel rushed or make Philip leave events before he is ready. Also, I know that spending time around preschoolers, especially ones that don’t belong to you, isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Most importantly, after having no respite during three years of caring for an autistic child, I knew that Peter deserved time for himself and by himself.
“Yes, he has a dad. You just don’t see him very often, do you?”
Satisfied by my response, M wanted to know what Philip was doing (relaxing) and where (on the couch). By this time, I had paid for my items and was heading for the exit.
My farewell to M was matched with an enthusiastic “Bye!” that could be heard throughout the store.
I walked to the car, grinning ear to ear, my step a little lighter.
It was time to take chocolate ice cream home to Philip’s dad.