We have this way, the Not Boyfriend and I, of packing in months' worth of time into a few short days. It has to be that way. The little touches, the reach for a knee under the table or hand across table or back of neck across the car have to last weeks and weeks and weeks. By the time Sunday morning arrived, the day we planned for him to meet my son, the Not Boyfriend and I had already had a big night out at one of my favorite bars, had a quiet night together at one of my favorite restaurants, introduced more friends to each other, had a congenial and relaxed lunch with my parents with nary a "oh, is this your friend" mentioned, slept in lazily and languishly far further into the late morning hours than either of us is used to, whispered gasps and little awed comments to each other while watching "Black Swan" and shivered in a broken down car waiting for AAA to jump my very dead battery on a very cold night.
It was already a lot in that short time.
But that Sunday morning, we moved about at our own different paces, poured the vanilla cream he made just sweet enough for me the day before into cups of anticipatory coffee. I put our house back together in a way that would make Lil E comfortable, opening the door to his room wide and putting his little chair and table back into place. The Not Boyfriend quietly moved in his own ways, sliding his suitcase out of view, making himself comfortable on the couch while I got ready.
Minutes later, Lil E was home and bounding up the stairs in his bright blue down coat, trailing one of his three Daddy-bags full of Legos and stuffed animal babies and clothes and odds and ends and treasures he cannot possibly travel back and forth to the suburbs without. I stopped him just a few stairs shy of the door to where the Not Boyfriend sat patiently.
"Do you remember I told you we'd meet the Chef Soldier while he's in town?" I asked him, looking up at his red, cold cheeks a few steps above my own.
He nodded. Maybe even smiled.
"Well, he's here. That time is now."
Another nod and smile. And then Lil E finished up his bounding and went confidently into his own familiar home, tearing off his coat and boots and gloves and socks just as he does with every entry.
"HI!" He said it happily. The Not Boyfriend returned it, but in his own understated way.
"Lil E, this is the Not Boyfriend," I said hostess-like. Perhaps it was too formal, but it felt necessary to mark the moment that way. "And this is Lil E."
I looked at the Not Boyfriend. There was some exchange but I was already talking about our plan to have some breakfast and then go bowling. It was calm, steady, kind -- that's what it felt like to me, standing there watching these two suss each other out with pleasantries and long looks.
We followed that plan, wearing matching shoes at the bowling alley, cheering on terrible and pretty darn good attempts at knocking down pins. And then, because our next plan to hunt down an arcade with skee ball was a total bust and I felt the need to keep up the momentum, I suggested what Lil E and I have done on rare but prideful times together -- make ice cream a meal.
Lil E was very tired and it had been showing from the time we sat down over bagels and strawberries, started slowing him down as we laced up those green and burgundy shoes and even more as he hurled his bright pink ball down the lane for the fifteenth, sixteenth and subsequent frames. Standing outside the bowling alley with heaviness of sleep bearing down and the disappointment of no skee ball, he tried very hard to rally excitement at a big bowl of ice cream well before noon. But we all could see the exhaustion there.
We went to Margie's Candies, the original one that's cluttered with memoribilia and has juke boxes that don't work. We laughed and I let him make more potty jokes than usual while we waited for our ice cream to arrive in a giant plastic clam shell bowl. The sleep turned to six-year old antsiness and goofiness and the Not Boyfriend participated quietly, asking questions and smiling at me sweetly every once in a while.
It was nice. Comfortable. Even fun. I knew my boy was not completely himself, but then, maybe none of us were. Maybe that's to be expected during the first meeting of your mommy's (not) boyfriend. Perhaps, over an indulgent (not) meal on a sleepy Sunday in the middle of a bitter cold winter day, that is OK.
I tried to let it be. But of course, I wanted it to be perfect. I had this pang, this (sort of) momentary (maybe longer) hope that the Not Boyfriend would whisper to me that I am a wonderful mother, that this boy...this boy!...is incredible. I wanted him to be in love with all of it. I wanted it to be dreamy.
It wasn't. It was good. Very, very good.
I didn't have those same desires for Lil E, didn't feel the need for him to be bowled over by the man there with us. I didn't have expectations or outlines or restrictions or hopes for how he'd feel. I'd made it very clear that this was his time to get to know the Not Boyfriend, to see what he thought of him, to be honest with me about that, to investigate.
And so I let the fantasy edging around the Not Boyfriend's reaction slip away and tried to let it be. The afternoon unfolded at our place, playing a few hands of cards, with Lil E popping in to play a bit and then sit silently a few feet away, playing Lego alone. He asked for it to be that way, sitting in between us for a hand of Go Fish or Rummy as he pleased.
He was more and more tired, the scene got more stilted, and finally, well after he should have been napping, he fell apart during a lost round of Rummy. The Not Boyfriend won it. Lil E wasn't upset about that, but he wasn't saying what he wanted -- to finish out the hand with me -- and I wasn't reading his signs right.
He melted into tears and shouts of "I just want to play cards with JUST MOMMY" and door slamming and sadness. He was saying it all. Dramatically. Loudly.
I tried to talk to him. He wouldn't let me, ordered me out of his room. I apologized to the Not Boyfriend. He said he got it, that it would take time. And I buzzed in between them both, not sure how much space to give any of us.
Finally, I called it a day. The Not Boyfriend compassionately kissed me, got his coat and said good bye down the hall to my boy. I required Lil E to be polite in spite of his weariness and he yelled thank yous and then peeked out to say he'd see this new friend later.
I felt bad. I'd pushed back nap time, I'd maybe wanted too much to see what a lazy weekend afternoon was like for the three of us in this home together. I was trying to let it ride and I let it go too long.
Then, in my guilt and worry and middle-ness, I did what I would tell Lil E to do. I took a big balloon breath, filling my cheeks with air and then letting it slowly seep out into the room around me. I quietly pulled him down on his bed next to me, stroked his hair, held him tight, sang us both to sleep.
Later, I reminded him that, of all the people in this big and wide world, I love him the most. That I adore his silliness and smartness and sweetness and smile. I thanked him for meeting this man who has made himself at home in my heart.
In my own thoughts, I spun a bit, wondering if maybe this was too much of a stretch. What if I just stayed single? Would it be easier or better or SOMETHING to just forget this all and not take this leap with this man? Should it just be me and Lil E? Was this fair to this child? Would it all be OK? Was it worth it? The questions batted around in my brain and irrationally, I gripped on to each of them as they flew by. I didn't know how to stop the back and forth except by reminding myself, "It's OK. It was all OK. It will all be OK." I didn't want to blow it out of proportion. I wanted to trust myself. I wanted to believe it.
We did some quick debriefing, but it was a few days later, after the Not Boyfriend was on an airplane back to San Francisco that he told me how he felt.
"Tell me about meeting the Chef Soldier," I tied to say as benignly as possible in the last few minutes of our commute to school. The night before, the two men in my life met up again at our house while Lil E ate mac and cheese. It was more comfortable. No screaming or teenage door slams, some exchange in calling each other "bro. There was even a hug goodbye, albeit at my prompting. It was protective but polite. Nice. Good.
In the car alone and with some distance from those encounters, I peeked at him in the rear-view mirror, bundled up and red-cheeked once again.
"I think he's nice. And fun and funny. I think he's really funny," Lil E said. It would have been generous and lovely enough if he'd stopped there. But he went on. "I like that you have someone to hang out with when I am not home, someone to do fun stuff with! He's really nice and funny and I liked meeting him."
I smiled into the mirror at him.
"Yup," he said as if it was any other comment about any other thing on any other day, "he's my kind of person."
And that was better than anything I could have written in my own head.