So it’s a wonder we didn’t try it this way before, because this is what worked:
A play date plan with a family we’ve known since Ben was a baby (their son is one of his best friends; their younger daughter has sweetly claimed Eli as her own) — both families together for the afternoon and dinner.
A casual, “And if Ben wants to sleep over…” When I mentioned it to Ben, he said no, but Eli said, “I want to sleep over!” So Ben changed his mind (no matter that Eli followed quickly with, “What’s a sleepover?”) We stuffed their pillow cases with bed guys, pjs, clean play clothes and the travel kit with their toothbrushes and flossers and headed across the bridge to their house.
We played all afternoon, ate dinner, got the kids all into pjs and set up Ben and Eli’s cozy nests on the floor next to their friends’ beds. There was no longer space to walk in the room, but no matter. Eli alternated between “I’m so excited!” and a puzzled “Why not Mama gonna stay?” But we encouraged the excitement, pointed out all the unfamiliar train books, and kissed them both goodbye. When we left, the dad was sitting on the floor with all four kids, the mom snapping pictures from the doorway, all of us excited at the possibilities in this new chapter in their friendships (remember the hotels, the sumptuous dinners?)
We didn’t want to head back across the bay until we knew our guys were sleeping, and we’d missed all the 7 pm movie starts, but downtown Berkeley is not a bad place to spend a warm Saturday evening, especially when a new branch of a favorite bookstore has just opened. We browsed and read and then checked in after about an hour: the kids had been excited and pretty raucous, and they weren’t yet sleeping, but everyone was quiet. We headed home.
The first best part of the sleep over was waking up this morning at 6 AM and rolling back over to sleep. The second best part was waking again at 7 and reading in bed for two hours.
And the last best part was when we collected the kids, after we got our big reunion hugs, after Eli asked me again (not upset, still just a little unclear on the concept) “Why Mama not stay?” watching Eli hold up his arms to give our friend–his friends’ mom– a great, big, arms-tight-around-her-neck hug.
So now I’m checking the calendar to see how soon we can reciprocate, and how soon we can get our boys to their house again!