"Animals" I think was the first thing Owen said to me when I walked in his front door. "Animals, Owen?" "Yeah, come on," walking down the hall toward his room. "Wait, I want to say Hi to Malachy and your mommy and daddy." It was Mally who I needed most to speak to, It wasn't long ago that I was his playmate, sounding board, and unconditional love benefactor, and I never want him to think either of us have outgrown the relationship.
I think he understands. Last fall one night I was caring for him at our "old" apartment. We walked to the Burger King a couple blocks away, holding hands at the crossings and talking about continuing our game of City Cousin Country Cousin when we got home, kind of an unstructured role playing that encourages his imagination in developing scenarios dialogue and characters. "Poppo", he said, "You know you're my best friend." "Well, I used to think that I was, but then you met Calvin, and he was like your best friend, and then you met Ross, and he was your best friend, and now I was starting to think Frankie is your new best friend."
"Poppo, you know how I am...when I make a new friend for a while I have to treat them special so they know I like them." Very nice of him to say, but I know I'm not as energetic at play as his newer friends, and it's not just a social stratagem that makes him happier when one of the younger guys walk in than when I do. So the trade off works, he's OK with Owen currently monopolizing my time, and I'm OK with his asking "Calvin/Ross/Frankie, do you want to play?"
When I get to their house, though and before I leave, I complement him on his good looks, dancing skill, strength, helpfulness, or academic advancement and try to ask him one or two questions about recent experiences that I think maybe no one else has asked, because I always want to be special to him as he is to me.
Sure enough it was animals Owen was talking about, and soon after his brother and parents left we had brought ten of his stuffed creatures from his closet to the living room. I organized a game of hide and seek. The hippo buried her face in the corner of of the sofa cushion and counted til fifty while Owen and I helped the others hide. Then she searched high and low til she'd found all but two, whom Owen couldn't wait for her to find and excitedly retrieved and ran to her with.
Then he pulled five little cushions from the sofa and arranged them in a large square with one resting centered on top, and this he said was breakfast, and we seated the animals around the table, but were having a little trouble keeping them all sitting up, and before he got frustrated I suggested a trip to McDonalds, where incredibly he ordered apple slices instead of his old favorite french fries. After we shared the apple slices, he cleaned the table taking one article at a time, including the caramel dip which he hadn't sampled, to the waste paper basket, built into a a cabinet in a little alcove with the top a half foot over his head. After I lifted him the first time. he stood on tip toes and tossed the remaining items into the receptacle without being able to see the large round opening but knowing where it was.
Having still an hour to kill I suggested a trip to Elgin to see Mommo and the kitties. He was pleased with the idea, and in the car mentioned "treats" a couple of times, and I tried to remember what we had in the pantry that might please him. After greeting and hugging Mommo he went in search of the kitties and asked for treats again and I realized he'd been thinking of treats for the kitties, so I got out the yellow Temptation bag and had him reach in and grab a few for each cat in turn. Laboring under the misunderstanding, I'd already asked Janett about a treat for Owen and she'd suggested a some fragements of Aldi brand tostito chips and milk served in a double shot glass of mine that we've found to be just his size. He asked for seconds on the chips and we obliged, but he hadn't finished by the time we had to leave for Dundee to reunite him with his family, so we poured the remainders into a little plastic sandwich bag which he held happily onto on our return ride.
We beat his folks home. I invited him into the house a couple times, but he preferred we stay outside and walk across the snowy lawns; he must like the feel of snow crunching under his feet, and he was amused by my concern that his feet would get cold We made a big deal of occasionally stomping our feet on the sidewalk to get the snow off our shoes. Eventually I lured him into the house on the pretext of being sure the dog, Guiness, was alright.
Stephie Mark and Malachy got home soon, and after asking Mally how he'd enjoyed the movie and whether there were any scary parts, I was ready to say good-by. They were all going to lunch so I told Stephie about the chips, and she asked me how I'd done strapping Owen into the child seat, and I admitted I'd gotten the shoulder straps on and clipped together, but hadn't been able to hook up the lower strap. Poppo, like everyone else, isn't perfect.