Red has a new friend. I'm not sure where they met, but it's clear they're very close because they go everywhere together, like two peas in a pod. I've asked Red many times what her new friend's name is, and her answer is always "Pretend Friend." When I ask if she has another name, she looks at me like I'm an idiot and says flatly, "Her name is Pretend Friend."
Pretend Friend is always here for playdates, and whenever I make lunch for Red I have to have the same lunch, pretend-version, for Pretend Friend, or else Red pitches a fit. I guess I can understand – she just wants us to be hospitable and all. Although it would be nice if Pretend Friend's mom packed her a sandwich every once in a while so I don't have to keep using my pretend bread. Pretend money doesn't grow on trees. Plus, she's so picky. I'll whip up some pretend chicken nuggets with a side of pretend oranges, and Red will reprimand me: "Mommy! Pretend Friend doesn't LIKE oranges. She asked for watermelon!" I'll take the bowl of pretend oranges back to the kitchen and grumble under my breath, "Well, maybe Pretend Friend needs to speak up a little . . . "
Pretend Friend goes everywhere we go. I only have room in my car for two carseats, one for Red and one for her brother, but thankfully Pretend Friend has a pretend carseat jammed in the sliver of space between the two. That's fine by me, but it's a little frustrating when I have to reach across Red to make sure Pretend Friend is buckled in securely. If I don't double-check the tightness of the chest clasp, I'll surely hear about it. And when we've reached our destination, I need to make a point to dramatically lift Pretend Friend out of the car, just like I do with Red.
One of Red's favorite games to play with Pretend Friend is racing, which entails her yelling to me, "Mommy! Say 'Ready! Steady! GO!' " I oblige, Red and Pretend Friend race from one side of the room, yard, hallway, etc., and Red yells "I WIN!" while doing a victory hop. Then she again yells, "Mommy! Say 'Ready! Steady! GO!' " and the process repeats. This activity typically goes on for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Sometimes – sometimes – Pretend Friend wins . . . and then all hell breaks out. There's arguing, shouting, tears . . . how dare Pretend Friend have the audacity to win the big race from the corner of the room, around the toy box and to the gate? How dare she.
In fact, I frequently have to break up fights between Red and Pretend Friend. I know it's going to be an awesome day when I have to shout, "Girls! Girls! Break it up!" to Red and Pretend Friend three times before I've even had my coffee.
Maybe she has one of those moms on her iPhone, because no one seems to be paying attention to her and reinforcing her good behavior . . . not that I'm judging Pretend Friend's Mom . . . we all need breaks from our kids, even pretend moms.
But I think what Red and Pretend Friend do most often is gang up on me. Walking through a supermarket the other day, the two of them suddenly broke into a fit of giggles and took off running. I chased them both over to the next aisle, and when I told Red she can't run away from me like that, she smiled devilishly and said it was Pretend Friend's idea. A few days ago I walked out of the living room for two minutes before I heard a commotion and had to run back. I found the Meatball sprawled out on the floor crying, and I asked Red what happened. She explained that Pretend Friend knocked her baby brother over. So then I had to put Pretend Friend in Time Out. Which is . . . productive.
At bedtime, I have to tuck both Red and Pretend Friend in, unless they're fighting, in which case Pretend Friend is banished to the floor for the night. I'd feel sorry for her, but I'm all like, "Who authorized this sleepover anyway? What time is she being picked up in the morning? I'll probably have to make her breakfast . . . again." So I say goodnight to them both and head out to the kitchen to plan their meals and activities for the next day.
Jeanne McCullough is a Montgomery County, PA mom. This post was adapted from her blog Mom Hearts Pinot.