I’m frying a grilled cheese as Sage sits in a little fort made out of an ironing board and a bed sheet. Though I can’t see her I can hear her chatting with her stuffed cat. They are making plans to “fly on a airplane.” I hear her mention that they are going to “eat beef all the way home.”  It sounds way more appetizing than the lunch I’m attempting to assemble.

“Screw the sandwiches!” I think to myself. I turn the burner to low so that I can buy myself some time to consume imaginary beef and pilot an invisible plane.  I crouch down and ask, “Can I come too?”

“Yeah!” Sage pronounces excitedly. “You get a cat and we can go.”

I run to the den and grab a stuffed cat. As I head back clutching my toy I suddenly feel giddy, like I’ve just been invited to a slumber party with the cool kids.

“This will be so much fun,” Sage shouts as I squeeze myself into the fort.

“The most fun!” I say, and I mean it.

Lately, I have found myself calling my two-year-old “buddy”. We spend hours under the covers whispering stories. We dance to The Beetles and look through old photo albums while sipping smoothies. We give each other nicknames and high fives. Sometimes we exchange a knowing glance from across a room. “Let’s blow this sing along,” I say with my eyes.

“Yeah,” she implies with a lift of her brow, “let’s roll!”

I feel like we’re The Pink Ladies from Grease except instead of talking about boys and smoking cigarettes we giggle about Elmo and eat goldfish.

And so as I sit under the tent, clutching my cat and pretending to land a plane, I start planning our adventures as friends. Like maybe we’ll take a cross-country road trip. I’ll trade in the Volvo for a Chevy convertible. I’ll throw out all our maps so that we can get lost the whole way! We’ll just put the pedal to the metal and follow our guts to California. We’ll make the ultimate mix tape to blast as we cruise down the highway. Track one: “Wheels on the Bus”, track two: “Old McDonald Had a Farm”, track three: “(You Gotta) Fight For your Right (to Paaaaarrrrttteeeee)!!” When we get there we’ll pitch a tent on the beach, build a bonfire, play Bob Marley on a boom-box, find two sticks and load them up with marshmallows and…what is that smell? Oh shit, the grilled cheese! I set down my imaginary beef, ditch the invisible plane and tear out of the fort to turn off the burner. Lunch is lost. I open the fridge and scan for a replacement. “Avocado…turned brown. Turkey…just an empty package…must make a trip to the grocery store.” And just like that I’ve returned to mommy mode.

I look back at Sage in the fort, drinking a pretend apple juice and singing to her cat, and I suddenly feel a grey sort of longing. It’s a sadness I remember having each August as I left camp and began the long drive that would lead me home to another September and another year of school. Part of me wanted to just play and play and never stop. “I wish I could have camp all the time,” I’d think as my summer disappeared behind our station wagon.

And as I’m reliving this memory I hear Sage begin to whimper from the fort. She’s hungry and imaginary beef and apple juice isn’t cutting it. “I NEED grilled cheese,” she moans.

“That is not a nice way to ask for something,” I say in my firm “I mean it” mommy voice. Then I begin a conversation about patience and manners, and though this chat is certainly no trip to the beach, it reminds me of why I would not, despite the fun, hit the road as my daughter’s BFF. It’s my role as MOM that sends me to bed every night feeling like I’ve had an amazing adventure. Not because I’m trying to navigate my way to California, but because I’m trying to guide a person who is just getting to know the big wide world and I’m attempting to show her how to be polite and decent and open and trusting and secure and optimistic and yes, adventuresome. And though there is no convertible, it is an astonishing journey and I do press hard on the gas and just follow my gut. And if I pull it off, if I manage to raise a kid who is polite and decent and open and trusting and secure and optimistic and adventuresome, she will likely be a kick-ass friend to some really kick-ass friends and they will take a cross-country road trip and maybe, just maybe, they will visit me along the way.

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