My daughter and I have a daily routine. I put on a black bowler hat, she puts on a yellow sun hat. She nods to me, “Hello, Mister,” she says.

“Hello, Mister,” I echo back.

We shake hands.

We then do two laps around the house singing the following song: Mister and Mister are walking down the street. Mister and Mister are happy to meet you.

After the walk we turn to each other and I ask, “Where do you want to go, Mister?”

She answers, “to the movies, Mister.”

She hops in a little plastic blue boat and I hop in a little red car. We sit in our vehicles side-by-side and sway our bodies back and forth as if meandering down a quiet country road.

“We’re here!” Sage shouts after we’ve swayed back and forth about a dozen times.

“To the movies, Mister!” I say.

“Yes, Mister!” she echoes.

We exit our vehicles and walk arm-in-arm to the stairwell. We sit on the top step and proceed to stare at the wall. We do not talk.  We do not look at one another. We just pretend to watch an invisible movie. After about two minutes my two-and-a-half year-old rises quickly and says, “Good movie, Mister.”

“Yes, Mister. Good movie,” I confirm.

We take off our hats, shake hands, and continue the rest of our day as Sage and Mommy.

For some odd reason I find this fantasy to be incredibly satisfying. It leaves me feeling absolutely complete. It’s like a little Haiku; it’s like meditation. It relaxes me in a way that I can only compare to lying on the beach when it is perfectly sunny but not too hot. When we are playing “Mister and Mister” I just exist. It’s like a little scripted world and I know all my lines. I don’t have to think. I’m good at being “Mister”.

The other day, I was hiding away in the bedroom struggling to meet a deadline for work and feeling like a complete failure. I’d been trying to write the same sentence for the past hour and every attempt ended in a tangled mess of incoherent words. My husband was going to be late for a meeting if I didn’t emerge soon to take our daughter. I started feeling desperate. I began to hear a little “you suck” monologue in my head. I paced around. I kicked the wall. I ate some chocolate. I returned to the computer and gave it another go.

I failed yet again.

I paced around some more. I debated which window I would throw myself out of should I not be able to complete my assignment. I could hear my husband packing up his things, “I’ve got to go, love,” he gently reminded me.

“Leave, leave, leave” I barked back. “I’ll make this work somehow.”

I heard him exit out the back door. “I’ll be out in just one minute,” I called to Sage. “I’ve just got to write this one last sentence.”

She did not want to wait one minute. Before I could blink she was standing in the doorway holding out my black “Mister hat.”

“Let’s play Mister and Mister,” she begged.

“I can’t,” I huffed. ” I’m stuck, I need to figure out how to write something. It’s going to be a little bit longer.”

“You need to play Mister,” she insisted.

“But I really can’t,” I hissed.

My daughter looked at me like I’d just run over her heart with a tractor.

I put on my hat.

“Hello, Mister,” she said.

“Hello, Mister,” I echoed with far less enthusiasm than usual. We shook hands and began our laps around the house. As we looped past the dining room clock I paused.  I was almost certainly going to miss my deadline. I did not have time for Mister.

Sage immediately sensed my hesitation. She stopped in her tracks. “This is not how Mister goes!”

I took a deep breath. I debated trying to explain the way a deadline works and how Mommy is not only Mommy but also someone with a job who must make money so that we can eat. But when I looked down at her wearing her Mister hat, ready to have our daily adventure together, I just couldn’t.

“You’re right, Mister,” I apologized.

I took her hand and we continued. I followed the Mister script. Despite the impending deadline, despite the dread, I just did what Mister does. I walked, drove my plastic car, and watched an invisible movie. The power of my daughter’s play took over and despite my resistance it was absolutely lovely.

I still missed my deadline of course. The Mister hat is not an actual magic hat after all. It cannot make you go back in time and avoid the hours that you wasted on misguided ideas and ill articulated phrases. But I’m pretty sure that the brief escape into the world of Mister is what allowed me to eventually eke out that last little phrase that I’d been struggling with all day and press send on a document that ended up being pretty damn good.

Because my daughter woke at 6:45 a.m. and I was not ready to be awake, and because it was my very favorite movie as a child, and because it can be downloaded instantly on Netflix, I let my daughter watch a few selected scenes from the musical Annie.

And because she loved it, and because she asked so nicely, and because each song brought me back to my own childhood, I let her watch it again, and again, and again.

And because I still love to sing with a mop in my hand, and because I love to dance with my daughter, and because I know most of the scenes by heart, I asked if she wanted to pretend to be Annie.

And because I want to empower my daughter, and because I want to encourage her creativity, and because I really would love playing any number of the characters, I asked her to choose who I would pretend to be.

And because she is two-and-a-half, and because there is probably nothing more satisfying than watching a grownup pretend to be a dog, she assigned me the role of Sandy.

And so it came to pass that I spent the majority of the past seventy-two hours on all fours barking like a mutt.

Before dinner we rehearsed the scene where Annie meets Sandy (the dog) for the first time. She saves him from a dogcatcher (my husband) and then brings him home to the orphanage.

After dinner we performed this scene seventeen times. I knew after the first go around that this play would consume our lives. My daughter was like a method actor dropping into character. She truly became Annie. She adopted Annie’s orphan story as her own. Suddenly my kid had no parents. She was alone in the world with only a dog as her companion.

At bedtime my daughter did not call out for Mommy as she often does before settling in for the night. Instead she desperately shouted, “doggie, doggie”!

And the following morning, when we woke, she did not lovingly turn towards me and sigh, “oh mommy.” Instead she gave me a pat and happily chirped, “Hi doggie.”

Now when it comes time to eat she suggests that I put my bowl on the floor- just like Sandy, of course. And when I’m having a conversation with someone- say my mother-in-law, or a colleague-she shouts in the background, “Hey doggie! Hey doggie! Why are you talking doggie? Bark, doggie, bark!”

And for some reason, probably because when I am being Sandy I don’t have to do the dishes or the laundry (dogs don’t clean), I just let this go on.

So because I didn’t draw the line, and because I am a chump, and because I have no intention of stopping any time soon, the next time we are at the grocery store and my daughter asks me to “fetch some goldfish crackers, doggie!” and I get down on all fours and trot over to the snack isle and people stare and wonder what kind of crazy lunatic I am… I really have no one to blame but myself.

Crenchy-Crenchy arrived after dinner. Well, at least I think she did. It’s hard to say exactly when she came because she was hiding under the couch and she was invisible. “Look mommy” my daughter called out from the living room, “it’s the girl.”

“Where?” I responded thinking she was referring to our four-year-old neighbor who Sage likes to watch through the window.

“Here” she replied lowering her belly onto the floor and pointing to the half inch space under our overstuffed couch.

I crouched down to have a peek and saw nothing but dust bunnies and broken crayons “Who is she?” I whispered.

“She’s Crenchy-Crenchy” my daughter answered like this girl had always been a part of our family and why hadn’t I ever noticed.

“Oh,” I said looking over to my husband.

“Imaginary friend?” he mouthed.

We both huddled around Crenchy in excitement. We had talked about this moment; imagined how spectacular it would be to see our daughter invent a person. I had an extra cup and bowl in the cabinet just waiting for someone invisible. Growing up my imaginary friends played such a vital role in my play. There was Dee-Dee, Brian, and Pal the dog. Together we spent hours doing everything from napping in the shade to joining the circus. I wanted to run and get my camera just to mark this monumental occasion but knew Crenchy would never show up on film. Instead we launched into question. If she was going to be a new member of our family we wanted to get acquainted with her strait away.

“How old is she?” we asked.

“Four and six.”

“Wow she’s forty-six. That’s so specific and so grown. Crenchy is now the most senior member of our family. Does that mean she’ll be making the rules?”

Sage thought for a moment, “No actually she is two-and-a-half just like me.”

I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Crenchy would not be assigning me a bedtime or insisting that I wash my hands before dinner.

“Tell us more…” we encouraged.

“Crenchy is green and she has long hair and it is green and her eyes are green and so is her body.”

Finally we’ll be getting some diversity in this household.

Over the next hour Crenchy danced with us, listened to stories and took at least a dozen naps. “Shhhhh,” Sage whispered protectively, “Chrenchy needs rest.” At bedtime Crenchy curled up under our daughter’s bed and my husband and I looked on like we were watching a new baby. “Awwwww….now our household is really complete!”

“Is this really for real?” we wondered, not wanting to get our hearts broken if Crenchy was gone tomorrow. “Well,” my husband mused, “If she’s still here in the morning then I think she’s here to stay.”

I waited for daybreak like it was Christmas. When my daughter shuffled out of bed I held my breath, “Oh, hi Crenchy,” she said when she rounded the corner. My heart erupted with joy!

But as the day progressed… something seemed to shift.

Sage started to grow nervous around Crenchy and began making comments like, “Crenchy is bad,” and “I don’t want Crenchy,” and “Go away girl.”

Then as we were standing in the yard about to head out for our after dinner walk Sage looked up at the house and whimpered, “I’m scared about the girl…I’m scared about Crenchy.”

“Why?” we asked, wondering what harm this invisible darling could ever cause.

“I think she’s going to light all the candles in the house.”

My husband and I exchanged a troubled look. Could it be that Crenchy-Crenchy was NOT an imaginary friend but rather… A POLTERGEIST? Just like that my mind shifted to a scene from that terrifying eighties movie where a family is overrun my trouble making demons. They throw things around, make the grownups act crazy, and send everyone into complete and utter turmoil.

I spent the next few days keeping a close watch on Crenchy. After all, I was halfway convinced I might have to perform an impromptu amateur exorcism. At times Crenchy was amiable and friendly, she enjoyed having her hair combed and loved snuggles. “Oh, she really is perfect,” I’d think. But then she’d suddenly explode and Sage would run from her saying things like, “No Crenchy, no! Crenchy is very bad. She threw a shoe and hit me. Mean Crenchy!”

And just when I’d get ready to defend my daughter against this force of destruction Crenchy would once again return to her docile and charming self, “Oh, Crenchy is taking a nap.” Sage would say, stroking her invisible back sweetly.

I couldn’t seem to get a bead on this being. She was full of passion, full of mystery and full of contradictions. One minute she’d be helping out around the house, the next she’d be tossing everything off the shelves. She’d be singing sweetly and then flailing around and screeching like an octopus-receiving electric shock. She was at once vulnerable and fierce, contemplative and reactionary, rational and insane. Was she a friend or was she a wild spirit? And then all at once it dawned on me that Crenchy was both of these things.

Crenchy was two-and-a-half.

Just like that Crenchy became as familiar to me as my own imaginary friends. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the amazing highs and the baffling lows.

We now had two toddlers in the house.

My daughter stands atop our coffee table like it’s a stage. She raises her hands gracefully above her head and circles her toe as if she’s stirring a pool of water. “It’s ballet,” she announces proudly. “I’m doing ballet”.

“Yes,” I respond. “It’s beautiful.”

“I need to wear ballet!” she says gesturing to her naked torso.

“Do you mean you want your tutu?” I ask.

“Yes, I want my ballet.”

I run to her dress up basket and bring in the half dozen tutus that we received after announcing that we’d had a girl.

She quickly chooses the one with the most adornment and immediately begins dancing wildly around the room.

“Come mommy come,” she says, waving her arms and summoning my inner ballerina.

Within seconds I’m snaking my body around standing lamps and chairs.

My daughter claps, “You need a tutu too!”

“Oh no…” I say, “I couldn’t…I mean…well…maybe I could…”

I decide I’ll give it a shot. I stretch the elastic, I suck in my stomach, and by some divine intervention I manage to squeeze myself in.

Then…

The strangest thing happens.

I suddenly feel like a ballerina, a real ballerina.

I leap.

I do these spins where I’m just rotating and rotating like I’m standing atop a turntable!

And I’m really fucking good.

It’s like those tennis shoe commercials from the eighties – the ones where there’s some scrawny average Joe who puts on a pair of Air Jordan’s and suddenly starts making slam-dunks.

And though I haven’t taken a ballet class in twenty years, and though I once almost got kicked out of The Nutcracker for being overenthusiastic and under-coordinated, I start feeling like Mikhail Baryshnikov might walk through my door at any minute and tell me I’m his muse.

I feel like I have this gift, this talent that has somehow gone undiscovered. And I start wondering, “How could I have gotten this far without ever knowing I was a ballet genius?” And I suddenly feel sad for all the ballets I was never in.

And I look over at my daughter now gyrating and flapping her arms and I think, “Well maybe she’ll be that ballerina that I never was and never knew I wanted to be.”

And I start clapping for her, and encouraging her to go “faster and bigger” and saying, “Ohhh, what a twirl!” and “Ohhh, what a leap!”  I start imagining how it will all play out- the classes, the performance, the scholarship to Julliard.

And then it hits me. “This it how it happens. It’s a simple moment. It’s a small flicker of longing and it suddenly makes you want to live through your children.”

I take the tutu off.

“You can be anything you want,” I say.

My daughter looks confused.

“Huh?” she asks.

“Nothing” I say, “Just grownup stuff”

And I go in the other room, leaving her alone with the music.

And she dances…and dances… and dances.

Last month I ate at a new restaurant called Duka-Duck-Doo. Off the beaten path, this hidden gem was a true find. Upon first entering I was a bit skeptical. There were no tables and chairs and the plates were made out of flip-flops. Patrons were encouraged to eat with plastic shovels and the chef , who was visible from the dining room, was wearing nothing more than a pair of socks. I debated leaving; I wasn’t sure that I was up for such an edgy avant-garde eating adventure but before I could gather my things to go, the chef emerged from the kitchen and delivered a heaping pile of pink noodles to my flip-flop plate. “Eat this,” she said as she scooped the noodles out with her bare hands.

“Well actually I was just one my way out,” I said. “See I only just stumbled upon this restaurant and I’ve got to get back to work and…”

“EAT THIS!” she interrupted and sat down, bare butt right on my lap.

“Ok,” I said, not wanting to offend the culinary dictator.

Much to my surprise the noodles went down like a shot of warm milk. They were at once salty and soft. They took me back to my days in preschool when I used to sneak bites of homemade playdough when the teacher wasn’t looking. It was lovely. “This is fantastic!” I gushed. The chef was thrilled by my effusive praise and immediately ran off to the kitchen to whip up more homemade miracles. The rest of the meal unfolded like a dream (the kind of dream where you’re suddenly navigating a canoe through a vat of marshmallows while being chased by a sea turtle but find it all to be mysteriously pleasant). There was blueberry beef, cheese drink, and “ickle bickle” (an elaborate mixture of plastic figurines and bath crayons) At one point the chef began catapulting small bits of cereal at my face. I just opened my mouth and caught whatever I could. It was very exciting!

At the end of the meal I pulled out my wallet. For all the amazing food that I ate I was ready for a three-figure bill.  Much to my surprise however the cook emerged from the kitchen and asked, “Can I hold a boobie?” I put my wallet back in my purse. I figured this indulgence would serve as my payment. It was an unforgettable meal!

But…ever since opening Ducka-Ducka-Doo, my daughter (the chef and owner) has become a total food snob!  It’s almost unbearable. She acts as if owning a restaurant gives her the right to stick up her nose up at all sustenance. It’s like trying to pick a dinner wine with someone who’s just returned from a trip to France. It sucks! She asks for milk. I bring her milk. If it sits for more than three minutes she demands new milk. “This isn’t fresh!” she says.  I go the fridge and pretend to pour more milk. I return the cup to her. She takes a sip and spits the milk out like it’s toxic. “THIS ISN”T FRESH. I WANT FRESH!” she shouts.

I can’t keep up with these demands, not unless I plan on investing in a dairy cow. And it doesn’t stop with beverages. She used to be content with bananas and oranges  (the more reasonably priced fruits) but now she insists we buy raspberries and blackberries. Out of season these bush berries can cost upwards of six bucks for a tiny little carton (which she downs in five minutes flat). It’s insane. And if she doesn’t like the food that’s put before her she just announces it to the world. Sometimes without even tasting it first:

“This fish is yucky”

“But you haven’t eaten any yet!”

“But it’s yucky”

“How do you know?”

“IT’S YUCKY, IT’S YUCKY, IT’S YUCKY!!! I want something else.”

I want to say to her, “Listen, you own your own restaurant. Why don’t you whip up your own meal…oh that’s right, because if you tried to subsist on a diet of play dough, soap and synthetic beads you’d starve!!!”

I really just don’t know what to do. If I shut down her operation, her dreams of someday becoming a five star destination will be crushed. As her mother and patron, I don’t want that. If I let her carry on as a restaurateur, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are going to be a nightmare in our household. All I can do is hope time will smooth things over. Just like the friend who took that trip to France and came back drinking only things that had been aged longer then he’d been alive, I’m guessing she too will soon realize that the dream of perfection is just a dream…eventually we all just have to drink what’s in our cup and eat what’s on our plate.

My daughter wants a cat; preferably a cat who likes red meat and can be carried in a suitcase. “What will you do with your cat?” I ask. “Go on an airplane” she says.  “What will you feed your cat?” I enquire. “Beef” she says. “Beefy beef.” She’s got it all planned out. If she can’t have a cat her next pet of choice would be a dog. Every time we pass one on the street or in a park she explains, “I need that dog.”

“Do you mean you want to pet that dog?” I say.

“Yes” she says… “and I need it.”

On various occasions she has also expressed an interest in caring for a monkey, an iguana and a baby pig. At one point she adopted a cow that had been drawn on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. She named him Buddy. We visited him daily. She pet him and left him piles of acorns to eat. But then it rained. And Buddy disappeared. And try as I might I couldn’t re-create him in our own back yard. “That’s a cat mommy. That’s not Buddy,” she said after every attempt. Each time we arrived at the park I kept my fingers crossed that the artist had made a visit and had reincarnated Buddy. But it never happened. I thought of posting up a sign. “Urgent: Would the mother or father who has a gift for drawing chalk cows please sketch out another bovine slightly to the right of the swing set. Can you make it blue? Thank you!”

But I didn’t and Buddy never re-appeared. Then one afternoon Sage and I were pulling out weeds in the garden and I happened upon an earthworm. “Look Sage!” I said holding him in my hand like I was showing off a platter of desserts. “It’s a little worm.”

“Oh mommy!” She responded. “Cuttie, cuttie worm.”

The worm was in.

I spent the next few minutes helping him seal the deal. I gave him all the characteristics you’d want in a pet. “Oh look he likes to be scratched,” I said as I ran my finger across his back, or maybe it was his front. “What’s your name little guy” I asked as I leaned in close and pretended to put my ear up to his mouth, or maybe it was his ass. “He says his name is Squirmin’ Herman.” I informed my daughter. “Oh Squirmin’! I wanna hold Squirmin’.” She shrieked!

Next I gave Sage the pet speech. The one I’d been saving for a cat or a dog. I figured I could make it work for a worm too, “You are going to need to be really gentle with him,” I said. “He’s a living creature.”

“And feed him, and love him, and clean up after him.”

“Oh yes, yes, yes” Sage agreed as I handed him off.

She spent five minutes looking into his eyes or maybe it was his tail. The she started chatting him up.  “Will you go to school Squirmin’…like daddy? I’ll feed you beef? You like beef! Where’s your Mommy, Squirmin?  Is she on an airplane? Let’s go on an airplane.” It was all progressing so well. But then Sage got excited. She and Squirmin’ were heading for the pretend plane and she wanted to invite me to join. She gestured over towards the fence to show me where the plane was parked and…she dropped Squirmin’ into the grass.

“Squirmin’!” She cried out like she’d just lost a sibling.

At first I thought we’d have to put up missing posters and mourn his loss and I’d have to get an age appropriate video about how sometimes pets die or disappear in the grass. But then, it dawned on me. Squirmin’ is an earthworm. As hermaphrodites, worms can reproduce with any worm they choose. They must be mating all the time. There must be millions right under my feet! I got down on all fours, peered through the grass and like magic I found a new worm in seconds. “Look Sage. It’s Squirmin’! He was just on vacation.”

Problem solved.

At the end of the afternoon I explained that Squirmin’ needed to go to bed. We found him a comfy spot in the yard and said goodnight. The next day I bent down, picked up the first worm I saw and handed him to Sage. “Squirmin’ had a great nights sleep!” I said.

He really was the perfect pet. No matter where we were I could always just run outside and find him. On Saturday we were hiking through the woods and out of nowhere Sage asked, “Where’s Squirmin’?” I just plunged a stick into the earth, dug around a bit and poof, I had Squirmin’. “He’s right here!” I shouted with delight. “Oh Squirmin’,” Sage said as she curled her tiny hand around him.

Squirmin’ also became an easy solution if Sage were impatient. On Tuesday we were waiting in the parking lot as my husband ran inside for groceries and my daughter was particularly unhappy. “Want to visit Squirmin’?” I asked. “Yeah” she answered and I just leaned into the grass that bordered our parking space, turned over a few rocks, and scooped up a worm. “Squirmin’,” Sage shouted.

“Fancy seeing you here.” I said.

We never would have been able to pull that off with a cat or a dog.

He was great! He didn’t require that we feed him or take him to the vet. He didn’t bark at the neighbors or pee on the comforter. Sure he’d occasionally leave a trail of excrement in our hands but that was nothing we couldn’t take care of with a Kleenex. And it was hard to tell what his personality was, we were never really sure which end was his face, so we could make him whomever we pleased. If Sage was in a grumpy mood, Squirmin’ was too. If Sage wanted a buddy to sing to, Squirmin’ would always squiggle around in her palm. If Sage just wanted to sit and stare… well Squirmin’ was up for that too. On Wednesday we ate goldfish crackers with Squirmin’, on Friday we found him at the park and Sage showed him how throw a ball. It was all going so well. It was like those romance movies where they show a montage of all the adventures that have happened in a week and you just watch and think, “Why can’t my life be that fun.”

It was like that.

It was fun.

And I felt like such a hero for finding him over and over again and bringing him into our lives. Then Sunday rolled around. And just like always Sunday was the spoiler, the day when you come back to reality and realize another Monday is staring you in the face. We were in the back yard and I scooped up the nearest worm and Sage just looked at it and said, “That’s not Squirmin’! He’s too little.” At first I tried to play it off. “Oh, that must be his baby brother… Burmin. How about we play with Burmin?” But Sage was adamant, “I want Squirmin’!” she insisted. But each worm I found was wrong, one was too squiggly, one was too tall. Another had legs and that was just plain unacceptable. It was like overnight my daughter had figured out my trick. I’d lost my magic. I couldn’t just produce a pet.

It was really sad. There was only one thing I could do. “I think maybe Squirmin’ is gone.” I said. “Maybe he went on vacation,” my daughter responded. Then she just sat quietly staring at the dirt. She looked like she was working really hard to process the whole thing. I thought maybe she was planning to stay there until he came back from his trip. But after a few minutes she lifted her head.

“I could have a cat…” She said.

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.