Monday, November 14, 2011

Montana Part II: Kid Swap

Last month my friend Jenna Skype'd to say she was getting her ovaries removed in (yet another) preventative measure to hopefully avoid a cancer relapse. I was in a rare position to afford the $300 plane ticket to Kalispell, Montana and decided to fly out to give her hand. This is the second of three posts about that trip. The first post is here. The third post is here.

Jenna grew up in Montana and moved back with her California-born husband in 2002 but they come back to the Bay Area every summer (mostly because her husband's job demands it) and I get to spend time with her then. Still, our schedules are busy (she works too) and we tend to plan our outings in such a way that we can be without children (and husband, in her case) to catch up and chat without interruptions.

Don't get me wrong. I love her husband and kids - and even their extended families - but when time is precious, I just want to hang out with Jenna. 

This trip to Montana would be different. For one thing, I was going with a purpose. While I was absolutely looking forward to long chats on her recovery bed, I was also determined to make myself useful by entertaining her two boys and taking some stress off her husband who is working full time AND going to school. I wanted Jenna to rest and recover from the surgery. My job was babysitting and cooking.

Of course I've spent time with Jen's kids. I've watched them grow up. I hear about their triumphs and challenges from Jenna. They know me as "Mama's friend Cori" in the way that a lot of kids know a long distance aunt: I say things like "oh how much you've grown" and pinch their cheeks and make them give me hugs. I'm also the one who takes away Mama's attention - or worse - takes Mama away completely when she comes to my house for an evening away... So, the first sentence in this paragraph is actually false: I've never really spent time with Jenna's kids.

I arrived on Friday - the day after Jenna's surgery. The boys were at school so we took the opportunity to settle her in (she and her dad had picked me up on her way back from the hospital!) and get her set up with tea, water, snacks and all her recovery drugs. We talked about the forthcoming weekend and everyone's schedule. At 3pm she said, "the boys will be home in 15 minutes" and sure enough they came skidding up to the door on their bikes, happy for the weekend to begin.

Noah is 9 - born a year and a half after (my son) Joe - and Kai is 6 - the same age as (my daughter) Maia. The brothers are mirror images of each other in that the older looks just like Jenna and the younger, exactly like his dad. Their energy is delightfully "little boy" which was a welcome presence in the recovery room. They were excited to see their mom who had been at the hospital for the past two days and - after the necessary hugs and kisses - I harnessed their attention (thank you Smarties lollies!) and brought them downstairs to let Mama rest.

The boys warmed up to me quickly and we were soon laying next to the fire chatting about school and friends and the kinds of things they like to do. When their dad got home I brought out my iPad and they all got busy playing with Google Earth (big map fanatics, these guys!) By the next morning Kai and Noah felt comfortable enough with me to leave their parents home and take me around the hood while giving geo-caching a go. We didn't have luck finding a cache, but ended up at a cozy local restaurant for hot coco and grilled cheese. On Sunday we poked around the house - played with apps on my iPad, made fabulous marshmallow/toothpick structures (lots), did homework, played some word search and I may or may not have introduced them to The Simpsons.

More interesting than all of this is what I learned about the boys. Jenna had always said that Noah was smart, but the kid is actually off the charts gifted. He enjoys studying cookbooks in search of the perfect chocolate dessert and he plans biking trips through the Italian countryside. He asks questions like "why do people prefer push pins to thumb tacks" and he wants a serious answer. (my statement about using magnets was not accepted.)

Kai bursts with energy. He is self sufficient (sometimes to a fault, but we don't cry over spilt milk) and somewhat stubborn. He loved playing with TocaBoca apps on my iPad and excelled at creating marshmallow/toothpick structures. Someday he may very well be an engineer. Of course, the highlight of my time with Kai was when he snuggled up next to me at bedtime and - instead of reading a story - we worked out way, together, through a word search puzzle.

By Monday night Kai and Noah were asking why I couldn't stay longer. They thanked me (seriously unprompted) for spending the weekend with them and gave me hugs and kisses without me asking.

I wish I'd spent more time with them sooner.

Of course Jenna and her husband say that Noah and Kai were on their best behavior because I was a guest. Furthermore, my job was to entertain them - of course they were good - they were having fun! So it got me thinking... I should spend time with other people's kids more often. In fact - other parents should spend time with my kids as well.

As a single mom there are times when I'm with my children for days on end without a break. We all begin to grate on each other's nerves. But what if I take a clue from my experience in Montana and swap kids with another mom for a day.


Children always act best when they're not with their parents. Spending time with a new/different adult is a learning experience for them and fun - in that the activities are different than what they'd be doing at with their own folks. Really - just a change of scenery, a change in general, can be a relief for everyone involved.

So, the next time your kids are driving you up a wall (during the upcoming holiday school-break, for example), approach a trusted friend and suggest a swap. She may look at you like your nuts, but when you explain that you're talking about kids (not husbands) she'll be relieved enough to actually consider it. Try it once. I'll bet you'll do it again.


  1. We loved having you here and really appreciate your help. Maybe next time it will be Joe and Maia on the plane ready for a back-woods Montana adventure...or maybe camping for all three of you? XO -- Jenna

  2. YAY! Glad the Smarties lollies came in handy!

    -Fashionably Bombed


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