My Secret Mission: Quality Time

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My youngest niece is sad that mommy is leaving on her date night with daddy. I share that we have a secret mission in hopes it will entice her into the adventure rather than focus on mommy leaving. When the words “secret mission” fall from my lips, my eldest niece immediately inquires ”What? Where? When are we going?”

Holding my tongue, I listened to her dig into possibilities, like a detective looking for answers, yet I wasn’t willing to budge. Instead I tell her through my smirking smile, “You’ll see.”

She pouts at me, as energy surges her response, “But I want to know now.” Her pearly whites and doe eyes stare into me. I smile back, before heading to my room to get ready, leaving her deflated in front of the television.

A little bit later, I emerge ready to take on this day, walking pass the living room to see no one around. I search the all the common rooms, but no one exist. I try one last spot to find my eldest laying on her bed playing watching something on her iPod.

“Why are you in bed?” I inquire.

“I like laying here.” She says matter of fact.

“What’cha playing?” I ask, hoping she’ll share more about herself.

“I’m not playing games, I’m watching a show.” Her sweet voice tells me.

“Oh,” I say, as I hear the youngest come up the stairs.

“I made my bed.” The youngest steps into the shared large pink room. She’s been very proud lately that she can do this task.

“You did?” I inquire.

“Yes, and look, I put the stuffed animals here like this.” She says, showing me how she arranged the dolls and animals before going into a story about how the mermaid animal at the end of the bed had two baby dolls that lay in a corner by the dresser.

“Who’s the mommy?” I ask.

“This one,” She reaches down to pick up the mermaid animal with a tail wearing a tutu before pointing to the baby dolls again.

“Oh,” I say, feeling like I’m being schooled.

I debate when we should leave for dinner before coming back to the moment and changing the subject. “We should put out our clothes for church service tomorrow. This way it will be easier to get ready in the morning,” I say. The youngest looks at me with a pondering face as the eldest who has gone back to watching her show remains silent. I take this as my cue to leave them at their leisure and descend the creaky stairs.

After checking the weather and realizing it’s forty degrees in mid-winter, I slip on my shoes, put on my winter vest and announce, “I’m going outside. It’s too beautiful to be in the house.” I say shutting the door behind me with the dog in tow.

No more than a minute has gone by, when little feet come racing by me toward the garage, emerging with her bike. “I can go fast,” the youngest says.

“Oh yeah?” I playfully challenge her as I begin jogging pushing her to pedal faster toward the mailbox.

“I’m going to beat you!” She shouts through her laughter.

“No, you’re not.” I tell her with a serious, yet playful smile on my face.

“Oh yes I am!” She squeals blowing past me as I slow my steps. “I win!” She shouts once she reaches the end of the driveway.

I watch her turn her bike around, tie up her hair before taking off again almost running me over. Fast and fearless she is, as her tires spin through puddle speeding towards the house, swerving tire tracks pattern the asphalt.

“Race me again.” She pushes me to run beside her.

“I’m going to win this one.” I say excitedly as she pushes on the pedals with more determination, peddling faster.

“I’m going to win.” I tell her before letting her win again. Granted, I’m really not that fast, but I find it more amusing that she’s enjoying this time outside rather than hypnotized in front of the television or by some electronic device.

While I watch her, I squat down dropping my phone lens on an angle while the ground holds it in place, ready to use the continuous shoot feature, capturing the youngest as she pedals toward me, hoping she doesn’t hit me. “Go,” I say to her. Left, right, left, right she pushes the pedals faster and faster focused on her mission as the lens captures her every move. “Wow! You are fast.” I tell her before standing and walking towards her.

“I know I’m fast. Watch this.” She lays her bike against the front step and races toward me, turns around and runs back her arms swinging in momentum, head down watching her every step, stops, then exclaims with a smile plastered on her face, “I’m fast.”

“Yes, you are.” I tell her watching her get back on her bike to ride around some more.

“I am going to put my phone on the charger.” I tell her as I step through the door and disappear in the house. I emerge a few minutes later to find my eldest niece has decided to join us outside. She steps to the basketball on the ground, picks it up, and shoots the ball at the hoop, it bounces off the rim and bounds back at her. As she catches the ball, dribbles, then begins to shoot, I step up to guard her, encouraging her to shoot despite my long arm is blocking her shot. The ball drifts through the air and swipes the net landing in the grass beyond the hoop. I chase after the ball avoiding doggy landmines, passing thee ball to the eldest. The youngest joins us demanding the eldest to pass the ball to her. She catches the bounce pass in her little hands and shoots with all her might, missing the net by six feet.

“Can we lower the hoop so I can shoot too?” The youngest inquires.

“I don’t know how to do it.” I tell her.

“I’ll go get the broom.” She says racing to the garage, while I look for instructions on the back of the post.

“I think this is how we do it.” My eldest niece tries to push the backboard with the broom handle tip.

“Yeah we use the broom.” The youngest says, excite that we are including her in this process.

“I don’t want to break it. It’s your brothers.” I tell them, still unsure how to lower the hoop so we all can play. Finally after pushing on the lock lever, the heaviness of the hoop leans on the broom tip and I lower it as low as it will go. Excited the youngest tries to shoot into the hoop, missing the rim by inches, but doesn’t give up, shooting and running after the ball a few more times.

Exhausted by the activity, the youngest asks, “Can we go now?”

I check the time, 4:30pm and weight my options about having an early dinner and their bedtime. “Yes, we can go now.” I tell her before addressing the eldest that we will leave in a few minutes.

“Don’t go to sleep! Don’t do it.” The eldest and I tell the youngest as her eyelids begin to droop over her bright blue eyes.

“I’m not.” The youngest whines back.

“Stay awake.” I tell her as I crank up the radio in hopes to find an energetic song, we can all sing and dance to.

“Where are we going?” The eldest asks.

“We are eating dinner at one of your favorite places.” I reply, hoping she’ll keep asking, as she does. Inquiring a variety restaurants that are local and out of town. When she realizes our location, she guesses where we will go for dessert and as we get closer to our dinner location, I mentally see her eyes light up as she blurts out her favorite food place in town. “Yep,” I tell her. I look back at the youngest, as she has grown quiet to see if she’s sleeping. Though her eyes look heavy, she is staring out at the river and the houses we pass by.

We arrive at our first destination, order our food, then settle in for miscellaneous conversations. I best liked the discussion about potato chips, for we all selected a different kind of chip. The eldest hands me one chip from her bag. I take a bite, ponder the saltiness against the potato flavor. “It is good, not too much salt.” I tell her. The youngest mimics her sister and hands me a chip from her bag. I put it in my mouth, taste the cheese and tortilla. “I like the cheese flavor.” I tell her. I then pull a chip from my bag and share it with the eldest. She nods that she likes it. I take another chip from the bag and offer it to the youngest, she accepts it and shoves it in her mouth, looks at me like she’s a food critic, nods and smiles that she likes it, then holds out her hand for another one. Once finished we move on to our next destination, dessert.

“You can order whatever you want.” I tell my nieces when we arrived at DQ. No more than seconds the opportunity is presented, the eldest orders. Obviously she has a favorite here. I look to the youngest overloaded with too many options and ask her what type of ice cream she wants.

“The red one,” the youngest says.

“Um,” I say looking quizzically at the cashier. “What do you have?” I ask her. She points do the different ways they serve ice cream, then gives us other suggestions.

“I want cherry.” The youngest exclaims.

“Do you have cherry?” I ask the cashier.

“No, we have a cherry hard shell.” She tells  me. As I look at the youngest and make an executive decision.

“Vanilla sundae with cherry shell, please.” I confirm the order before giving mine, a banana split.

“Alright, let’s head home and watch the Peanuts movie.” I say as we load the car and the girls dive into their ice cream. Turning to the backseat to make sure they are buckled in, I see that the youngest is half done with her ice cream. We aren’t even out of the DQ driveway when I realize that if ice cream eating was a sport, she’d be a good competitor.

Arriving at home, we had the chance to watch the sunlight drift over the horizon before beginning our movie and nestling in for the night. Our secret mission of adventure, of quality time, and of sharing had come to a close as each niece drifted into sleep and the twinkling stars lit up the sky.

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