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Play group celebrates friendship and diversity

My son James, who is 3 1/2 , considers himself a big boy. Sometimes he tries to carry Emiliano, who is 1 1/2 , because he considers him a baby. The problem is that Emiliano is slightly heavier than James.

At craft time, James, who needs action all the time, is not too thrilled about something so quiet. He grabs the Play-Doh for a while before heading back to the countless toys in the living room. I try to be creative and help him on his way to becoming an artist. How is it that my level of modeling equals that of a 5-year-old?

Let's dance! For James, dancing equals jumping. Whatever! He is getting rid of some energy and that will be good for his tired mommy later.

How about some snacks? James, who would rather not waste his time eating if he can play instead, sits at the table for just a couple of minutes, grabs a taco dorado and takes one or two bites, then leaves the rest on his plate and runs back to the toys. I try, without success, to get him to eat some healthy guacamole. OK, never mind; I will eat his portion.

Just over a year ago, a group of Spanish-speaking mothers from different countries, even continents and hemispheres, started a weekly play group for our preschoolers. This way our children have the opportunity of interacting with other bilingual children, as well as realizing that mommy is not the only one who speaks the other language.

We are all different ages, come from different backgrounds, live in different neighborhoods, enjoy different hobbies, have different religious affiliations and are at different levels of integrating into the United States. Some of us work part-time. Some of us don't. Some of the children go to a preschool. Some of them don't. But none of these things seems to matter when we are together. We all have something in common -- our families are far away and that is often hard.

During this year of wrestling with our toddlers, we can say that our play group has become much more than just a weekly meeting. Together we have celebrated one mother's achievement in getting her driver's license, welcomed the arrival of two baby boys and enjoyed the visit of two grandmothers. We have also celebrated the opening of a Latino takeout restaurant and a Mexican restaurant.

With the laughter comes weeping. We have mourned with one whose father passed away and with one who suffered a miscarriage. We have wondered about the vanishing of my husband's aunt after her house burned down, and yet the joys just keep coming.

We enjoyed Angela's swimming pool in the summer (gracias!) and the beauty of the Rosen garden in the spring. We have celebrated countless birthdays and eaten countless goodies. We are better off not counting the calories. Did I mention our occasional girls' night out? Yes, once in a while we get to leave hubbies, children and mommy clothes at home and enjoy some time by ourselves.

Our children are advancing from the stage of "playing next to" to the stage of "playing with." James knows the names and ages of all of his friends. He is eager to ride the school bus and to be 5 years old, just like Anthony, who has already "graduated" from the play group.

Let's celebrate friendship and diversity. Let's celebrate childhood and these tiresome but awesome years that will never come back. We are amigas and hope our children will carry these friendships into their futures.

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