So the kids were out of the house on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to about 7 p.m. I have no idea what they were doing, but I do know where they were.

They are seven and five, so this independence might sound a little surprising. But it was a truly great Saturday.

I drove them nowhere, and prepared exactly zero meals (after showing the youngest how to toast her own bagel, which she has been delighted in doing every morning since). They ate lunch and dinner across the street, and even watched a movie there before bedtime.

Then, on Sunday, I had my two kids plus my “third child” all day. His own parents didn’t see him from 11 a.m. to just after 6 p.m. I gave them all lunch and dinner, and had the kids walk him home in time for everyone’s Sunday night bath/shower.

I think his mom painted a room while she had the house to herself, while I helped my sister sew her Halloween costume during my day “off.” It was an excellent weekend for both of us.

What’s with the absentee kids — and the extra kid? It’s a new thing I’ve been trying out. It’s called “When your kids are obsessed with another kid and you start to forget whose kid is whose.”

Back in the spring, our son and daughter started playing regularly with the little boy across the street — who is, conveniently, in between them in age.

They slipped into a happy trio, and they would bug me every afternoon as they (repeatedly) asked when he would be home from daycare. It became an obsession, and they’d get all excited on Fridays because they quickly figured out he didn’t go to daycare on Saturdays or Sundays.

They had their first official sleepover at his house in August — a real one, not like the times they’d stayed with family, or gone to a friend’s while my husband and I were also in the house. Of course, they loved it and I didn’t get a midnight phone call to come pick anybody up.

Their buddy stayed over at our house a few weeks later, and he was fine, too. They started spending just about every waking minute together. They go biking together. They go for walks in the park together. They play in the backyards together. They play videos games together, too, until it gets too loud and one of us moms shoos them back outside.

Don’t even get me started on the time when he went away on vacation to P.E.I. Three days never seemed so long, as they whined about when he’d come back.

(The same thing happened across the street when we spent a night away. We returned the following evening and I saw him standing in their doorway, looking longingly at the kids as we dragged bags and pillows into the house.)

In the beginning, my friend and I would text to make sure it was OK if we keep her son for dinner, or if she kept mine for lunch. Or one of the kids would run across the street and double-check that it was fine to stay.

Over time, we just started assuming that once “the kids” — as we started calling them, to mean all three of them — were at one of our houses, they’d just . . . stay. . . and be fed, of course.

These days, if I’ve got “the kids,” I automatically take three medium-sized plates down when I’m dishing up something for lunch or dinner. I mix three cups of chocolate milk. He has a regular seat at our table, he seems to really like my meatballs and my pork, and he’s even getting used to my (probably annoying) prying questions about school.

It’s the same situation across the street, I’m sure. The kids come home raving about the dinners they’ve eaten, and the (two) ice cream cones they got for dessert. (“How come YOU don’t buy ice cream like Suzy?!”) With a slam of their screen door and a creak as ours opens a few seconds later, they’re suddenly home again.

My friend and I joke about how our kids are obsessed with each other, but we certainly aren’t complaining. Switching off three kids is much easier than always having two, or even one. They absolutely love playing together, and it gives us — the parents — solo time to get things done.

I wonder who’s going to be “on duty” this Saturday.

Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist who married her high-school sweetheart. They moved from the city to the country, where they spend their days making messes and memories with their seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. Follow their family’s adventures over at