PART 1, The Mommy Jungle
My wife is back to work and I am settling in to a rhythm with the two kids. It feels different this time around, and I confess to having occasional flashes back to the one kids program. In an effort to help both parents spend quality time with the children, we split up the weekend mornings for adventures.
The discussion of this weekend scheduling led me to a new idea entirely - Saturday morning time spent hanging out with other dads. I contacted a few of my fellow dad friends and made an open invitation to spend the morning tromping around a park outside of town somewhere. This would give dads and kids a chance to spend time together doing something that everyone enjoyed, and get me out of the stay-at-home dad routine that tends to drive me CRAZY by the weekend.
Let me expand on that. As a StayAtHomeDad, I am a lone tiger living in a Mommy jungle. I was spoiled last year when a close friend chose to spend 6 months home with his new daughter. We talked every day, and a few times a week we got together for kid hikes, Napgammon (that's backgammon during nap time), and trips to the Zoo or OMSI. There are definitely other SAHD's out there, but we have a hard time making connections. It simply is not in our DNA to bond over dimples and diaper changes. I see these guys in parks and around town, but somehow the relationship is best built on more firmly packed ground. Like football, or beer, or motorcycles You get my point.
Mostly, the park/zoo/kid scene is dominated by moms. And most moms take their kids to the park to hang out with other moms. That's fun, and fine, and when I'm there with the kids I can chat with them or whatever, as long as we keep it light. But if I made a mom-friend at one of those places, should that ever happen, if a conversation gets overly friendly - I feel the eyeballs of the other moms on me. There is also the issue of over-parenting or under-parenting in these public arenas. As a dad, I tend to be permissive about playground activities. My boy loves to climb to the top of the most dangerous ladder/slide/swing set. He's a boy! That is just how he's built. But I hear other moms, behind my back admonishing their own children to be careful.
It doesn't help that my little Jeep has discovered little girls, and he just loves to put his hands on them. In a little boy way, I mean. I found myself thinking the other day, "why can't Jude just keep his hands to himself?" and then I realized the folly of that supposition. It dawned on me that OF COURSE kids want to put their hands on other kids, they put their hands on EVERYTHING. And he's only two years old. Keeping your hands to yourself? That's a learned behavior! Last week Jeep followed a little girl up a tube slide. I think she looked at him funny and definitely wanted to be chased, but she was also about twice his age. Not one to turn down a bating, Jeep ran right up after her, out of my sight and up into nowhere. The next thing I hear were these howling screams from the little girl. And then her shoe came down the slide. And then her other shoe. When the two of them finally reappeared at the bottom, Jeep had her in a full on tackling arm lock. And they were having the time of their lives.
Of course I had to apologize to the mother. (That's my boy!) Moms have a strong sense of how the world should be, and collectively they develop a very strong moral sense. You've got to watch your step in the Mommy Jungle, man!
Part 2, Dad Saturday
By the end of the week, we've been steeped in these stilted interactions with anonymous mom strangers and I have HAD IT. So Dad Saturday seems like the perfect solution. Not only is it a good time for dads, but they get credit with their wives for taking the kids on an outing and out of the house for a few hours. Its a win-win.
Best of all, the kids get some time to be parented by their dads. There are some intangibles here that are hard to quantify, but I will attempt to give some examples. When kids and dads hang out together, it looks and feels different. Dads joke around. They play, both with the kids and their friends. They throw frisbees, and do chin ups, and talk smack. They throw rocks and climb on picnic tables. They chase their kids, and push them a little, and they discipline differently than moms.
Last Saturday we met at a McDonalds. That's another thing about dads - they eat awesome food that is definitely not on the recommended list. We met McDonald's and hit up the giant play structure while sipping coffee and talking dad shop. Then we loaded the kids up and drove out of town to Oxbow Regional Park, up the Sandy River from Troutdale. We arrived, hit the next play structure, fed the kids more snacks, and then set out on a nature hike along the Sandy River. When I say, "along" the river, what I mean is that we walked along an eroded cliff face that had a long and treacherous tumble down to the Sandy River. Let me just say to anyone not in attendance that the toddlers on this trip probably would have survived the fall. But they didn't fall. We walked right along the cliff edge, following the trail and didn't have a single problem. Score one for dads!
There were a few glitches in our trip that could be avoided next time. One guy and his daughter got stung by some kind of bee. We weren't carrying an earthquake kit. We didn't do very well with the carpools. It would have been helpful to bring about four times as many snacks. And it would be nice if we brought bacon, eggs, and a griddle next time, but those are just pipe dreams. I am calling Dad Saturday a success for its trial run.
Part 3, The Result
The biggest takeaway for our family was that my little boy Jeep (two years old) bot to play with another little boy who is three and a half. They played pretty well together, although I noticed that the older boy had an acute sense of imagination and wanted to make up a storyline to describe our activities. This was very fun, and I began by playing along as much as possible. My boy doesn't really need a story yet, he just thinks it is fun to go in the woods and pick up sticks and rocks. So when Jeep picked up a big stick covered in moss and started to drag it around, I called him a WIZARD. And then the other boy (O.) wanted to be a PIRATE. Great, I thought! Pirates and Wizards, what could be better?
O.'s dad had obviously played pirates before so he encouraged the singing of the pirate song (not the YO HO HO, but the Other One) and the occasional G rated cursing of ARGHH ME MATEYS! and SCURVY DAWG! This continued to be a laugh a minute until I realized that the stick O was carrying was actually not a stick at all but a pretend sword, with which he kept pretend sticking me and I kept pretend dying. Of course Jeep had his own stick, and for awhile he was playing "backhoe" with it. I'm not quite sure how this game went, you'd have to ask T. as he was bringing up the rear of our hiking party.
Nonetheless, eventually Jeep needed his own pirate sized stick, and everyone was getting along just fine until we stopped at some picnic tables for a snack. At this point, O. put down his stick for a moment and Jeep does the thing that he learned in pre-school, the thing of which I am so proud of him for. He was just waiting for a chance to grab the stick. Well that caused mass pandemonium and tears and who knows what else so we had to sort out whose stick-sword was whose, etc. etc.
Eventually as the hike was coming a close, O. abandoned said stick-sword in favor of another small curvy kind of stick which O. announced was a GUN. Let me just say that my little Jeep has never really been exposed to the awesomeness of SWORDS and GUNS which all boys come to know. It wasn't that I was hiding it from him, it was just that he hadn't found it yet. And where would he have seen such a thing? On Thomas the Train? Egads, no. So Swords and Guns it was for a short time, and no one seemed any worse for it. No one was killing anyone here, after all. Or even shooting or stabbing. It was mostly that they were just wielding. I wasn't even really sure if Jeep was taking any of this in, after all. It was an interesting twist to Dad Saturday.
And then came this morning.
I heard Jeep rambling about his room this morning, getting out toys and generally just talking to himself. I like to give him a few minutes to rouse himself before I go downstairs and unleash his energy upon the world. This morning I found him with a black stick in his hand. We have always called it "The Stick" and Jeep has used in many times in his short life to fetch lost items from under the couch or bed. The stick itself was a piece of tourist garbage from somebody's long past trip to New Zealand. It was just another piece of kid flotsam that we have hanging around the house.
Jeep was looking at it with a kind of wonder and newfound respect. It was at that moment that I realized that he realized that there was a connection here. "Sword" he said to me proudly. "Found a sword!" "SWORD!" "CUT THE BLANKET WITH A SWORD!!!" CUT THE CARPET WITH A SWORD!" "CUT THE BED WITH A SWORD!!"
This lesson in parenting brought to you by Dad Saturday.