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Mr. Mom Chronicles: The Playground

Daddy was trying to work. Tobias didn't care.
I hate taking Tobias to the playground.

Step back: It's not that I don't enjoy giving the boy a chance to enjoy himself -- and I'm really not opposed to him wearing himself out by running around. What's more, I'm not one of those parents who hovers over my kid: We get there, I sit on a bench and keep an eye on him, but I don't really follow him from toy-to-toy, adventure-to-adventure.

No, what I don't like is ... all the other kids.

I'm not a monster: I obviously like my kid. And I'm not one of those fussy adults who wants to ban the under-10 set from restaurants or movie theaters or other public places. Kids are necessary. But I don't much like childhood: It's all id, no ego, too much trying to hog toys, too much possibility of sudden and minor violence, too much willingness to inflict hurt feelings if the physical hurt can't be gotten away with. Kids are assholes.

Sartre said that "hell is other people." Me? I say that hell is other people's children. And I'm certain other people think the same thing about my kid; I can't say that I'd blame them.

So I feel an abnormal amount of anxiety when I take Tobias to the playground, because it is the place where lots of kids are, and where they are at their most kidlike. Maybe I just didn't have the right kind of childhood, because it looks like a battleground to me. I see only the negative possibilities.

While I was the office worker and my wife the stay-at-home parent, I didn't have to worry about any of this. She took the boy out to play; I hung with him at bathtime. Even after I lost my job, most of the playground duties fell to her. Trips to play just made me itch. Why oh why couldn't my son have been born a 30-year-old slacker with a penchant for reading novels in coffee shops?

Tobias, of course, gets none of this. At least, I hope that's the case. He ambles around the playground -- adventurous, but not too adventurous. He'll climb ladders that surprise me, given that he's just turned two. But he won't go anywhere near a slide without a hand to hold onto.

He's similarly middle-of-the-road when it comes to interactions with the other kids. I don't want to pass my anxieties onto him: I want him to make friends, to learn to share, to have fun. Often, he floats along the edge of a group; if the other kids start to include him, he jumps in and participates wholeheartedly. If they ignore him, he moves onto the next thing. And it's no big deal: my emotional life is far more concerned with these interactions, it seems, than his is.

Last week, a kid slugged him in the chest. I saw it. Tobias went up to play with the young, curly-headed boy -- and the boy wanted nothing of it. So he hit Tobias. Tobias smiled -- smiled! -- and moved on to the next group. He's social, but he doesn't stay where he's not wanted, and he doesn't particularly care that he's not wanted. I love this! I hope this attitude sticks with him the rest of his life! Oh, God be merciful!

Me? I swooped him into his stroller and marched home.Wrong reaction, probably.

It's already begun. I want to protect my kid from all the crap that's sure to come. I want his feelings and his body to stay as innocent and unmarked as they are right now. But the only way he's going to really learn to play nice with others is if he gets out and plays nice with others. The best way for me to be a good daddy is to swallow my neuroses and walk him down to the playground.

But I'll still keep an eye on him.


Ben said…
Kids are assholes? I don't know I would put it quite that way. Kids are kids... and kids are messy. Kids are loud. Kids are curious. Kids are obnoxious. Kids are endlessly frustrating but amusing too. Sometimes.

Now, parents... there the description may be a better fit. I would have to include myself in that number.

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