La La How The Life Goes On

Be Here Now

Posted on: April 1, 2012


One of the BBDD’s hot buttons is when people ask him if he’s “babysitting” when he’s out with the girls. It completely irritates him because it implies—no, it actually states—that he is not a legitimate parent. He’s the substitute teacher. The non-union scab. The LaToya when you really wanted Janet.  I often wondered why people insisted on asking this ludicrous question—until the past few weeks when I have seen too many dads acting like babysitters. And worse, babysitters who’d rather be at The Hunger Games or texting with their BFFs LOL OMG.

We often take the kids to a family gym where they can run around and tumble and have fun with other kids they know. Every single freaking time we go there is at least one, if not five, fathers sitting on the bench intently playing on their IPhone, talking on their IPhone, or doing that fake “I’m so involved in my IPhone” foolery we all do when someone leaves us at the restaurant table to go to the bathroom.  Anything but monitoring, interacting with or even noticing their kids. And you know who those kids are: they are the ones so OUT OF CONTROL that other parents have to step in and stop them from breaking stuff, including other kids’ bones. Then the dad finally notices, saunters over, and does that ineffectuaI-semiwhiny-I-want-to-slap-him, “Tyler, buddy. Can you share the balance beam?” And Tyler is like, “Fuck you” and Ineffectual Whiny Dad is like, “Buddy, why don’t you get off the beam and let the other kids have a turn?” Tyler is, once again, like, “Fuck you. Do I know you?” And we see the issue. Dad wants to be here doing this about as much as I want to be here watching him.

Same at an arts and crafts thing we go to semi-regularly. Four moms interacting with their kids, managing public behavior, ensuring pro-social habits like sharing, waiting turns, etc.  Three dads, two extremely engrossed in…wait for it…their IPhones.  One actively doing the Ineffectual Dad routine I have come to know and despise so much. Another mom and I said plainly, “Two more minutes and then we’re getting up to give another kid a chance. We’ve been here for many minutes.”  Ineffectual Dad, so not used to the rough and tumble of public discipline, trying to convince his three year old to think about sharing. Hello? Three year olds do not share unless forced to. End of story. They don’t miraculously think, “I love this red crayon so much. Hey! I think I’ll share it!” The adults in the room have to make it happen and only then does it become a habit. You can’t convince a preschooler to act like a normal human. You have to make it so they can choose This Reasonable Option OR That Reasonable Option. You can’t leave it up to them to dream up the choices, because NEWS FLASH they are always going to pick “I’ll keep this crayon while I sit in this seat doing this project with these stickers that are MINE even though they belong to someone else.” Not because they are rotten kids but because they are preschoolers. It all has to be taught. All of it. Empathy, sympathy, fairness. It does not come naturally to the average 3 year old, which is why it has to come from you, the parent. Even if you are the Dad stuck with the kids for 4 hours while you wife does whatever she is doing.

Because, Ineffectual Dads, here’s the news flash of the century: I’m a mom and some days I don’t love sitting around gluing puffy shapes to paper either. In fact, some days I think I might just poke my fucking eye out with a pair of safety scissors just to make the tedium go away. Do you think I get up in the morning percolating with frosty excitement to sing Wheels on the fucking Bus 100 million times before noon? Please let me guarantee you that I don’t. But you know what, gentlemen? This is the goddamn gig. This is the job. And you do it because it, in the end, matters. You think your kids are having fun in the gym while you play Angry Birds or look at p*rn (hey, I don’t know your tastes, bud)? What you fail to notice is them aching for your attention. Which is why they are acting like goddamn maniacs. They want your attention, but failing that, they want anyone’s attention. The BBDD has had to politely refuse to push little girls on swings so many times because a) no grown man with half a brain touches a little girl not his own anywhere unless he wants to do a perp walk, and b) her dad is sitting 10 feet away from her on his phone!! And I’m standing there trying to do ESP with the guy, “Look up from your phone. Look up from your phone. See your child. See your child. She wants to be with you. WITH you, not just in the same park.”  And nothing.  It makes me equal parts angry and sad. You think you’re doing your job because you are physically present in the same zip code. But you are phoning it in all the way. And please don’t tell me how “letting the kids play” is your guiding principle. We both know that’s your way of excusing your lack of interest in playing with your kids.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that every minute of our time at the gym is spent with the adults. But it is to the extent that the girls want it to be. They don’t see the BBDD as much as they see me, so for them it really is super fun and super happy-making to have him there lifting them, chasing them and cheering for them. They play with their friends all week, and on the weekends they really want to hang out with their Dad who, god bless and love him, wants to hang out with them too. Again, would he rather be doing something other than giving horsey rides for a full half hour on the hardwood floor of the dining room? Believe it. Would he rather watch the basketball game or talk to his buddies on the phone than pretend he’s a prince in need of rescue by the unicorn Pegasus and her sidekick, Stinky Cat? Take that to the bank. But you know why he does it (besides his super secret obsession with My Little Pony, of course)? Because THIS IS THE GIG. You love your kids, you do embarrassing and boring and tedious and irritating and sometimes flat-out brain cell-killing things simply because they need you to. You would rather watch cooking shows on PBS while napping on the couch, but you bake super special sparkly cookies instead. You would rather level up in any game available as an app, but you sit in public and you share glue sticks and you pick shiny butterfly stickers and you marvel—marvel!—over the fabulousness of this ladybug masterpiece created by your very own Jackson Pollock instead. Would the Baby Daddy and I rather have been at a restaurant right now having a fabulous dinner wherein we finished actual sentences without interruption? Hell yeah. But we stayed home with the 102 fevered kid instead. And you can bitch and you can moan and you can find 100 ways under the sun to justify not doing it, but the truth is that you do it.  Yes, because this is the gig.  But also, if you’re doing it right, because you want to.

I don’t remember a single specific instance of my mom sitting with me late at night while I was sick as a kid. But I know she did. I don’t remember each individual spelling bee, award banquet or sporting event that my parents attended. But I know they did.  I don’t remember every time my parents told me they were proud of me. But I know they were. Why? Because they did the daily, shitty, boring, tiring, tedious work to create that inner core of love within me. They put in the time but more importantly, they put in the effort. They did the job in a way that developed in me the muscle memory, the soul-deep knowledge that I was loved, valued and valuable. Even now at 40, I can conjure up that feeling at will, the comfort and security that my parents were 100% there, no matter how many jobs my dad had and how many other kids my mom had to raise as well. I knew I mattered, even if I couldn’t put my finger on how I knew.  

So if you’re one of those Dads (or moms) on the IPhone, zoning out, bitching about this gig that you yourself signed up for, wishing you were anywhere but here: put down the phone, put down the attitude, put down the inhibitions and just do the thing you hate. Try it for a minute, then two. See your kid light up. Or not. See you kid love your presence. Or not. See your kid bask in the warm glow of your attention. Or not. (Kids can be assholes sometimes). 😉  But, whatever you do, and however it goes, SEE YOUR KID and know that you are building something here, brick by sometimes boring brick, step by sometimes painfully disappointing step, rung by sometimes irritating rung. Why? Because that’s the gig, my fellow mamas and dadas. That’s the gig.


1 Response to "Be Here Now"

Ah, so those are the real words to Wheels on the Bus. Have to remember that the next time I sing with the girls.
G&E’s Pop

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