“You’re so good with kids. Now stop.”

by doodaddy on March 9, 2009

At dinner, my mother-in-law gave me the seat with no escape. You know the one, where you’re between two people in the middle of the long side of the table, squeezed up so close to the wall that there’s no egress except down and between Uncle K’s legs. But the dog had that territory reserved: no, I was trapped.

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Feeding the Ducks.

I appreciate the reasoning behind the seating arrangement, actually. She was trying to keep me away from the kids’ table, where three-year old Boo was hanging out with her similarly-aged cousin. We’d had a great day at the beach house my in-laws are renting, running from the waves and hiding in the plants, topped off by (I don’t kid) a dozen laps around the house. Yes, that’s all: the girls just wanted to circumnavigate the building for most of an hour, me trotting along behind.

And while every parent, grandparent, aunt, and uncle present took a turn with the girls, it’s in my nature to be the point person with kids, the entertainer and engager. So either my mother-in-law was tired of me inciting the kids to jump into my arms from high places (possible) or (more likely) she just wanted to give me a break.

But the timing couldn’t have been worse.

The kids needed a parent at the table. Of course they did: they had had twelve hours of sun, sand, and nearly constant running. My daughter sees her cousin only a couple of times a year so both were nutso-excited, distracted, ready to spit macaroni straight into the dog’s mouth.

If anyone had wanted to spell me, it could have been a few hours earlier, before the kids’ energy levels redlined on “frenetic.”

There’s more to it than that, though, or else any one of us adults could have been the moderating parent at the kids’ table. No, I wanted it to be me. Everyone else at the dinner had a strong professional identity: I, Doo the Daddy, am a professional father. I pride myself on taking on tough parenting moments: getting a decent and tearless dinner into two hyper toddlers who couldn’t seem to avoid conflict over which-spoon-do-you-want issues would have been a validating challenge.

But I sat hemmed in on the blind side of the table, unable to do much more about Boo’s behavior than lamely calling “Use your indoor voice” from time to time — which, when you think about it, is a pretty stupid thing to shout. (Kids are uncannily attuned to mixed messages, which is why spanking doesn’t work.) I felt like a lifeguard watching his pool through a locked plate glass door.

Predictably, my anxiety level rose and my appetite fell away. So while I appreciate the “break from the girls” I was ostensibly being given, I’d have been just as happy continuing to do my work.

How do I say that? This is what I do. This is my work.

Very few seem to really buy it.

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tagged as in behavior,exhaustion,family,mischief ·

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

busy-dad-e March 9, 2009 at 7:22 am

You could say, politely, “Excuse me, but nature calls.” If your mother-in-law asks what you’re doing when you go attend to the kids instead of the bathroom, you can reply, “this is my nature.”

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doodaddy March 9, 2009 at 7:25 am

@busy-dad-e – Nice one. I’m never so clever, though, sadly…

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Backpacking Dad March 9, 2009 at 10:10 am

Oh god. I’m exactly the same way.

This weekend we spent an evening at an uncle’s house (he has five kids, the youngest 16 now, the oldest with a one-year old whose birthday party we were there for) and grandma came along to “help” with Erin, and to spend time with her.

So I was supposed to be “off” duty. I tried to take that seriously. But it didn’t always stick. At one point the 16 year old’s friend asked me “So, do you just follow her around all day?”

Because that’s what I was doing. I wasn’t making her pay attention to me, or getting in her way. But she was in a strange house and there were 20 people there and necessarily open doors and a dog and…well…I wasn’t just worried about her safety but her GETTING INTO EVERYTHING, because that’s her m.o. and I know it and I didn’t want to come into a room to find that she had pulled the vase down from a table and stuck it on her head. It wasn’t her environment and she wanted to explore it, and I wanted her to explore it, but she also needed someone just being “on duty”.

When grandma was “on duty” at one point I was in the sunken living room reading something. I heard some babbling and craned my head around toward the open front door and IN walked my daughter.

IN. And grandma was in the kitchen talking to someone.

There was a layered atmosphere there, in that house of five kids, that if there are enough bodies that means nothing can happen: there are enough eyes and everyone is taking turns. The one-year old was left alone for long periods of time (on her birthday, just sitting and looking around at the people ignoring her) because what’s going to happen with that many people around?

I can’t flip that switch. Unless Emily is on duty I really do just kind of “follow her around all day.” I’m interested in her. I know her. I’m responsible for her safetey and her education, and I can’t relax just because someone tells me to.

She walked IN the front door.

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doodaddy March 9, 2009 at 10:13 am

@Backpacking Dad – Wow… epic comment, and epic story. I wish I could cite diffusion of responsibility, but in my case, the kids were perfectly safe: it was more a behavior thing. I try really hard not to set Boo up for a failure: to set her at a kids’ table after a wild and energetic day without any direct supervision counts as “being set up for failure.”

Still, it’s not as clear-cut as a pure safety issue, where I would indeed have run from across the room. Did that earlier in the day, in fact, when it appeared that Boo had been sent down a steep trail to the beach by herself. (She hadn’t actually, but still.)

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