“You’re so good with kids. Now stop.”

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.