Today I bring you a guest post from one of my oldest friends and fellow toddler father, Reid. I present this post to you unedited (mostly) and unfiltered (remember that). While I may have taken a more nuanced, more eloquent, all around more sophisticated tone, I completely relate to his take on modern day parenting, dystopian as it may be. So, disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed below are those of the author’s and do not necessarily (but mostly) reflect those held by yours truly, Mr. Full-Time Dad.
Hi, I’m Reid. Writer/producer/performer on The Irrationally Exuberant, incredible father, dream husband, regular columnist Ben Hanson’s . . . if not best friend, then at least the best person that he’s friends with, and your dynamic guest writer.
If this all sounds a bit arrogant, I am, but also I’m leading into something. Something about parenting, which is what this column is generally about. That something is this: Nearly every parent, deep down, between the ego shattering doubt tremors that nightly wrack us all, believes they are the best parent, that other parents pale in comparison and should be ashamed of how they’re rearing their stinky, rude, uncultured little garbage clones. Should watch and learn, gaze upon the glory of the Platonic ideal of PARENT. Themselves. Myself. And my wife. Did I mention I’m a dream husband?
But since everyone thinks this, no one is right (except me), of course, which makes being around other parents difficult.
Never is this more apparent than in the notoriously bittersweet confines of a designated public play area – specifically the indoor playground, where I found myself with your beloved columnist, Ben, on a recent Sunday afternoon.
Ben and I are no strangers to the indoor playground. My son, Otis, and his son, Mack, are adorable best friends and we congregate there on the occasional Saturday morning to catch up and get the youngsters a bit of exercise. They’re not getting any younger and childhood obesity is an epidemic.
Fatherhood obesity is nothing to sneeze at either.
The indoor playground is a great place and reasonably priced. There are slides and ladders and obstacle courses and a lone, inexplicably popular steering wheel attached to a wall.
It’s always a good time. Giggles abound. Cherished memories are made.
Until other people show up. Who these people are outside of the playground makes no difference – whether they’re lovely folks or unthinking ogres, philanthropists and gentle(wo)men or slovenly mole people, upstanding citizens or, heaven help us, Republicans.
Inside the communal play area, all are OTHERS, to be feared and mistrusted, judged and detested.
Now, before you accuse me of misanthropy, please understand that these feelings are universal. The other parents feel the same way about me, as they should. It’s the evolved protectiveness of the mother bear combined with the neurotic self-consciousness of modern man. A potent co-mingling of animal instinct, projected self-loathing, and the ever increasing “knowledge” gleaned from glib, half-read and a quarter considered internet content, like what you’re reading now.
So you’re left with, at best, two parents, bitterly judging one another, aware that the judgment is mutual but as woefully blind to the exact nature of the devastating shortcomings that will leave their own progeny in need of years of expensive therapy, barely loveable by any sort of decent mate, as they are acutely sensitive to those same failings in the OTHER.
Sometimes – often – there are more than two parents so the effect grows exponentially. On the Sunday in question there were dozens. We were there for a birthday and, seemingly, so was every other parent south of 13th Avenue without the necessary budget for the proper Go-Kart or Laser Tag-centric party that all American children are entitled to by divine law.
The air was thick with judgment, not to mention shrieking, crying, laughter, and odors. OH, THE ODORS! It smelled as though someone had popped off-brand microwave popcorn in the boy’s locker room of a decrepit Junior High School.
And everywhere in this miasma were parents parenting – some barely, some far too much. One man angrily bellowed – there’s no other word for it. Some parents sat on benches, gazing into the void like tired lobotomy patients, oblivious to the horrors being inflicted on or by their kids. Some parents led their children – wee hand in big, sweaty, anxiously squeezing hand – through the maze of tubes and stairs and ropes, guaranteeing the youngster would never develop the confidence and independence to get anywhere in life.
I boldly and wisely weaved among them, parenting exactly the right amount, gently leading my brave, handsome, deeply intelligent and empathetic young man past his lessers, towards a future so bright he’ll have to either wear shades or risk serious corneal damage.
But make no mistake about it. Despite my obvious superiority, all around us were the disapproving eyes of the OTHERS. Judging. Maybe they’d even talk about me later. “Can you believe that obnoxious Dad in the Judas Priest hat?” they’d say over dinner. “He was so smug and obnoxious– I bet he’s a Liberal. His kid doesn’t stand a chance.”
And maybe they’re right, though obviously they are not. Maybe their way is better, though it almost certainly is worse. Maybe one day I’ll look back and think, “Maybe I should have been lobotomized, or more sweaty and anxious, or Republican, or all of the above.” But probably not. Probably I’m right and doing a great job and it’s the terrible OTHERS that will have the regrets. I’m sure the OTHERS feel the same way. We have to, because if we let our guard down – if the confidence falters – those ego shattering doubt tremors are going to get the better of us and then where would we be? Where would our kids be?
Stuck, wandering forever, in the indoor playground, that’s where. And, frankly, that place smells a little.