Saturday, April 21, 2012

Good Ol' Suburban Fun

Thumper and I have recently encountered a few times a mom and her two kids at our local. It cracks me up to think of our local playground as "our local," rather than our local pub. I don't know if we have a local pub. I don't even know if "the local" typically means the pub. I may have made that up. Or maybe I picked it up watching British comedy shows on PBS with my dad on Sunday nights when I was a kid. I don't know. Anyway. What was I talking about again?

Oh yeah. We've several times run into a very nice mom and her almost-three-year-old daughter and her just-turned-five-year-old son. Thumper adores the boy, declaring whenever we're going to the local that "I hope [that kid] is there. I think he goes to the park every day!" Well, he doesn't go to the park every day, but sometimes we succeed in running in to them.

On our second interaction, the mom wandered off with the daughter, keeping a close eye on her and leaving the son digging holes and making piles in the volleyball pit with Thumper and me. Soon, as is wont to happen with preschoolers, things degenerated, and her son was throwing sand two-fisted at Thumper and a younger boy. I said, "Hey! Stop throwing sand!" The kid paused, looking right at me and carefully considering whether or not he was legally or morally obligated to listen to me. I pointed right at him and said, "Yes, I'm talking to you!" And the battle was won, and the kid dropped the sand, and no corneas were scratched.

Being who I am, I of course had my moment of anxiety, wondering if she would come running, pointing a finger in my face and yelling, "Who do you think you are, telling my kid what to do?" But as is true of almost all of my social anxiety fantasies, I was way off base.

Instead, she left her son to my supervision. I ended up pushing him and Thumper in the swings while they talked about which specific superheroes they were as they flew into space on the swings. The mom wandered by and thanked me, and later, she invited Thumper to her son's birthday party. Her family had recently moved here, and while her son was on a baseball (and I think surely she must have meant T-ball) team, she didn't want to invite some of the teammates lest she offend someone, and she didn't want to invite all of the teammates because that would be too many kids. So she invited us because she liked Thumper, and she liked the "intellectual" conversations Thumper and her son had.

So, anyway, we went to the birthday party today. It was a new experience for me, because really, I almost never feel awkward or embarrassed about my Stay-at-Home Dad job. I can count on one hand the times that the "So what do you do?" conversation has come up, let alone turned awkward. And today it was almost two hours before that sentence was uttered. Still, the gender roles were clearly split, and I didn't feel comfortable in either place.

The moms were inside, sipping dark red wine and picking at hors d'oeuvres while the kids ran around like nutjobs. I sat down with them and introduced myself, and barely a half-dozen words were exchanged in the next 15 minutes.

The dad came in then, warmly introducing himself and saying, "You must be the guy from the park!" Yes, that's me. The guy from the park. He quickly put a beer in my hand and got me out to the backyard with the other men, where he was working on firing up the grill to cook sausages, chicken, roasted jalapenos, and hamburgers. I shook hands with several guys who were all perfectly nice to me.

And that's the thing. They were all more than hospitable, but they all knew each other, and none of them knew me. I didn't belong among the moms, and I didn't belong among the dads. I really belonged best amongst the kids, chatting more comfortably with the almost-three-year-old girl than I did with her dad. I suppose it's my own prejudice showing, but the country music, the golf shirts, and the conversations about the alcohol content of the beer, all left me feeling disconnected as much in the man zone as in the woman zone.

So when finally, one of the dads asked the dreaded question in an attempt to include me in the work-related conversation they were all having around me, I lied. Well, I didn't lie exactly, but I gave the answer that was most true to what I thought they expected to hear and least true to what my actual daily life is: "I do database work for [the major University Athletics department in town]." I didn't say "part-time." I didn't say, "I stay home with my son full-time." I let them believe I had a computer-related full-time job with a large and respected local employer.

Why? I don't know. I suppose I stereotyped them as badly as I thought they might stereotype me. Maybe they would have said, "That's great! I wish I could do that!" But I thought not. The host, though he declared that he loves a kid-friendly house, was spending more time in the backyard with dads than he was in the house with his kids. I was pretty sure that "I'm a SAHD!" would've been met with an uncomfortable silence, and I felt uncomfortable enough already. They were all nothing but nice, and still, I felt like this wasn't my place.

But Thumper, God love him, was perfectly in his element. There was food. There were kids. There were toys, and instruments, and stairs. He loves stairs. He would've stayed another week, I'm sure, if I'd let him.

Oh, yeah: thanks for inviting us to your birthday party! We had a great time! Your kids are awesome!


Anonymous said...

I can literally feel the awkwardness. Ugh. I so get this.

JD Bobcat said...

.. dont tell'em about the cool concerts and UT football stuff .. you might have a bunch o'new friends ..

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