I find myself completely lacking the ability to chit. And I’m very poor at chatting. Combining the chit and chat makes me a verbose lunatic capable of only non-sequiturs and insane rantings. Case in point, yesterday:
I’m at the park yesterday with the kids and these women I’ve seen around the neighborhood. They all seem nice and respectable and good mothers. They take walks together at night sometimes and they’re on the neighborhood committees to run the Easter Egg Hunt and the 4th of July Parade. Like I said, they’re good people. They seem very friendly to each other. But typically they leave me alone. I am The Other, I think. I’m a Dad at the park. Not sure they know what to make of me.
And I’m good with that. They hang near the swings. I’m near the jungle gym. But yesterday when I walked the kids to the park I noticed that they’d congregated near the jungle gym.
Now, not to get too Bloods and Crips about all this but this was a massive breach of protocol. I see these people here all the time. The jungle gym is my area. you see, two of my children love climbing and hanging upside down so I usually set up camp there because it seems that if an injury is going to occur, it’ll be one of these two.
So I sit down on the bench right near this group of women. But I’m pretending to be cool with that.
You see, I’m pretty good at avoiding conversation by staying right on top of my kids or pretending to bury my face in a book. But my kids want less and less to do with me on the playground except for the moment where they yell “Dad, watch this” right before they do something that I’d require a parachute, a jetpack and three dozen mattresses before trying. And that day of all days I forgot my book…LEAVING ME EXPOSED!
As I’m watching the children I see two of the ladies making the short walk over to my bench.
Now, in prison this kind of thing means a hit. But I’m not in prison. I’m just a Dad next to the jungle gym. But I still find myself preparing for their arrival. Now, don’t the wrong impression of me. It’s not that I’m unfriendly. I am quite friendly. But I’m a waver. When I drive by I wave and smile. If I walk past you on the street or in a store I’ve got a might fine “how ya’ doin?” at my disposal that I use to great effectiveness quite often.
Just as the ladies sat, my four year old decided that hanging from his feet would be fun. So I’m trying to watch him while the women sit down, essentially right next to me. I scroll through my responses in my head which consist of waving or saying ‘how ya doin?’ But being right next to them I’d probably take out an eye with a wave so I trot out my best “how ya’ doin?” I even said it twice because there were two of them. Quite clever, huh? And I was ready for that to be it but within three minutes I learned more about these women than I know about my sister.
You see, when men talk we don’t talk about ourselves. We might as well be third party outraged narrators pointing out all the evils of our favorite teams or maybe politics if we feel real comfortable. “Did you see that error last night? or “You hear they’re raising our taxes again?” Third party outraged narrators.
But women are different. They talk. They talk fast and they burrow deep. I’m not a burrower. I like skimming along the surface like a flat rock.
But the two women talked about real things. One of them had cancer years before. The other was worried about how slow her son was picking up reading.
And all I’m thinking is “Hey, did you hear that the Phillies are strongly considering Pedro Martinez? Isn’t that outrageous?”
But here’s the real point of the story. Then they both told me what they did with their lives before the children. The one had been an account executive and the other had been in pharmaceutical sales. And they told me about their promotions and how nicely their careers had been progressing and then the one said, “But now I’m just home with the kids.”
And the account executive said, “If I had my druthers I’d be back in the office but…day care costs and…” and she trailed off.
And then it was my turn to talk. You see, people signify this by looking at you and remaining silent. See, I pick on these little subtleties. And then the one, obviously wondering why I look like I just ate a lemon, said with a polite smile, “If you had your druthers what would you be doing?
My response went something like this:
“Druthers. That’s a funny word. Who has all the druthers that everyone is always looking for? Everyone always says, ‘If I had my druthers, I’d…’ But I’ve never heard anyone say, “hey, you’ll never guess what I got today. I got all my druthers. I wasn’t even looking for them and there they were.” You know I’m starting to think there’s someone somewhere who’s confiscated all the druthers and they’re doing quite fine for themselves.
As I’m talking the one woman’s polite smile is becoming maniacally stretched. I can tell it’s not a real smile but she feels she’s under some obligation to smile at what I’m saying so she’s literally forcing the sides of her mouth to join her ears. But her eyes aren’t squinting as happens during a real smile. Her eyes are widening. She’s realizing I’m insane. So I stop talking.
And just so you know that level on insane non-sequiturs gets you only strange looks and a lot of silence. As well as a whole bench all to yourself. Just a few moments after my insanity giggled to the surface the two women found reasons to scatter to the far end of the park leaving me alone on the bench.
The jungle gym was mine again. Go Crips!
I wondered to myself while watching my children climb and slide and run, where I’d be if I had my druthers. And I couldn’t help but think that if I had my druthers I’d be on the park bench watching my children climb and slide and run. Maybe I’d have a book. And the four year old would be wearing a really big helmet. But that’s it.
And I wondered if those two women actually felt differently about their roles as stay at home parents or they just felt some kind of societal pressure to prove their worth by explaining their pre-child careers to me. And I felt bad about that. I’ve noticed a trend with stay at home parents that upon being asked what they do they often give a rundown of their previous career that takes a few minutes and then add a few words (almost as in epilogue) that now they just stay home with the kids.
I find it really sad that parenting is something we have to make an excuse for.
I’ve decided that when people ask me about myself I’m just going to say “I’m a stay at home Dad.” I’m not going to explain myself. Not going to say what I did before. I’m not going to explain what I also do now. When asked, I’ll say I’m a stay-at-home Dad.
I just don’t think anyone at this park will be asking me anything anytime soon. So I’ll just sit there on the bench watching all my children with no book and all my druthers.