I had a playdate yesterday with the stay-at-home-husband of my best friend. Like us, the family has recently migrated back to Canberra from England. My best friend is working and her husband is staying at home for now to look after their 18 month old daughter (hereafter referred to as Cub-ling to protect her secret and very sweet identity).
I have never had a playdate with a dad before but my best friend asked me to and women will do anything for their best friends, probably more unconditionally than they will do for their husbands. So off Tercero and I went to play with the dad and Cub-ling.
I’d like to share the following observations about the dad:
1. Whenever Cub-ling and Tercero started fighting over toys, he explained to me that Cub-ling was new to sharing and he didn’t know what to do. I think that was my cue to jump in, with six more years of parenting experience and three more children behind me, to help him. He is a first time parent but his confidence in himself did not seem shaken by the fact that he didn’t know what to do, he was happy to ask for help and learn a new skill. I was so baffled by this I repeatedly forgot to intervene (plus, there really is no solution to the sharing problem, I find it’s best just to buy the children several sets of the same toy so they all have one and leave me alone);
2. His house was tidy but it did not resemble a showroom (as it shouldn’t) and he was clearly comfortable (and not apologetic) about its state. When I was a first time mother and it was my turn to host the local mothers group, I cleaned the house for an entire week beforehand. I don’t know why, but I was determined to prove that my house was as clean/tidy/organised, my treats as home-made and my coffee as fairly-traded as theirs.
2.1 The laundry basket was full of clean but unfolded clothes. The dad did not find its unfolded presence an affront to his sense of order, he did not seem distracted by it, he did not seem to think he was locked (trapped) in an endless duel – mother against self-replenishing laundry basket. I got the sense that he would do the laundry when he felt like it and without noticing it. How novel.
3. When Cub-ling cried, instead of saying “What now?”, he immediately and tenderly attended to her needs, without any frustration over being interrupted.
4. When Cub-ling continued to cry inconsolably because Tercero looked at her the wrong way, the dad patiently continued to do his best to comfort her, without any sign of self-consciousness, self-doubt or embarrassment.
This man is a first timer. He was so relaxed it initially confused then stressed and finally relaxed me too.
I am no longer embarrassed by anything my children do. I am also no longer troubled by my ignorance and inability to deal with them competently. I only achieved this state of Maternal Buddhahood after the penance of two children, the birth of our third and acceptance of the Four Noble Truths:
1. One or more of the children will always do something embarrassing in public;
2. I won’t always know what to do in many situations no matter how many children I have;
3. If I walk away from my children fast enough in some situations, people may not realise they are mine; and
4. If, at the end of the day, by the grace of God, all the children are healthy, happy and safe, then today was a good day.
Somehow, this dad has fast-tracked to parental nirvana the first time round. I am hoping to have regular playdates with him, Cub-ling and Tercero – not because my best friend asked me to, but because I like him and hanging out was so…relaxing.