Will loves the playground. And not just because it’s a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but also because it’s challenging.
The one by our house has a cool plastic climbing structure that really makes Will work. It starts off vertical with holes throughout for hands and feet, before it twists down horizontally and then back up again before reaching the platform on the other side. It not only forces Will to think about where his hands and feet go, but also whether he wants to traverse the top portion or go underneath.
The result is many attempts that fail spectacularly.
As you can see in the picture, slips and falls are guaranteed as he learns the best ways to make his way along the structure. When we went yesterday, he fell off close to a dozen times before he finally made it. As you can see, the highest distance he can fall from is roughly 4 feet, and the entire ground is soft mulch that makes for a cushioned landing. So while I offer him plenty of cheerleading and advice when he asks for it, that’s the extent of my involvement. Because as long as you make sure they’re safe (which Will was), I think it’s important for parents to let kids find their own way without babying them.
Today there were a bunch of kids there with their parents. One mother of a boy who looked to be about 2 years old caught my eye, mainly because she couldn’t take her eyes off Will. Each time he fell she winced and looked disapprovingly in my direction. I’m used to that, as overprotective “playground moms” are unfortunately pretty common. But I did not expect what happened next.
Will tried to go on the left side to climb, got halfway there, and thought twice about his decision. So he attempted to go back to the platform to start over, then slipped but caught himself. The end result was him hanging from the top with one tippy-toe on the platform as he struggled to make it back to where he started. He whimpered a little bit and called out for me, but I told him he was doing great and he could figure out on his own if he stayed calm.
And that’s when “Playground Mom” decided she had enough because she walked briskly over to him and said “You need help sweetie? Give me your hand.”
I was furious but not exactly shocked since I had seen it building to that point for the previous 10 minutes. But I still wasn’t about to let it go without addressing it.
“Excuse me, but he doesn’t need your help and he’s fine. I’m his dad and I’m right here.”
“Well clearly he does need help because he’s about to fall,” she said in full condescending mommy tone.
“Maybe, maybe not. But either way he’ll be fine. I can parent my own kid.”
Then, just as she looked like she would blow her top, my boy came through big time and shut her up in the best way possible. Still hanging there, he politely said “No thanks, I can do it myself!” and proceeded to climb his way back to the platform without help from anyone.
“Imagine that,” I muttered with a victorious smirk as Mrs. Know-it-all Mommy McMommerson huffed away, no doubt to get more bubble wrap to insulate her poor son from every bump and bruise on the horizon.
Look, you can parent however you want but I have multiple problems with what happened. First of all, it’s just another in a long list of examples that show some moms think they know everything — especially compared to dads. To openly step in and insert herself with me — the kid’s actual parent — right there? Maybe she would’ve done the same to another mom, but I doubt it. It’s a shitty attitude and I’m unbelievably sick of it.
Second, we are raising a generation of kids who know nothing about taking risks. Even on the monkey bars and playgrounds of America, the minute they hit some turbulence and adversity mommy and daddy are there to rescue them — and give them a trophy in the process. It makes me ill. My son won’t be great at everything, but he’s going to try his damndest. Because every attempt ends in failure until it doesn’t. Every fall builds determination to finish. Every setback is a lesson learned that gets you one step closer to your goal.
I let my son fall — and fail — so his future accomplishments will be that much sweeter and well-deserved.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came in the form of a text message from my wife. This is what she sent:
I know what you’re thinking. “Really? You’re upset about this?? Get a life.” I get it and you’re not alone. Hell, I showed it to a few fathers in my dads’ group and many of them thought the same exact thing. Some even said it was funny and told me I was being oversensitive. Don’t get me wrong, this ridiculous onesie in and of itself is not the end of the world. I didn’t see this picture and suddenly reach for my pitchfork, start a petition, and rise up in fiery vengeance with the goal of putting Sara Kety — the manufacturer — out of business. And frankly, I’ve seen worse instances of perpetuating the idiot dad stereotype.
So why was this bothering me so much?
Even if you find this funny — which I don’t — then it should be funny if directed at moms too, right? So I immediately began searching out the “this shirt is mommy-proof” onesie. But guess what? They don’t make one. Curious, don’t you think? After all, if this is all in good fun and I’m just missing the joke because I’m too sensitive, then everyone else would find it funny. But apparently it’s only “funny” to joke about dads being inept parents. Because if Sara Kety made a product basically calling moms idiots who don’t know how to take care of their babies, there would be a mommy backlash of epic proportions. But since dads lack the same muscle and influence, it goes under the radar.
The reason I’m so bent out of shape about this is because it’s a small problem that’s indicative of a much larger and more serious issue.
On one hand, dads hear everyone telling us how important involved fatherhood is. And I agree completely. Studies have proven children with involved dads have enhanced cognitive abilities, stay in school, have increased self-confidence, wait longer to have sex for the first time, and are less likely to be depressed. Furthermore, American men are becoming stay-at-home fathers in record numbers. And even if they’re not staying at home, men are paying more attention to work/life balance and heeding the call of women everywhere to step it up at home by taking on more of the household and childcare duties.
All that is well and good and encouraged. But herein lies the rub.
The same people — mostly moms — who claim to be overworked and desperate for dads to do more, are all too often the first ones to criticize them when they do step up for not doing things right. And by right, I mean their way. I’ve seen dads criticized and made fun of for how they dress the baby. For how they feed the baby. For how they handle things differently than moms. Despite the fact that most first-time moms are just as clueless and confused as first-time dads, it’s chic to make fun of the dads while moms are assumed to know absolutely everything. As if the parenting instruction manual is imprinted in the female DNA. The fact that mothers face an unfair societal expectation to be a perfect parent from the get-go is a separate, albeit deserving, issue. But it’s no reason to crap all over the very same people you just asked to help more.
Guys see the low bar set for dads on commercials and TV shows and will only rise high enough to meet it. And when their wives dress the baby in a shirt that basically calls them idiots, they’ll soon learn they’re expected to be no-nothing dolts so there’s no need to improve.
I’m not looking to pull the shirt from shelves or put anyone out of business (as if I had that clout). If there’s a market for it and it sells, so be it. And while I’m all in favor of witty, legitimately funny stuff that pokes fun at dads, I don’t think this fits the bill. I think because no one would dare make fun of mothers in this fashion, it’s harmful to attack dads. More than that, I just don’t understand it. If you want to help raise the level of active and involved fatherhood, why on Earth would you go out of your way to deride them with crap like this?
This onesie on its own isn’t so terrible, but combine it with all the other negative messages guys receive. Dads on TV who can’t take care of their kids on their own. Dads in diaper commercials who are the “ultimate test” because of their incompetence. Dads who are told they’re not doing things right simply because they do things differently. I genuinely believe the smaller stuff like the onesie piggybacks on all the other crap we absorb, until it becomes part of a defeatist attitude and a self-fulfilling prophecy in which we all lose.
So while things like this might seem irrelevant to many and certainly aren’t the end of the world, it is worth speaking up. I can only hope more people realize how harmful this is to men seeking to be involved dads, and avoid buying it so companies will realize it’s no longer profitable to make fathers a punchline.
The heartbreak was not relegated to runners on the infamous hill at mile 20 yesterday.
For those of you who don’t pay attention to the news, two bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon injured more than 120 people and killed three others — including an 8-year-old child, according to news reports. I grew up — and still live in — a town 30 miles south of Boston. I work 12 miles from Boston. And for two years I lived in parts of the city called Allston and Brighton. When you factor in all the sporting events witnessed there and the bars frequented in my youth, it’s safe to say it’s a city I know and love. And Patriots Day is Boston’s moment to shine.
Let me paint you a picture:
Most of the city has the day off to celebrate the first battle of the Revolutionary War, but what that really means is everyone in Boston is doing one of two things — watching the 11:05 a.m. Red Sox game or taking in the Boston Marathon. It’s more of an experience than a sports day. Everyone starts drinking at 9 a.m. — even earlier if the weather is good — and Bostonians celebrate what many consider to be the actual start of spring. Everyone is happy and the mood is celebratory. If you time it right and the Sox cooperate, you can potentially see the Red Sox win, walk outside the stadium and see the runners in Kenmore Square enter the final mile before finishing in Copley.
It’s really pretty spectacular, and it’s the kind of day and event that you can only experience here.
Someone, or some group of people, bombed spectators near the finish line. Everything is still under investigation at this point and I’m not going to add to the speculation. That’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that I knew multiple people who were there today. It’s about the fact that if I could’ve gotten tickets, I would’ve taken my son to the game and then to see the runners finish. It’s about attacking a group of innocent people doing nothing but cheering on family and friends, as well as runners who spent months if not years training for this one day to complete something truly magnificent in the realm of athletic achievements.
You bombed Boston today. You took at least three people — and one little kid — away today with your actions. I have to assume you’re pleased with that outcome, as no one detonates a bomb unless they want it to destroy those close to it. And yes, you scared a lot of people and wreaked genuine havoc. But wherever you are, I hope you take note of a few things.
I hope you noticed the number of people running for cover was dwarfed by the multitude of heroes who ran toward the blast. They weren’t even all law enforcement either. Some were just random bystanders and volunteers, but it didn’t matter because they ran into the hell you created and they’re the reason there are so few casualties. The smoke hadn’t even cleared before they were there to battle the evil you concocted.
I hope you noticed the runners who never stopped running, but instead took it upon themselves to detour to the nearest hospital to give blood.
I hope you noticed random stars like former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi jumping into the fray to save people. He learned it from his brothers — Sept. 11 first responders who rushed toward the Twin Towers when everyone else was running away. Even our famous athletes get their hands dirty here.
I hope you saw social media ablaze with support for Boston in the form of thoughts, prayers, and memes in seemingly instantaneous fashion.
And if you really need proof your efforts backfired, look no farther than the Bronx. Yankee Stadium put up a “United We Stand” message with a Red Sox logo on it, and sang Sweet Caroline during their game. Your efforts at division and destruction somehow managed to bring together two blood rivals who make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict look like a mild skirmish. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
And I hope you look at all of this and realize that while you hurt us, you won’t win. You can’t win. Because most people are inherently good, and in Boston we take care of our own. That includes the injured runners and spectators who aren’t from here, because when you’re a guest in our town you’re one of us. The goal of terrorism is to instill fear and tear people apart, but you must not be from here because you have no idea what lengths we’ll go to to take care of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones.
I will admit I listened to the police scanner after the blast and the chaos and desperation in the voices of the responders was heart-breaking. Everyone driving a box truck was a potential terrorist and everyone with a backpack a suspect. Then all the calls from runners and spectators poured in talking about every suspicious person they saw near the finish line. I did fear the fallout because it’s only natural for the city to be thirsty for vengeance, and I worried some of it will be taken out in the wrong way on the wrong people.
Events like this rob us of people which is the worst, but also of our innocence and a little of our humanity as well. And it kills me.
So I beg Bostonians to be better than the person or people who declared war on us. Let’s avoid talk of lynch mobs and vigilante justice. Let’s not joke about roving gangs of pissed off Southie thugs tracking the perpetrators down before the police so they can tear him/her from limb to limb. Instead, let’s remember who we are.
We’re Boston. We’re hardy New Englanders who seem as cold as our weather to the outside world, but secretly we’re marshmallows when it comes to the people we love. We’re hard-working, honest and devoted to family. We make friends for life. We’re educated and home to some of the world’s leading colleges and universities. That’s why we’re better than the people who did this. We’re stronger than the people who did this. And we’ll battle the people who did this by getting through this together.
You’ve given us your worst but I’m confident you’re about to see the very best of Boston.
Fenway Park is a cramped, antiquated place to watch a baseball game. Fans in left field sit atop a 37-foot tall Monster, fans in right field face the wall in left field instead of home plate, and fans taller than 5’5″ weighing more than 150 lbs have serious trouble fitting into seats built for people 101 years ago. It’s a physically uncomfortable experience that can leave you bruised and sore long after you leave the confines of Updike’s “lyric little bandbox.” Simply put, it’s a ballpark that often matches the awkward and tumultuous Red Sox organization to which we pledge ourselves for life.
I’ve been a Red Sox fan for 33 years and never been to a home opener. My son just turned 5 and now — thanks to the overwhelming generosity of my parents — he can add it to his Red Sox resume.
Bringing a little kid to a Red Sox game is — well, it’s difficult. Especially this time of year, since April in Boston is generally an extension of winter. Usually it’s 40 degrees and raining, which makes baseball crowds look like Patriots fans in November. But at least the football folks expect that, whereas the Boys of Summer are generally associated with the aforementioned season of the same name. Which is a long way of saying people are effing IRATE when spring hasn’t sprung on time.
But sometimes the baseball gods grant you a perfect day, bestowing upon you 70-degrees of sun-shiney awesomeness in which to bask. It was a day you’re lucky to get in June, forget April. And despite the usual difficulties involved with taking a 5-year-old to a sporting event in which he has to stay in the same seat for hours on end, it was one of the best days of my life. Here are a few highlights:
– On the green line heading to Kenmore Square, Will was enjoying the train ride. Then the conductor — sporting a ridiculous Boston accent of course– said “Next stop, Kenmore. Exit here for Fenway Pahk.” Will’s head snapped around with a huge smile on his face as he started jumping up and down yelling “Fenway Park! Fenway Park! Dada, the Red Sox. We’re here!!” Needless to say he was a train favorite among our fellow riders.
– There is nothing — and I mean NOTHING — like sharing a Fenway Frank with your son for the first time. We also had fries, orange soda, a pretzel, M&Ms, cotton candy, popcorn, and ice cream we ate out of a miniature batting helmet. Everyone knows calories and healthy eating don’t exist on opening day.
– We sat in a section of the bleachers right up against the right field roof deck. There are many fans who stand along the railings, so if we looked up and to the left they were hovering over us and within shouting distance. I was watching the game with Will on my lap so I didn’t notice him gesticulating and making faces. Finally he tapped me on the leg and pointed up to the roof deck. Turns out he had been communicating with a very attractive 20-something woman, and all of her friends had taken notice. Will then blew her a kiss and the roof deck went absolutely NUTS! That’s when she screamed down “Oh. My. God. You are so cute. When you turn 18, you call me!”
Of course, it wasn’t all fun. Will is, after all, only 5 years old. That means his attention span is still — well, it’s crap. I really wanted to make it to the 7th inning stretch so we could at least sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and fulfill my Field of Dreams fantasy. So you can imagine my disappointment when he turned to me in the top of the 2nd inning and tearfully told me he wanted to go home. Even after all the treats I got him he still wanted to leave in the 5th inning, so I reached deep into my parenting toolbox and came up with the best weapon I could find — bribery.
Will now has a new stuffed Red Sox Rally Monkey. I died a little inside buying a stupid gimmick that originated with lame west coast Angels fans, but it bought me two more innings and led to the best part of the day.
Will’s favorite player is Will Middlebrooks, the up and coming Red Sox third-baseman who wowed everyone the day before by hitting three home runs in one game. But Will likes him because they share the same name. The Red Sox were tied with the Orioles 0-0 in the 7th with runners on 2nd and 3rd. And who else strides to the plate but Will’s favorite player. His interest in the game was intermittent at best, but when I told him Will was up and the game was in his hands, he suddenly became laser focused. He started shouting “GO WILL! YAY WILL MIDDLEBROOKS!” at the top of his lungs. It drew some smiles and stares from the people around us, and I quickly explained his name is Will too. My son’s enthusiasm became contagious and suddenly everyone around us began to join in the chant. Suddenly half a section was chanting “WI-LL, WI-LL!” in the middle of Middlebrooks’ at-bat, to the point it wasn’t clear if they were shouting for Middlebrooks or my son. It was actually pretty damn cool and gave me chills.
A hit right then and there would’ve absolutely brought the house down and been a fairytale ending, but the baseball gods can’t ALWAYS come through. Middlebrooks struck out, which devastated my son and sent him into a tearful fit.
Then, as I was trying to calm him, Daniel Nava blasted a 3-run homer over the Monster giving the Red Sox a lead they would not relinquish as they went on to beat Baltimore as well as giving us reason to smile, high-five and celebrate.
I get the people who say it’s a waste to bring kids this young to the game. They never make it to the end, the tickets are ridiculously expensive, and you can easily drop $100 for food, drinks and stuffed bribery monkeys. The kids never sit still, they whine about everything, and you barely get to watch any of the game. It’s all true, I can’t deny it. So why did I bother bringing Will?
Years from now when he’s proving his Red Sox pedigree to someone, he’ll talk about this day. He won’t even remember all of it, but he’ll remember something. Nava’s homer, the outfield grass, the Green Monster…he’ll recall the details with youthful and nostalgic rose-colored glasses. He’ll remember that his old man took him to opening day at Fenway Park, and in time he’ll come to recognize and appreciate what that means and the tradition behind it. He’ll know he didn’t just sit in the same park where Ted Williams painted a seat red with a 502-foot home run and Dave Roberts stole a base from history, but that he was in the same place where my dad took me countless times. And his grandfather took him. It’s a place and a team that ties generations together — even when the Red Sox rope forms a noose.
Will fell asleep on the train ride home. He was curled up against me and I had my arm around him while he rested his head on my shoulder. I just watched him fondly for three stops, smiling at his cuteness decked out in Sox gear and noticing how the sun brought out a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose.
I looked up and saw a grandfather with his grandson sitting diagonally across from us in roughly the same position. He nodded at me and smiled. I nodded back. Then he leaned in and said “Remem-bah this. This here is the good stuff brotha.”
I will always remember my first opening day with my son, because yesterday the game became far less important than the moment and the memories.
Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up like usual, creep around the corner, and whisper “Dada, can I come lay down with you?” You’ll climb over me — somehow finding a way to knee me in the balls no matter how I defend against it — and snuggle next to me. You’ll sleep with your knees pulled up to your chest and your feet perpetually kicking me. And I won’t move or complain, because I only have about five minutes before I need to get up for work — and these are the best five minutes of my day.
As fast as those five minutes go by, the last five years have rocketed past us at a special brand of warp speed familiar only to parents. In some ways it was only yesterday we were wondering whether you were a boy or a girl at the hospital, and in other ways it feels like you’ve been around forever and we can’t clearly recall our lives before you.
Today, on your 5th birthday, I need you to know a few things. Things I tell you all the time, but that need to be recorded for your teenage years when we’re at each other’s throats and I need a reminder of what a good kid you are.
Because you’re a great kid. Honestly, you’re spectacular. Sure you misbehave and get mouthy and disrespectful sometimes, but that’s part of being five. All in all, I marvel at how well-behaved, polite and thoughtful you are on a daily basis. It’s like someone magically took all the best parts of your mom (she has an abundance) and me (of which there are regrettably few), and injected them into you. Case in point:
– You are unfailingly polite. Everything is “please” and “thank you” without us having to constantly remind you. You also hold open doors for everyone and always let ladies go first.
– You’re a natural storyteller. You have my flair for the dramatic and ability to command a room and everyone’s attention. It’s no surprise since the day you were born consisted of a traffic jam, road closures, dead bodies, and the State Police. And to top it off, when you tell said tall tales you do so by gesturing wildly with your hands to make your point — exactly like your mother.
– Your empathy knows no bounds. When someone you love is sick you ask how you can help make them better. When Mom falls asleep on the couch you sneak over quietly and give her the lightest kiss on the forehead. When you saw a cat with no collar you begged us to take her home so we could care for her. Even when you play with your friends it’s not destructive and you seldom try to kill or blow things up. You’re a fixer and you want to make things better. I love that about you.
– You are a total people pleaser. When mom and I are disagreeing you NEVER take a side. And on the rare occasion we argue in front of you, you always intercede and try to get us to stop without ever assigning blame. Some would say you’re a born politician with how you walk the tightrope, but that’s not the case. You just want everyone to be happy and you’ll go to the ends of the Earth to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
I could go on forever but the point is, you are an absolute joy Will. I love you so much for so many reasons. Did you know you are the main reason mom and I kept trying to have another baby? It’s true. I mean of course we wanted another baby, but you made the decision that much easier because of your personality. You’re loving, patient, kind, and always ready and willing to help. You have every quality a big brother should have and it would’ve been a travesty to deny you a role for which you are perfectly suited.
You’ll get lots of presents for your birthday and you deserve them all. But I’m just not sure there is anything I can give you that is greater than what you give to me on a daily basis. When you tell me you want to work with me when you grow up so we can always be together. When you catch me staring at you in amazement and give me a smirk before throwing your arms around my neck. When we sing Share the Darkness or the Rattlin’ Bog together at night before bed.
You’ve gone from an adorable baby to a cute toddler to a perfect little boy. It’s the greatest honor of my life to be your dad, kiddo. I’m not the best father in the world, but no one is prouder of a kid than I am of you. Happy birthday pal.