Monday, 9 April 2012

Jack and the X-Man

Hey, Owen. Naturally I've been pretty fixated with all the attendant tribulations and anxieties with raising a baby of your age, but I got a nice reminder the other day to appreciate just how easy you are. As someone once told me, "Appreciate each phase, because the next one is not always better than the last."

My friend and fellow stay-at-home dad Jack and I do "the trade-off" a couple of times per week at the rec centre. One day he takes care of you and his 18 month old son Ximon (uh...they're Basque) while I swim, then later in the week I return the favour when Jack goes for a run while you and I and Ximon hang out. We've done this probably a dozen times so far and generally it works out great; You're pretty chill with Jack and I have no worries about leaving you with an experienced Dad who I trust,  and Ximon is a mellow little guy who seems happy enough to toddle along with us on the days his dad splits. It's fun.

At least it usually is...

I guess Jack was recently away for a few days and little Ximon developed a 'touch' of separation anxiety. At the next trade-off, when Jack tried to walk away from us Ximon got pretty stressed and howled for him not to leave, grabbing at his dad's leg.

"Yeah, he's been doing this a bit recently." says Jack, "Let's head down to the playroom and the toys will distract him so I can leave."

"Ah," I think to myself, "Smart".

Yeah, Ximon wasn't having that.

Apparently the over-sized charms of the playroom were not nearly as interesting to him as clinging desperately to his Dad. At one point,  Jack tempts Ximon to check out the  slide as he winks at me and gestures with his chin towards the end of the big blue cylinder. I comply and move into position. With Ximon poised at the top, Jack says, "Yeah, go for it buddy" nodding enthusiastically behind his back in my direction.

All-of-a-sudden it dawns on me what's about to go down. I panic. I shake my head vigorously at Jack, eyes wide with alarm. Too late. Ximon slides into the void. Jack slips out the door like a ninja.

Ximon pops out the other end where I stand, holding you in one arm. I freeze and smile big. He immediately smells my fear, wheels around for his dad and finds only a swinging door.

Well, you can imagine how things went from here. The mellow little 1.5 year-old I had erstwhile known laid-down what can only be described as a full-on "wobbler" -- anguished sobs, dramatic collapses, blood curdling screams for his Dad, even some head butts against the playroom door for good measure.

Now, with you, by now I have developed a meager set of tools and strategies to deal with the various crises that can pop-up in our day: Fussing in the car? Easy: rock the car seat with my elbow while I drive. Getting hungry but it's still 30 minutes before mom nurses you? Here, suck on my finger, son. No worries.  But at this point, with Ximon thrashing himself against the door, you sitting in your car seat and starting to cry, the terrible realization dawns on me that I have ZERO skills suited to this particular situation. There's nothing in the tool box.

I try to pick Ximon up and move him over towards you so at least my twin crises are within the same 10 foot radius. This only serves to ramp him up even more as he thrashes wildly in my arms. I'm suddenly terrified that he may actually seriously harm himself, so I switch from, "How can I happy him up?" mode to, "How can I avoid giving Jack his son back with a few fresh dents in him?" mode. Other parents (read: Moms) in the playroom are starting to stare. Look away, people, I think to myself-- surely you've seen this before? A few comment, "Oh, looks like someone misses mom." Sheesh. I can't resist retorting with, "Missing his other Dad, actually". I relish the palpable awkwardness that follows and welcome the brief respite from my situation. My other friend Dave who is at the playroom with his daughter comes over with a cartoon on his iphone and tries to distract Ximon from his misery. Nice try, but no dice.

At  this point you are full-on crying in your car seat, but I can't leave my position 'spotting' Ximon for fear of the harm he might do himself. I'm desperate. I start to sweat. My brain races, speed-dialing through my feeble mental rolodex for something that will rescue me. Nothing. I give up.

"Well, OK, Ximon. Let's just go find your dad, then."

I pick up your car seat and we exit the playroom into the busy hallways of the rec centre, Ximon marching resolutely ahead of me. After about 30 steps he is so distracted by all the interesting sights and sounds of  people scurrying around that he has completely forgotten about his Dad. After 10 minutes of walking the halls I suggest we head to the playroom. He thinks it's the greatest idea ever.

20 minutes later I'm sitting on a bench in the playroom watching Ximon play on the slide while you suck contentedly on my finger, reflecting on what a parenting genius I am. Super Dad!

A little girl of about 6 sits next to me a few feet down. I smile and nod. Her mom pulls off her toque and lets out an audible sigh. The little girl's hair looks like it's been teased, blown, hair-sprayed and lovingly coiffed into a long, frizzy,  spectacular... mess. It's impressive. Very '80's metal band. I suppress a smile. The little girl looks over at me and says matter-of-factly, "My daddy did my hair today."

 I tell her it looks great. Mom rolls her eyes.  Another Super Dad.

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