Spending Quality Time With My Kids is Great, But Fatherhood Sure Can Be Awkward

J chasing O and B on tricycle.JPG

I’m always looking for fun activities to do with the kids after school and on weekends. It can be difficult, though, because it’s hard to come up with things a one-, three-, and six-year-old will all enjoy. 

My wife was out of town for a few days recently and suddenly the need for fun (time-killing) activities felt even more urgent. Don’t get me wrong, because I’ve been a stay-at-home parent for more than six years, I’m as equipped as anyone to solo parent for a few days, but really, no one is suitably equipped.

To make matters worse, my six-year-old has gotten really interested in Minecraft lately. I’ve refused to let him get the game on any of our devices at home, but he plays obsessively during our weekly visit to my parents’ house. Since I won’t let him play Minecraft at home, he’s taken to watching videos of other people playing on YouTube. This is probably worse (all the screen time, none of the creativity), but I’m good at drawing arbitrary lines and standing by them with relentlessness of a starving wolverine.

There is this one Minecraft YouTube channel called Subzeroextabyte and it has a computerized voice. It (he?) opens a lot of his videos by saying something like, “I am Subzeroextabyte and I am having a fantastic day and I hope you are having a fantastic day as well.” To my son, the computer voice guy’s building of Minecraft things like rollercoasters and houses is mesmerizing. To me, the computer voice’s stream of consciousness commentary is weirdly mesmerizing. I can only assume this is what the future sounds like. 

Between the six-year-old’s Subzero obsession and the one-year-old’s Trolls movie obsession, things have been getting pretty bleak. Desperate times call for desperate measures. To escape YouTube and Netflix, I finally had to embrace my children’s one shared passion: awkwardly loitering around in front of other people’s houses. 

The blueprint is a simple one. We wander around our street or nearby streets until we happen upon any children playing outside their homes. Then, we stand around and look at them, but don’t say anything or interact in any way. My children all love this activity very much.

One day recently, our little expedition that included a one-year-old alternatively riding and dragging a red Radio Flyer scooter, a three-year-old riding a Strider bike (a little balance bike without pedals), and a six-year-old leading the way on a sleek Ninja Turtles scooter managed to make it off our street and a whole block away to a cluster of houses overrun by children on the next corner over. It probably only took us about twenty minutes to travel the tenth of a mile. Our traveling efficiency has really increased in recent months. We usually only have to stop and turn around to retrace our steps or hop on one foot for some nebulous reason two or three times on each trip now. A marked improvement.

As we approached what we’ll call the neighborhood kid zone, the boys were several houses ahead of me and the one-year-old as we made our way slowly along a long stretch of straight sidewalk. The boys screeched to a halt when they reached the intersection, the rubber of their shoes scraping heavily against the cement to slow their vehicles.

They waited at the corner for me to catch up. Taking it all in. Preparing their loitering strategy.

By the time the one-year-old and I made it onto the scene, the boys were already loitering like all-stars. As I watched them standing there, scuffing their shoes against the pavement, talking to each other in hushed tones, I was filled with pride. They were truly walking (standing) in my footsteps. I don’t remember much from my early childhood, but I do remember middle school, high school, and most of my adult life and boy could I loiter with the best of them. My boys were destined for greatness and they seem to know it.

My moment of pride was interrupted when I suddenly noticed there was a dad standing beside me. I’m not sure how he snuck up on me, but the hood of his minivan that was parked next to us on the street was propped open, so he must have been hiding in there. 

Despite my surprise, I nodded and said hello, as one does. Then, while keeping an eye on the kids, I started hastily plotting escape routes in case car talk broke out. 

My six-year-old tugged on my shirt and motioned for me to bend over so he could tell me something. 

“I want to go home,” he whispered, “but I want to walk this way (past all the children) and around the long way to our house.”

“Perfect,” I replied.

“Man, you wouldn’t believe how much trouble this carburetor has been giving me?” the dad said. He was talking to me, I guess. He probably didn’t say carburetor, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was preoccupied by the sight of a menacing looking small child approaching on a three-wheeler. 

I nodded, gave a knowing smile, then looked around awkwardly for a few seconds. My children looked at me with sincere admiration. Master loiterer at work.

We made our way down the street and past the kids at play, stealing glances when we thought no one was looking. When we were clear of the crowd, however, we hit one final snag.

“I want to go back the other way,” my six-year-old said.

“To play?” I asked.

“No. Just to walk past them one more time.”

“Cool,” I said while panicking.

I took a few deep breaths, then I herded everyone back into the gauntlet.

By the grace of some higher power, we made it through the other side again and were almost home free when the sneaky dad reappeared from the trunk of his minivan. 

“Hi again,” he said cheerfully.

I hesitated for a moment before settling on the perfect response.

“Kids, huh?”

We all scurried past and raced down the long sidewalk to the safety of our cul-de-sac. What a great time. I can’t wait to do that all over again tomorrow. 

A version of this post originally appeared on City Dads Group on March 28, 2018.

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