As a stay-at-home father, one of the biggest jobs I have isn’t feeding or changing my twins. It’s making sure that they are kept busy. The busier they are, the happier they are and, in turn, the happier I am.
We do a lot of activities at home, but sometimes I just have to get out of the house. Our Las Vegas Dads Group meets a few times a month at local children’s play places. If you are unfamiliar with these, they are a far cry from the McDonald’s play areas you are probably imagining. One place has little themed rooms such as a pretend beauty salon, a make-believe grocery store and a fire station, complete with costumes and a fire truck wagon. There is another place we visit that is home to a three-story padded jungle gym. It’s equipped with 6 different slides, an obstacle course, and a huge ball pit.
Tuesday was one of these playdates and I was busy that morning doing my Terminator 2 routine. This is where I play with one of my children while constantly scanning the room for the other. When my eyes lock in to where they are, I watch them until they look like they are getting bored and then I leave the one I’m playing with to do a search-and-rescue mission with the other. Then we play together and I begin scanning the room for the first one.
At one point in the morning I was going over letters with Gavin in the “school” room when my cyborg senses started going off. I left a book in my son’s hands and went off in search of his brother. I found him on the trampoline playing with another child who was maybe a year older than him. Standing by the entrance to the area was his mother, shouting commands to him in another language. As I get closer, although I have no idea exactly what she is saying, I can decipher the sign-language. She’s telling him to cover his mouth with his arm as he’s coughing up a lung.
I lock eyes with my boy. My healthy, non-cold infested little half of the double trouble team, who has had only one cold in the past two years. (And it was after a play-date).
“Carter, do you want to go swing?” I asked him, putting us much excitement into my voice as I possibly could.
A smile lights up on his face, and he quickly left the trampoline and the sick germ-ridden child behind to join Dad on the swings.
This is when I realized that there needs to be a set of rules for parents at these play places. The kids already know what they can and can’t do, so I think that moms and dads should follow a few guidelines as well:
Play Place Etiquette Rule 1: No sick children.
This should be a no-brainer, but I keep seeing children who are far from well in play places so it has to be No. 1 on my list. Most of us work very hard to keep our kids feeling well. The only thing worse than being sick is dealing with a sick child. Not only do you feel bad for them, all stuffed up and miserable, but they are grumpy as hell when they don’t feel good! Please don’t make my children any grumpier than they are — leave your sick kid at home. “But they need exercise!” you tell me. I get it. Bundle them up and have them run around the block.
Play Place Etiquette Rule 2: Pay attention to your kids.
I’ve seen parents who walk in, let their kids run loose, and then open up a book or start playing on their phone. All the shouts of “Mommy, look at me” go ignored and now your brat of a hellion is pulling on my leg for attention. I get it. It’s nice to have a break now and again, but this isn’t the place. Even though I’m all about my kids learning independent play, I ALWAYS know where they are, who they are playing with, and if they have a load of poop in their diapers!
Play Place Etiquette Rule 3: Watch your language.
Around the house my wife has threatened to follow me around with a bar of soap to wash my mouth out. Why? Because I am a great swearer. We’re talking Olympic medal great, but it’s not so great around 2-year-old toddlers, so I’m learning. I DO know I can go without swearing at home, though. How do I know? Because I don’t swear when my sons and I are out. I just don’t. Maybe it’s that I don’t want others to judge me that stops me from spewing profanities. I just want you to know that if you say a bad word and my kids can hear you — I will judge you. I’m probably going to stare at you and give you dirty looks as well just as I’d expect you to do to me.
Play Place Etiquette Rule 4: Leave the food at home.
I know most places let you bring food in. It’s easy to stop in the middle of your book, give little Johnny some Goldfish crackers and a handful of blueberries, and then go on to the next chapter. What you don’t see is that your little angel has made blueberry jam all over the play-place floor by dropping them right where people are walking. Oh, and and he’s offering his yellow cheese crackers to the highest bidder. Why not also bring some peanuts, and see if anyone is allergic? All I’m saying is that just because something is allowed doesn’t mean you should do it. Most places will let you leave for a bite to eat and then let you re-enter without paying a second time.
Play Place Etiquette Rule 5: Be friendly.
Dads, moms, grandparents: We are all on this journey together. It never hurts to say hello to each other. Since starting our dads group and spending time with my children in public, I’ve noticed a great divide between caregivers out there. My wife has been talked down to. I have been ignored. Other dads in our group have been shunned by people at playgroups. We are not the enemy. Our kids are, LOL. One of the greatest things about our group meet-ups is that our dads have kind of taken on a pack mentality. We watch out for each other and our kids. All of us, as parents, should be doing that.
A version of this first appeared on Daddy Double Trouble.