Today was Daddy-Day care day at the mall and men who looked completed awkward with one, two, and even three children in tow found solidarity with other men whom they perceived to be just as uncomfortable. Smiles, nods, "how are you's" were the norm. I, however, must have had the look on my face that this is not uncomfortable or awkward or I just sent out a vibe where other fathers with children wanted to sit near me in the play section. Anti-social I felt, but when one man turned to me to talk, I took my gaze from our child, smiled and prepared myself to talk about the NBA play-offs, "gittin' Osammy been layden", the economy, or fuel prices...instead I was pleasantly surprised with, "I think Ian and Kathleen like playing with your daughter. How old is she?" Wow, normal parental talk, which I actually welcomed.
"Two on the seventeenth, what about yours?"
"She is four and he'll be two in September, we're working on sharing on the slide."
Also pleasantly surprised, Ian was doing his best to turn around on the slide, while Annabel patiently waited. After they both went down without incident, four year old Kathleen ran up to Anna and said, "Let's play Tag!" Anna promptly reached out, touched her hand, yelled "taaaaaaa-eeee" then ran away with Kathleen following.
I let Ms. Annabel play for a bit, but knew we were short on time. (Being ever prepared, I left her sippy on the counter at home and it was getting close to lunch time.) I did, however, feel that she would have thought I was being torturous for bringing her to the mall and not let her play in the kids area. So, let's play! A few minutes later, it was really time to head home. I scooped her up, telling her it was time to go home and eat. "EAT!" she yelled. The nuclear meltdown I was expecting was diverted, so I prompted her to tell her new friends "bye." "BYE!" This was uttered with so much intensity that Kelly Clarkson was briefly drowned out and a brief echo was heard resonating throughout the nearly deserted space. Kathleen, Ian, their father, and the two newly arrived families all paused and provided a collective "bye" as we made our way out of the play area, past the shoe store, the freshly baked cinnamon buns, and through Macy's. As I was leaving the Route 1 exit of Macy's, I passed another dad with his kids with a look of sheer terror on his face...that look that expresses his complete shock at entering a public space with both kids and no spouse in sight. I smiled, greeted him and wished he had a great morning out with the kids.