What is Dad-ness?
It’s the way a Dad “parents” his children. Dad-ness is better sometimes.
Parenting styles can vary greatly between Dads and Moms, and I think that oftentimes Dads defer to the Moms when they’re both around, and presume they know best.
And I usually do (insert smiley face), but I have on rare occasion released my ever-controlling grip of motherhood, and just watched the Dad-ness happen.
It can be awesome if you just let it happen.
But it does require “letting go,” and that can be difficult if you think about everything that can go wrong.
Part of being a great parent is the “anticipation factor” where you think ahead, predict outcomes, foresee danger, understand consequences. You’re always thinking about safety, and what can go wrong.
There was a day many years ago when I let the Dad-ness happen, and if my son, Cooper, had a memory of this particular day, then I’m sure it would be on his top ten list of “fun days.”
It was a lesson for me as the Mom, and a fond memory.
And The Story Goes…
I left in the morning at 8am to take my teenage daughter to a volleyball tournament in Chattanooga, about an hour away.
I left my husband, Greg, behind with our 4-year old, “all boy,” son named Cooper. Also in Greg’s care were 4 large golden retrievers–3 of which we were dog-sitting.
Greg’s main task of the day was to tackle the truckload of mulch that had been dumped in our driveway. Every wooden, shredded and chopped morsel must be wheelbarrowed to the backyard. Not an envious chore for anyone.
My absence was all day, having gotten back home at 5:30pm with a hot pizza in hand for dinner. Voila! Dinner is served.
I pull into the driveway as far as I can, which is only about half-way, because all the various toys (which at first glance appears to be every single one we own) and mostly-shoveled, but remaining mulch pile occupies the rest.
Where Is Everybody?
It looks like a bomb went off. A bomb of toys and mulch and more toys.
Every ball of every size, every bat, every racket, skateboard, skate, Frisbee, Nerf gun, Nerf gun bullet, jump rope, and did I say every ball? –has been dumped onto the garage floor and is scattered about the floor and into the driveway.
Also in the garage, is the large, orange and yellow golf umbrella propped open, and resting on the floor.
You can tell that Cooper’s latest game of “lifeguard” has been played at some point because his beach towel and beach chair are nearby.
It was April and not exactly “beach” weather, but Mom wasn’t exactly there to supervise, so Dad got the “say so” on that particular game.
I go in the house. The disaster continues.
I can’t count the number of shoes and flip flops that are scattered between the garage steps and the kitchen door.
And I can’t count the bits of mulch, leaves, and debris that lie among them.
Inside I was greeted wholeheartedly by the 4 large golden retrievers who I know have been loving every minute of this day, coming and going freely with the flow of mulch being shoveled into the backyard.
If only they could talk.
Their enthusiasm for my arrival does not sway me from seeing what a pigsty the house has become in my 9 1/2 hour absence.
It’s amazing what gets done and what doesn’t get done in one’s absence.
Breakfast and lunch dishes were on the counter, as was the jar of apple butter, that I’m certain has been sitting out since about noon time when someone made a PB&J.
And that same someone managed to put away the peanut butter, which is the non-refrigerated pantry item, but leave out the one thing that actually needs refrigeration.
You’ve got to wonder the thought process sometimes.
Never mind the sandwich crumbs on the counter. Never mind the mulch crumbs on the floor I vacuumed just yesterday.
I felt that twinge of accomplishment that comes from actually managing to find time to clean something in the house, go out the window in a rapid instant.
Less than 24 hours later. The “clean” is gone. Ugh.
There is every sign that human life has been here with a vengeance, but right now real human life is yet to be found.
It is quiet everywhere. I can’t find my people anywhere, but surely they are around.
My sleuthing continues out onto the screened porch where mulch has been continually tracked in all day by the dogs, and surely Cooper too.
I look out into the backyard to find someone, anyone, but all I see are the 2 large storage containers that DID contain all the balls, rackets, etc. that have been found to now be on the garage floor scattered everywhere.
AND the the containers are by the hose which I can see is still dripping.
As I look closer, peering my head over the deck staircase, evidence points to the fact that at some point today one of those 40 gallon storage containers contained water, as I can clearly see where it was all dumped into the yard, making a big muddy mess by the deck.
My motherly instinct of orderliness and control cringes at what obviously has taken place today, and I wonder what kind of parenting took place in my absence, or what parenting didn’t.
Where have Greg and Cooper gone?
That’s Not Where Used Pull-ups Go
A call down to the basement yields no answer. I then go upstairs. The pull-up diaper Cooper wore to bed last night and of course “wet” during the night is propped nicely on the dresser. That’s not exactly where I, the Mom, would put it, but Dad-ness is on the scene, and standard procedure isn’t so standard anymore.
There is a wet bathing suit on the floor…..hmmmm. Another clue.
I go back downstairs.
By the look of things I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that they are actually off to an emergency room, but Greg’s car is still here, so I know they can’t be too far.
Finally I see them walking up the trail behind our house, headed back home, from the school field, carrying a soccer ball. Cooper is now wearing “soccer attire” as clearly his earlier “pool” game has ended.
Greg is carrying all 56 lbs. of Cooper, a task that isn’t too easy these days for any length of time and you can tell that obviously it has been a long day for Dad and son.
I’m relieved to see everyone in good spirits with no noticeable bloodshed, and they wholeheartedly welcome a ready to eat dinner of pizza.
Now this is the where the lesson comes in. Where Dad-ness is on display.
We open the pizza box that has awaited us, and as we eat and talk, I point out the obvious mess, inquiring about the toy containers. I’m told Cooper played “pool” today, which confirmed every suspicion and every shred of evidence.
Inside I’m thinking that it is not really a game to be played on a cool spring day, but I wasn’t the parent in charge, so I kept my opinion to myself. Clearly anything the child wanted to do, Daddy let him do.
The controlling Mom in me is cringing, but I mustered up the strength to say nothing. To just let go.
It’s just one of those moments in a day where you shouldn’t react.
Greg tells me Cooper dumped the containers by himself, discarding every last toy on the garage floor, and proceeded to carry them (not that easy for a 4- year old, but maybe easy enough for a determined 4-year old) through the house, and down the deck stairs, into the backyard where he could handily fill them up by himself and make himself a pool.
Inside my heart is smiling at the image though I’m still mildly horrified by the mess outside that will require picking up.
Then Cooper went back inside, all the way upstairs (which would now be 2 flights) to change clothes into more appropriate attire.
Apparently part of the deal was that Cooper could play “pool,” but he had to change into the bathing suit by himself.
I’m sure that was motivation and not a deterrent.
After changing, it occurred to him that the bathtub toys would be a fabulous addition to his pool, so he collected all of them– probably about 9– in his purple and yellow plastic treasure chest, and carried them outside.
Then in his bathing suit he ignored the cold water and the 60 degrees outside and had his big, big share of fun.
Daddy Said, “Yes”
At this point I’m fairly certain that Cooper, who realizes most of the time that such an act of incorporating water and play does actually require permission, probably even asked Daddy if he could do this very thing, and Daddy obviously said yes.
It wouldn’t have been MY answer that day.
So Greg’s answer to my raised eyebrows were, “I was trying to get some work done.”
And there it was. The 8 words that summed up every self-made, Cooper-made mess throughout the house and yard.
There in a nutshell I knew exactly what Greg meant and it explained exactly how it happened.
The backyard was covered with all the thirty some-odd mulch piles he shoveled into a wheelbarrow and hauled back there. It’s a thankless, laborious annual task….seeing that dump truck load of mulch in your driveway, knowing how long and hard it will be to make it go away.
And I know that it sometimes takes a day like that day, letting your kid do exactly what he wants to do as long as no one gets hurt.
Cooper had a better day than if I were home being the parent, and that was the beauty of it all. There was no real harm.
The casualty became the house, but in “best days” in the book, this was probably one of them for Cooper.
And deep down, for me. It was good for the soul to be post-witness to what was clearly a fulfilling day for my 4-year old son.
You accomplish one thing, but lose another.
You go 7 steps forward, but have to take 5 back as penalty for your progress. But your sanity remains somewhat intact when you just don’t worry about things.
We all get by. Sometimes we get by in different ways, and sometimes that’s a good thing.
Yup, I’ve had days just like the one Greg had. Sometimes you have to let go of that tight grip of parenting to get things done.
And you just hope for the best.
And For the Punchline…
So grimy and napless (he would’ve had a nap on my watch says the controlling Mom!), and stuffed with pizza, I take Cooper upstairs to get ready for a warm, bubble bath.
Surely he is exhausted….the good kind of “kid exhaustion” that comes from a beautiful, spring day when every kid in the cul-de-sac is out playing and having fun, and it’s just great to be a kid.
But in spite of the long day without Mommy, Cooper is actually still cheery and surprisingly cooperative. We’re in the bathroom, and I’m helping him him take his shoes and socks off, and get undressed for the bath, and I observe that he’s not wearing any underwear.
“Cooper, where’s your underwear?”
And quite simply, and matter of factly, he says, “I’m not wearing any, Mommy.”
I didn’t have to ask questions. I just smiled cause I already knew. It was the Dad-ness that deserved the credit.
You know he had a awesome day.