My son halted his ascent up the iron staircase just short of the platform that was his goal. If he could make it there, he would have access to the train engineer’s vantage and he would flip his lid. He loves trains, and he loves this park, Dennis the Menace Park in Monterey, and he was about to combine the two into one massive toddler smorgasbord.
But as he neared the top he grew nervous, and he froze. He was unsure of his balance, and it occurred to him just how high he was, and so he started calling for my help.
I didn’t budge. I am a Satellite Parent, and there was no need to send in the troops just yet. But the mom with one kid in a front-carrier and the other patrolled by a nanny just could not take it.
Although I was standing mere feet away, and was communicating with my son as he tried to work through his challenge, all this mom could see, or all that she wanted to see, was that a toddler wanted help. Not “needed” help. Wanted help. She couldn’t credit me talking to him, she couldn’t credit me encouraging him, she couldn’t credit me challenging him. As she climbed up the stairs with her infant on her chest and moved past my son she reached down to help him up the last step.
“Is he okay way up here?” she asked, looking around at the train’s interior and down at my son.
“Yes, he’s fine,” I replied. She was obviously nervous about what was going on, and she started to hover a bit. And I started seeing the world through Indignant Stay-at-home Dad Glasses. I was standing right there, lady. Parenting. I was making an active choice to let my son meet a challenge to achieve a goal he’d set himself, and not only did you spoil all of that work in about three seconds of hand-wringing, but now you’re second-guessing me right to my face? How dare you.
I didn’t say anything. I never say anything. When my son started to come down the stairs after he was done playing she didn’t even wait to see if he would hold the handrail, as I was telling him to do, before she reached down with a hand to help him down the rest of the way.
I know, I know. Of course I must not know what the hell I’m doing, since I’m a dad, right? Or that I just don’t care. I probably only see my kids one or two days a week, so I’ll appreciate the help or some other crap.
Just, look. If you see a dad at the park and he’s with his kids and he’s talking to his kids and working them through a problem, just leave him the hell alone. He doesn’t need you. His kids don’t need you. He’s not lost. He’s parenting. Stay out of it.
And if she thought the top of the staircase was dangerously high up, I can’t imagine what she thought when my daughter came bounding over her head, on the roof of the train, yelling “Look at me, daddy!” I know what I thought, though: “That’s my girl.”