“Mommy, can you give me a horsey ride?”
“Nah, June, Mommy doesn’t do that.”
“Can you give me a piggy back ride?”
“Yeah, no…Mommy doesn’t do that either.”
“Because that’s what Daddy’s do.”
I realize this is gross and flagrant gender stereotyping but damn if I’m going to get down on my hands and knees and buck around the living room like some gyrating pony on speed. My body doesn’t respond to such loads.
It took me awhile before I was comfortable giving June this cold, hard truth of life — that mommy sucks at imitating a helicopter – out of a sense of guilt. I questioned (albeit briefly, but I did question it!) whether I was as fun loving and go-with-the-flow as I imagined. Maybe I was morphing into a crotchety old No-bot before June’s eyes, the kind of mom who won’t roll in the grass out of fear of getting her clam diggers dirty or won’t jump in the Bounce House because it might upset my carefully styled bangs (not that I have carefully styled bangs, but you know what I mean). That’s not me. Or is it? What’s the harm in a ten second piggy back ride if it makes my little girl smile?
The harm is this: Because once that seal is broken, it becomes a never ending stream of increasingly outlandish, challenging and demeaning requests. And when you’re already doing the heavy lifting of parenting — the butt wiping, consoling, the check-ups, the bedtime routine, the story telling, the grape slicing, the sock hunting — deflecting requests to morph into a fire spitting dragon on top of all that becomes some sort of cruel, terrible joke.
“Mommy, Mommy, lets play chipmunks. Your name will be Snickers, okay?”
“Mommy, Mommy, you be the choo-choo train and I’ll ride you ’round and ’round and ’round, kay?”
At first, I tried to be evasive with my polite refusals.
“Nah, hon, Mommy’s sciatica is acting up again.” (I don’t have sciatica.) “My bunion is on fire.” (I don’t have a bunion.) Or lately, “Nah, hon, I can’t go down the slippy slide with you because of the baby in my belly.” (This one is technically true; I have made it so.)
But all this did was give her false hope. She kept waiting for my sciatica, bunion and baby belly to “get better” so I could saddle up. I needed to make her understand that I’m not her personal cartoon animal. I’m not her court jester. I’m not some bucking, leaping buffoon. That’s what Dads are for.
Yes, I just reverted to gross and antiquated gender stereotyping again, but it’s true: Husbands make better amusement park rides than wives. They’re bigger, stronger, and — at least in the case of mine — have a higher tolerance for meaningless yet questionably safe physical exertions (throwing June higher and higher into the air despite her increasingly plaintive cries, for example) that have no end, or until she does in fact break down and starts violently weeping. At which point, June runs to me for solace while I give Jake a scornful glance. The joys of marriage and parenthood.
I have concluded it’s far better if I tell it to her straight — that Mommy doesn’t do that kind of stuff. I’m too old. I’m too lazy. I have too much dignity. And who will nurse her back to health after another of Dad’s fun rampages again?
So I risk coming off like a “crotch-bot” — a crotchety No-bot — but at least nobody calls me Snickers.