Playtime and Punishment

Ted Peterson
Authored by
Ted Peterson

January 13, 2012
10:52 p.m.

The thing about raising a three-year-old is you learn that sometimes the worst thing you can do is give them attention when they say or do something that pushes your buttons. The same can be said for responding to Rick Santorum, who said recently that kids would be better off with a father in prison than with gay parents.

The newspaper articles describing his statement always introduce his wacky words with “citing an anti-poverty expert.” Since Santorum didn’t give his “expert” a name, I don’t know how you can call that “citing.” If I turned in a term paper in high school and my citations didn’t include the name of the expert I was quoting, my teacher would call that “making stuff up.” For a moment in my analysis of the presidential contender, I considered I was giving too much attention to his bad behavior.

Then I thought about it, and wondered if Rick Santorum and his imaginary friend weren’t right. Maybe gay fathers and prisoners do have things in common. To be honest, the thought of the similarity occurred while watching a particularly riveting shower scene in a rerun of Oz, but I digress.
Even besides the obvious, the similarities really are too big to dismiss. For example, both gay fathers and prisoners tend to work out a lot. We are both required to do daily’ menial, even demeaning labor. We’re both into nicknames. And, I’ve noticed, neither gay fathers nor prisoners are allowed out on their own.

Of course, some of our single and kid-free friends still invite us over, and some of them even have toys and pets to entertain the tot, which is very sweet. Still, more and more often our social lives revolve around the Playdate. People who you can stand the sight of and have a child roughly the same age as your kid become your best friends just to get you out of your house. It used to be that Ian and I would be the matchmakers, but now that Mikey is in preschool, he has become the social vortex, getting invited over and wanting to bring his friends to our house.

Last Saturday, the playdate consisted of three of Mikey’s best school chums at his friend Brian’s house. Me and three moms in the dining room, while the four tots tore the family room apart. The parents’ chat was, as expected, mostly all about our little darlings in the next room. The travails and disgusting details of potty training is a major discussion at this age, but the funnier conversations are about the imaginative play, when they insist that they’re puppies, dinosaurs, garbage trucks, sharks, ghosts, babies, monkeys, and characters from popular movies. Mikey is currently obsessed with Snow White, and when Ian kissed him goodnight, he whispered, “I’m a dwarf.”

“Which one are you? Sleepy?”

He concentrated and let loose a squeaker. “No, I’m Farty.”

The moms had some questions about how to handle the boys’ questions about why Mikey had two fathers and no mother. I told them they could tell their sons what I told mine: that Mikey has a mother, but she couldn’t take care of him and keep him safe, and so we adopted him because we could. I also recommended a book that is one of Mikey’s favorites, The Family Book, by Todd Parr. It talks about how some families are loud, some families are quiet, some families have one parent, some families have two moms or two dads. Talking about it was a good reminder to get a copy of the book for Mikey’s school for his teachers to read during circle time.

The action in the family room was better and more educational. At this age, they do a lot of what is called “parallel play,” which means they play by themselves, next to their friend, but not interacting. Those are the quiet moments. When they’re playing together, the windows shake from the peals of hilarity and the screeches when there’s trouble. Which is often.

The little lord of the manor, like most three year olds, liked the idea of friends coming over to play with, but not the reality of them actually touching his toys. Mikey is sweet, but not a pushover. When Brian demanded that he get off a bike or hand back a toy car, Mikey just said, “Your turn is in five minutes,” and then ignored the cries until he felt his turn was over. Which was generally exactly five
minutes.

In other words, the situation was under control, but every parent felt they needed to get involved and make some effort at asserting a certain pathetic influence on their child.

Me: “After five minutes, it’s Brian’s turn, right, Mikey? Like you said, right?”

Mikey ignores me and keeps playing.

Brian’s Mom: “Brian, why are you crying? Didn’t you want Mikey to come over? You have to take turns, remember?”

Brian ignores his mom and keeps weeping.

Me: “Hey, Brian’s Mom, I couldn’t help noticing, you have some Jaegermeister in the fridge …”

And so it goes with the futilities of playground and prison yard politics.

There is, of course, one final link between prisoners and gay fathers, and that is recidivism. Statistics show that our nation’s penal system seldom rehabilitates its inmates, and there is an endless cycle of crime and punishment, followed by more crime and punishment. Ian and I have one son, and we’re taking the classes, renewing our CPR and First Aid licenses, and continuing to keep our foster license active. In other words, we could get a phone call about a little brother or sister for Mikey, and our crime spree will continue. We will not be reformed. heart

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