“Go make some friends. You got this. It’s simple, really. Just introduce yourself, maybe tell a funny joke. But not a creepy-funny joke. No penis jokes, ok?” I say.
I give this speech whenever we head to the library story hour. My five-year-old loves story hour. He gets to play, fake read, and take the occasional shot at my junk. Yeah, this is where we are at right now, nut shots on dad. It’s a phase. Hopefully.
But this speech, the go make friends speech, is not for my five-year-old. It’s for me. Yup, this is my pep talk that I give myself as I sit down in the middle of the floor in front of the librarian. That’s primo real estate. Right in the middle of the rock hard floor. My butt will go numb but someone will have to at least sit next to me because where else are they going to go?
The Forcefield Forms
I’m there early, only a couple of moms linger around. The kids are having a Thunderdome, stuffed animals are thrown and kid hierarchy is being established. My son fits right in there with the rest of the kids. He makes it look so easy. One minute he was by himself, the next he has a cabal.
A mom’s group comes in. It’s large, I count seven moms and their toddlers. They stop at the curtained entrance and survey the room. They point to the spot next to me in front of the librarian. There is a pow-wow and they shuffle their backpacks and bottles to a corner.
The place begins to fill up. All moms with little ones in tow find their spots. They are really no different than me, not at all. We are all stay-at-home parents. I see an off-white stain on the pants of one of the moms. I know what that is. It’s baby puke. I could spot that stain from fifty yards away. I’ve lived through that stain. I’ve got three kids. If the mom got closer I could tell her how long the stain has been there and the best way to get it out. The mom talks to the woman that she came with. They sit somewhere behind me, another group forgoing the Librarian front property.
Soon it becomes standing room only. Children are tripping over legs and the voices of all the moms start to blend together so that no individual word can stick out. The moms sit shoulder to shoulder, strollers are parked along the far wall so that it looks like a consignment sale. There are so many people that the room has actually become hot. For most of the people here, they have got to be uncomfortable.
But not for me. Nope. I’m as comfy as a comforter. There are a good three feet of space on all sides of me. It’s like I’m surrounded by a forcefield that prevents any other person from getting into my personal space. Hell, I could lay down if I wanted to. My son takes a break to come over and give me a kiss. He jumps on my lap, feet first, aiming for that one spot that I wish he wouldn’t. No one is close enough to hear my “umph.”
The Librarian stands in the front of the room, welcomes everyone, and story time begins.
Do I Stink?
Do I stink? With any at-home parent, that is always a possibility and a question that we should always ask ourselves. I take an indiscreet whiff of my armpit so that it looks like I”m just wiping my nose a little bit. Nope, I smell fine but now all the moms think I’m the guy that blows his nose on his shirts. Awesome. My son sits on the floor in front of me, the only kid here with enough space to do that. The rest sit in laps.
Maybe the reason no one is sitting next to me is that I look intimidating? I’ll admit, I don’t look like Mr. Rogers. I’ve got a t-shirt and cargo shorts on–the universal uniform of the at-home dad. My pockets bulge with napkins and snacks. My sandals are a bit old and rustic looking but I’m not buying a new pair until these can no longer be patched with duct tape. My beard is trimmed though, and my bald head is nice and shiny. I don’t think I look intimidating. But maybe I do? Am I the type of guy that looks like Mr. Scary?
Or is this deeper than just my smell or my appearance? Is it because I am a man invading what is typically a mom party. That’s a possibility, I suppose. But I would think that would make me unique, even though it shouldn’t. There are tons of at-home dads around. We have playgroup on Wednesdays. There, people talk to me. But not at library story time.
The Librarian gets done with the first book and now it’s sing-along time. I stand up, making sure that I don’t bump against that invisible forcefield around me, and join in. My son and I hokey-pokey like champs. We stick a leg in, a leg out and you better believe we turn ourselves around. After the song, it’s time for another book. I take my seat realizing that I have become an island in a sea of moms. But I take a chance and say to one of the moms “I don’t think dad’s knees are up for any more hookey.” The mom smiles, she’s the one with the baby puke stain, and then very slightly scootches another inch away from me. Ouch, man.
It’s Ok To Talk To Me
Look, it’s ok to talk to me. I’m not scary, I swear to all that is holy. I know that maybe I can look scary, I’ll admit I’m not a small guy. But I promise I won’t make anyone feel uncomfortable or weird. I really do. It’s ok to talk to me, to sit next to me, and just chit-chat. Believe me, I know what it’s like to have the song from Paw Patrol burning a hole in your head all day. Adult conversation, even about the weather, is so welcome sometimes. We can even keep the forcefield up. I can hear through the barrier.
I’m just a dad trying to raise my kids. I run children to soccer practice, volunteer at school, and in the summer build medieval war machines with the kids. Ok, that last part probably isn’t a good icebreaker. I’ll have to remember that. But I promise I’m not here to pick up any moms, or flirt, or do any of the things that will make you uncomfortable. With volunteering for different kids activities, I have actually completed three background checks this year alone. I’ll show them to you. I’m totally harmless and it’s ok to make small talk with me.
But no one does. Storytime ends and all the parents pack up. I stay behind to help clean the area. I help the Librarian stack the books, I throw away discarded wet wipes accidentally left behind. In the corner, I stack stuffed animals that the library keeps on hand. When I look back, I see another dad. He’s younger than me, but not by much. He doesn’t have a beard but I know what he does by what he is wearing. A t-shirt and cargo pants. He stops for a moment when he sees me staring. I nod my head. He nods back.
I wonder if he will be back here next week?
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