Semi-Retired Bad Cop
Every day at 5pm my husband, James, comes home to a hero’s welcome. It’s a fitting tribute for the Air Force JAG Officer (attorney) who reminds me with a smile and wink before he leaves each morning that he’s going out to defend my freedom. It all happens like clockwork. Our son stops in his tracks and listens, prairie dog style, to the opening of the garage door. He drops the toy he’s holding, pushes aside anything in his way (sometimes me), and waits at the door like an anxious puppy. I don’t even think he starts breathing again until it’s opened, but once it is, screams of “Hi, daddy!” can be heard from a mile away. Once daddy crosses the threshold, the tickling begins, and soon after, the festivities escalate to shoulder rides, wrestling matches, and high-speed chases around the living room. Dad is here – an unparalleled force of silliness-supplying, ruckus-endorsing, belly-aching entertainment.
When I came home last Saturday after completing a long list of errands, I expected this same greeting. I even opened the door slowly in accordance with father/son tradition, but my precious baby boy was nowhere in sight. Instead, I found him sitting on the couch with dad completely absorbed in his favorite show. He shot me an indifferent look after I said hello and quickly shifted his attention back to the TV. I wanted to say, “Hey! I gave birth to you! I remember to feed you – daily, I might add! Could you at least give me a head nod, kid?”
At the age of two, it appears my son has taken it upon himself to assign the parental roles. As the mom, I am the kisser of boo-boos, the champion of routine, the finisher of tasks, and the enforcer of rules. I guess all the other functions, the “fun” ones, have been set aside for his dad. It’s safe to say I’ve gotten the short end of the stick on this deal.
Although, I really can’t blame him for seeing me as his dad’s counterpart. I play the role of fun police well; I am an excellent bad cop to his dad’s good. My love of rules and order reinforces my son’s opinion, as does my highly reserved nature – I’m pretty sure I was born middle-aged. I’ve always been more comfortable watching from the sidelines. I have a knack for concocting fun suggestions and making cute comments, but never fully participate in things overly silly, risky, or adventurous. That is, until now. “No” is usually my default setting, but I’m thinking of letting my favorite word rest for a while. I’ve overused it; I say no when the answer can so easily be yes. I’ll begin to say yes by finding slack in our habitually rigid itinerary. I will say yes to spontaneity, to becoming a public spectacle, to slowing down, to being messy and improper, and to taking time to just be.
I’ll be setting aside my germaphobic tendencies to make mud pies. I’ll be making more of an effort to take pictures with him and not just of him, even when I think I look hideous. I’ll create the sock balls needed for our legendary laundry battles, even if it takes me all day to put the clothes away. I will crawl through handmade box forts until my bones remind me I'm turning 30 later this year. And if the mood to dance and sing ever strikes my toddler, I’ll be ready to join in and bless the world with my particular brand of spazzy and off-key.
While I still envy my husband’s fun disposition, it’s occurred to me that winning my son’s affection isn’t simply a matter of copying James’s actions. My son doesn’t want a cheap imitation; he doesn’t want me to act like someone else. He wants what I’m sure every kid wants – a mom who is fully engaged; a mom with the ability to distinguish what’s truly important.
When he looks back on his childhood, I want him to remember I was right by his side, living life with him instead of cheering from the sidelines. So even though there will still be times I have to lay down the law, he’ll know that’s not all he can expect from me. My son will benefit from two fun parents, because, at the risk of discomfort or embarrassment, I will say more often what are, to me, the three scariest words in the English language: count me in.
Eden Klinedinst is the author of Letters to New Moms: An Unusually Honest Look at the First Year. A portion of the profits will be donated to The Mommies Network.