I pride myself on being a hands off/free-range kind of dad, especially when it comes to the playground. I attempt to emulate my neighborhood moms in most ways, but I cannot fathom heading out into the jungle gym myself, unless explicitly invited by my daughter. The reason is twofold. Selfishly I want that time to space out or blissfully stare at my daughter from afar. (And yes, I will cop to furtively sneaking glances at my smart phone.) And unselfishly, I really feel that it is her space, and I want her to learn to navigate it.
I recently got a friend to take her to the playground so I could play frisbee in the adjoining park. This is easily simultaneously one of the geekiest and jockiest things I do. Appropriately, I injured myself on the first day of the season, diving underneath a fellow player, a medieval-bearded-kind-of-dude named Duvid, to intercept a pass. He landed on a part of my body that I didn’t realize could be injured, the meaty small of my back on the left side. Essentially, my love handle. I had the wind knocked out of me, but got back in for the next play, and promptly re-injured it, so I hobbled over to watch my daughter, who I had been feeling extremely guilty for leaving, anyways.
I found her on the swingset. At this point, pushing my daughter on the swing was not an option, so I obeyed my inclination to hang back. I saw her at the center of a group of moppets. I couldn’t hear her voice, but her pantomime was clear. The group of fellow 4-year-olds hoisted her in the air, like a group of moshers helping someone crowd surf. As her cohort pushed her, I saw a look of beaming pride I have seen few times on her face.
I felt completely validated in my hanging back to give space. “She doesn’t need me,” I practically purred. There are some family stories involving nameless relatives of mine lining up all of their playmates and giving detailed instructions of how they needed to play, but this was different. Ronia was the instigator, but was happy to give others a turn. I stood there, aching with love for my charismatic spark of a daughter.