Dad at the playground

One fine summer afternoon | Circa 2013

“Sid.” calls out my wife in her sweetest voice.

Sitting at my writing-table, fervently typing away on the laptop, I pretend not to hear her call. (Yes, I know what you’re all thinking — ‘You, evil man!’. But wait. Hear me out, will ya? )

My wife is one of the few people who still calls me by my complete official first name — i.e. Sidharth. And to be honest, since most people call me Sid, this makes it pretty special.

However, there are only two times when she addresses me as ’Sid’.

One ‘reference’ has a lot of exclamation marks following it and ideally means that I either screwed up or forgot something that I had promised I would do. The other ‘Sid’ comes packaged in a rather sweet, husky and almost melodious tone, which normally indicates that she was about to ‘suggest’ something that would involve a sort of ‘barter-like-trade’. And this time, I was pretty sure it was the latter.

“Sid, Are you listening?” she asks, as I struggle to keep up my facade of trying to work on a ‘project’. The reality, of course, was that I was trying to figure out a good profile picture update for Facebook. Since my wife knows me well, this time she does not wait for a response. Instead, she continues to speak.

“I was thinking…maybe you should take Rishi down to the playground today!”, she says, without skipping a beat.

I gulp, rather loudly in fact. “Are you serious?” I ask meekly, looking over the screen of my laptop and delivering my puppy-dog look, in the hope that she would reconsider her decision.

“Yes,” she replies, a wry smile appearing on her lips, “I think you’ll find it a rather…erm…eye-opening experience!”

Let me give you a bit of preface to this discussion. We had just relocated to India and the people around me were still sort of getting used to being around a ‘Stay-at-home-Dad’. Since our son was much younger then, my wife still had the option of flexible work times and she used to take him to the playground to play. It wasn’t so much that I did not want to take him. I had much ‘thinner skin’ then and was far less comfortable with the snide comments and glares. My wife had been unsuccessfully trying to get me ‘back up on my feet’, so to speak, but so far had failed miserably. Now, back to the story.

“Maybe from next week?” I say, raising an eyebrow questioningly, in the hope of postponing this for as long as I could. But one look at the expression on her face, and I knew she meant business. “All right then!” I exclaim, slamming down the laptop screen for effect, “I’ll take him to the playground today.” As I start to get up from the table, I coyly add, “Why don’t you go get a massage or a facial. You know, sort of ‘you-time’. And then join us later.” I know what you’re thinking. Of course, I added that to score a few brownie points.

“Well, that’s the plan!” she replies, proceeding towards the door.

I sigh loudly once again, for effect. It looks like she had it planned all along.

I throw a quick glance at my 15-month old, who catches my gaze and gives me a very toothy-smile. “Looks like it’s you and me against those moms, soldier!” I exclaimed, picking him up from the floor where he was busy dismantling a brand new car that I had been stupid enough to get him.

Soon (read: better part of thirty minutes) we got ready, I put him in his trusty red car, and we ambled/drove all the way to the land of swings, slides, see-saws and roundabouts.

****

Now, beneath all the bravado with which I was attempting this ‘experience’, I was literally ‘potty-ing’ myself. I was mentally prepared for the eventuality that perhaps, I might be the only adult male of my species there, since it was a weekday. After all, stay-at-home dads are hardly a fad in India. But despite all the preparation, I soon discovered that it can really be an unnerving experience.

The moment I set foot in the sand-filled play area, I feel a panic-attack coming. It was as if I had crossed an invisible (and rather delicate) line and into a predominantly ‘mom-dominated’ space. And the hushed tones, bewildered eyes and raised eyebrows of the present mothers did nothing to calm me down either. For a moment, I contemplate taking a step back and looking around for any visible signs that deterred men or fathers from entering. Of course, I see none. So I confidently stand my ground.

My inner voice suddenly starts to ramble, as if trying to reassure me. ‘They can stare all they want. This is as much my playground as it is theirs!’ I nod with a smile, acknowledging this supposed-voice-of-reason. Of course, this conversation is taking place inside my head and hence to the on-lookers, it just appears as if I’m talking to myself. Which, isn’t really a great ice-breaker. So, in order to cover up the awkwardness, I sort of casually point to my son and smile, as if to say, “Hey! I’m here with my kid and not to randomly lurk behind the slide”. And it works, because I managed to elicit a few smiles. For a moment, I put my arms on my hips and pose like a victorious Superman.

Now, this would have made quite the impact, had I not suddenly found myself sprawling on the ground, literally eating dust. For as I stood, basking in the glory of being the ‘Lord Krishna’ amongst this group of ‘motherly- gopis’, a battalion of kids had slid down the slide and crashed right into me.

I hear a few giggles and some ‘awws’ from the mothers, who seem to be torn between wanting to laugh out loud and be seen showing some empathy. Trying to recover at least a shred of humility, I stand up and glare at the kids. Angry words soon follow and I stand there listening to them reel it off, like they were reading it from their text-book. Meekly, I look around for my son, who has somehow managed to wriggle out of my vice-like grip. I panic briefly when I fail to spot him anywhere in the vicinity. And then I break into a smile, when I do find him — the little man had already hit if off with some blonde foreign chick who was missing a few of her front teeth.

I mutter a few choice words to my absent wife. My inner voice, now starts to whisper that perhaps my wife has purposefully banished me to the playground, as a measure to get back for something that I had done. Or rather, had NOT done. As I flip my sandals to empty the sand that had now filled the area between the base of my feet and soles, I feel a tug on my jeans. I look down to see a cute little girl, not much older than my son, smiling at me. She gestures that she needs to sit on the swing.

I look around and try to figure out which of the present mothers is hers. Unable to locate anyone, I put her on the swing and push her for a bit. Now, if there is one thing that kids know to exploit, it is to use the cuteness quotient to get what they want. And the playground is no different. Within minutes, I found myself being coerced into pushing someone else’s kids on the swings and sitting on one end of the see-saw while a group of kids sat on the other. Suddenly, I’d gone from strutting around like the alpha-male of the playground to being reduced to the favourite playground ‘manny’, i.e. male-nanny.

And if you’re wondering what my little one was up to — well, he was now building sand castles with his new-found girlfriend. Gotta love his life, eh?

Originally published at www.iwrotethose.com on May 14, 2015.

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