We hit the mall last night. Ryan had an evening shift, and neither Norah nor I could stand the thought of another boring night at home. She actually said, "No home" when I was buckling her into her carseat after daycare. I didn't blame her.
So we had a girls' night out. We hit Noodles first and shared a mac and cheese. Then we hit the mall. Yes, that's very sad and pathetic, but the mall has Playland. Or, as I've called it, Dadland.
Upon entering the mall, Norah started bouncing up and down in my arms, saying, "Over there! Over there!" We took off all our layers of outerwear and drippy shoes, and she took off while I surveyed the smallish group. Interesting. Only one dad. And he was pretty near his kid and seemed somewhat engaged. Two moms texting or something on their phones.
I had originally thought that Playland was the place dads took their kids so they could ignore them and do their own thing, while earning points with their significant others for spending time with the kids. But perhaps my sexism was unwarranted.
And then I decided I should try to let go and let Norah be. I don't have a fancy-pants phone, so I could do anything spectacular, although I do have ScrabbleBlast. But I wasn't into it. I just sat back and let her do her thing.
She tore around like a tornado, saying hi to the three other kids and waving to me once in a while as she jumped over obstacles and slid down slopes. There was a baby crawling around, maybe 9-10 months old, and she was enthralled with her. "Look at me, Baby! Do this, Baby!" The mom would look up occasionally from her phone and laugh when Norah would make the baby squeal and giggle.
A few more kids arrived, and a few more parents with their phones. Now there were a few older kids-- maybe 4 or 5 years old. The play became a little more aggressive. I started to tense, but resolved not to hover. None of the other parents were in the play area. Then I saw an older boy grab Norah's arm to try to get her to do something. I got up and took her hand, leading her to the little slide, and trying to glare at one of the Phone Dads, but I couldn't get his eye.
So I started playing, too. Out of fear of injury or tears. But then some kid told me I was in his way. (It was polite, for what it's worth). And then I realized I really was in the way of everything. They were running and screaming and had sort of developed their own little game called "Monster." The girls (Norah, a girl around her age and an older girl) were trapped in the "cave" and the boys would take turns roaring at them from the opening on top to make them scream and laugh. Norah was having a blast. I was in the way.
I sat back down. Still sort of at the edge of my seat, but away from the action. She was happily engaged with perfect strangers. She was holding her own. She didn't fall down when accidentally bumped. She didn't cry. She kept playing. She even called some other kid a baby, to which he replied, "Don't you call me a baby! You're a baby!" I started to stand up to intervene, and to tell the kid that Norah's just a baby and doesn't know any better, but Norah just maybe a noise like, "Blah-dee-da-dee-da" and ran away laughing.
She's not a baby, is she? She did fine. And while some of the parents could have at least watched their kids a tiny bit (I had to run and grab that baby as it crawled out of Playland and into the mall), they were right. I was wrong. And it was awesome to see her interacting with others without me being in the mix. To see her social skills developing and her sense of humor shine. I was proud of her. And proud of me.