Mo and Ben’s school celebrated Purim on Monday with costumes and a parade for the little ones and a sort of field day for the upper school. Mo and a few of his colleagues coordinated a day long event with classes at local synagogues in the morning and a barbeque at our favorite park a few towns away, Topekeegee Yungee aka TY Park, in the afternoon. I stopped at school to pick up Ben in his full ninja regalia and took the kids to meet Mo and the high schoolers at the park. Ella was thrilled to see all the people! At first she was shy, resting her head on Mo’s shoulder and hiding her face in his beard (the CUTEST thing ever). Then she warmed up a bit and started raising her arms in the air and giving big open mouthed smiles, as if each person she saw was there purely to greet her. Ben was happy to have his ninja mask on so he didn’t feel so on the spot with all the people around. Also, there was cake, so he was willing to be patient and hang around with all the grown ups as long as he was guaranteed a piece at some point.
Mo strategically got him a middle piece with almost no frosting. This was after Ben was given a “lollipop with hard gum inside” ::cringe:: at school. We have shown his teachers his missing teeth and fillings and asked them to stop giving him things like Laffy Taffy and sugar gum (which shouldn’t be handed out to any kid, especially at school, if you ask me). Somehow he still gets these treats and we try to explain to Ben why it’s not a good idea for him to eat them, without making him feel guilty. I feel like it’s all futile and somehow he will always be obsessed with sugar, no matter what we do. I don’t want to make it taboo, but he has thousands of dollars of dental work and he’s only four. Anyway, it is a difficult subject, but I digress.
Mo is my hero for caring about our kids and the details of their lives as much as I do. Even when I ramble about baby nap lengths and digestive issues I don’t feel like he’s rolling his eyes or even humoring me. He actually cares. When I saw the piece of cake he picked for Ben, allowing him to have the treat he had been yearning for, but finding the piece with the least frosting, I was reminded what a thoughtful, caring dad he is.
After Ben had his cake I decided it was time to head over to the playground and let him get his ya-yas out. I was beyond thrilled to notice that there were many attentive dads on the playground with their little ones. One dad was playing pirate ship with his five year old daughter. One dad was pushing his one year old twins on the baby swings. Another was helping his daughter climb a ladder. There were several more dads standing nearby watching their kids play, and only one was looking at his phone. The boys at the park rounded out the idyllic scene by including Ben in their group and playing ninja because of his costume. Each of them was a different color and age and it was awesome to see the little three year old who seemed to have a developmental delay tagging along with the six year old Jewish kid with a kippa and tzitzit, following the lead of the ten year old Hispanic boy who called Ben simply, “Ninja,” much to his delight.
The only downside was that the game the group of boys had developed was to keep all the girls at the park out of their “kingdom.” I wanted to tell them not to exclude anyone but I also didn’t want to interject without seeing how they worked it out themselves. I noticed that the dad playing pirate with his daughter was aware of the game so I was kind of waiting to see how he would handle it. I kept my distance and followed Ella as she crawled around the playground, attempting to eat every leaf in her path. After a while I heard Ben say, “Well, maybe we can just let the little girls in, because they’re so cute.” I laughed to myself and thought, “He DOES love his sister!” Then a few minutes later he said, “I think all the girls should be allowed in.” The older boy said no way, but I was really proud that Ben spoke up. I was glad that he has an internal compass that told him, “It’s not right to exclude.” Then I heard Ben say to the older boy, “I told her not to come in, but she came in anyway.” I started to not like where the whole thing was going and it was time to leave, so I went over to tell Ben that he could play for five more minutes and that I thought his idea about letting the girls in was right on. He told me that he had told the girl to come in, but then told the older boy that he had told her not to come in, because he was being sneaky like a ninja. I was simultaneously confused and proud and I wanted to tell him what I thought was right, but in the moment I wasn’t really sure what was right.
On our walk back to the car I told Ben that it was okay to stand up to the boy and be honest by saying, “I think girls should be allowed in.” I said that even if the boy didn’t agree, Ben didn’t have to play with him anymore if he didn’t like the game. It’s so hard to find the right words to help in a situation like this, because I understand why he wanted to play both sides! He wanted to let the girls in but not be out of the game. Life can be tough like that.