I had heard a lot from other dads about the perils of venturing into the mummy dominated territory of playgroups. Add into the mix that I’m socially awkward in new or unfamiliar surroundings makes the whole ordeal quite painful for all involved.
I searched for local events in my area and found a pre-school reading group, Book Worms, at our local library luckily falling on Daddy Daughter Day. We went to our first session, an achievement in itself for me in managing to dress us both and leave the house. Once there, Ayla sat quietly on my knee checking out her new surroundings, taking in all the colourful childrens books on the shelves around her. I don’t know who was more nervous, Ayla or myself! When the other children, who were a little older (almost ready for nursery) came in and took their coats off, Ayla remained quiet but made a telling reach for my reassuring hand. It was a good feeling to be ‘the protector’ letting her know everything was going to be okay. I feel when I’ m holding Ayla in some strange way we both are stronger for the others presence. The other parents (women) and ladies who run the session informed me they didn’t get many dads at the club and were always happy to see the male gender represented. We began reading a book from ‘The Little Princess’ (“She’s a little princess!”) series. After the reading, the children danced to various songs on the play mat. As Ayla felt more comfortable in her new surroundings, she wriggled down from my knee and joined in for a rousing rendition of ‘5 Little Monkeys’ as she held my hands, laughing and attempting her best jumps.
There’s always that ONE child at all these playgroups. Someone who comes in snatching things off the other kids, continuing to stuff their faces during snack time despite choking on their last mouthful (usually Ayla & me), showing total disregard for anything their guardian tells them. The first time we attended a local playgroup, this one child took Ayla’s xylophone stick which she was happily finding her way around. When Ayla tried to hold on to the stick, said child snatched the stick and, through gritted teeth, I told Ayla to let someone else play with it (my wife told me later I’d done right).
The following week, we arrived early and sat in the corner, so we could see all the people approaching us in the room. I armed Ayla with a glow stick and waited à la gangland style whacking! Sure enough, a little boy, who was happily playing, became overly boisterous & threw a ball which hit Ayla’s cheek. Ayla didn’t flinch but instead stared the boy down with a brilliant scowl and he quietly moved on. That ONE child meanwhile, threw the mother of all tantrums lying in the middle of the floor for all to see. It’s hard not to judge, hell, I find it hard not to judge the kids on ‘The Secret Life of…’ as if it’s a regular reality show. All I could think was “god help me when it’s Ayla’s turn!”
The following week I immediately noticed another man. He was well dressed, had a southern accent and seemed like a great dad. Firstly, I felt threatened. I’m the only dad on this patch! I normally revel in the compliments of being the only dad here triumphantly. Then, I felt he could be my new friend. We could do manly things like drinking pints, wrestle bears or shave with axes all while our kids played.
As Ayla is getting older, I’m beginning to travel around various other playgroups, I went to one playgroup at a vast Methodist Church which utilises its many rooms for different age groups, activity rooms and otherwise. Tea and coffee is free (with biscuits!) and I found it apt that it was held in a Church as it was the playgroup version of Heaven. The group sing-song at the end seemed to whip everyone into a frenzy reminding me of a Harlem gospel choir. It had me so enthrawled that towards the end of the sing-a-long, when the orchestrator was struggling to think of another nursery rhyme, my inner awkwardness momentarily escaped and I blurted out “WIND THE BOBBIN!!!” The adults in the room all looked at me and even some of the kids noted my lack of “inside voice” and volume control. I froze momentarily then everyone began singing “…WIND, WIND, WIND THE BOBBIN!” I was over the moon.