I have a basket full of crafts, watercolor books, stamps, glue, fingerpaints galore. I stock up on these projects for a rainy day or the eternity that is January through April. When the kids are bored and the time is right, I propose what I imagine will be a highlight in our cabin fever days: “Want to paint?”
I imagine their joyful, “Yes!” their jumping up and down, their million-dollar smiles.
I get, “No thanks. Do you want to play butt tag?”
It’s not always “butt tag.” But it is always some strange iteration of the same—”turbo dud,” “point shoot” or “sleep monster.” I say, “What’s that one?” The kids reply, “You know, that one where you take that ball shooter and I stand here and you try to hit me in the face?” These are games, you see. Real games to our kids that they think everyone knows. The only thing incorrect about their statement above is the word “you.” I am being mistakingly heaped into the “you” that means the collective parent, MomAndDad, the in-charge ones in the house. It’s a pairing I’m flattered to be heaped into—they don’t think of us as the boring one and the fun one. We are both given credit for the crazy fun involved in the shenanigans of hallway games. But in the interest of total and complete honesty, I cannot take any credit for the invention of butt tag.
I don’t play these games with them—I am the craft hoarder, the reader of books, the one who proposes the things that they say “no” to. My arsenal includes things we can see and name—paper, glue, markers, words on a page. The “you” in the sentence that begins “You know, the one where you…” is the creator of games, the repairer of boredom, the conjurer of fun from nothingness. The kids have been blessed with a fun dad.
There is an art to imaginative fun I don’t possess. I should have known this when my son, Wally V, got his first action figure set when he was around two. It was a Toy Story set with some aliens, Buzz, Woody, and a backdrop. He wanted to play with it the first day we had it, and my husband was at work. I picked up some guys and started sending them through the backdrop. My son followed my lead. Then we had an awkward conversation between the aliens.
Me: “Hi, how are you?”
Two-year-old WV: “How are you?”
Me: “No, you have to answer first, then…oh nevermind.”
That was all we had. We played for two minutes and we were done. I couldn’t think of anything else to do with them. Fast forward to husband Wally’s return later in the day, and the aliens were suddenly on adventures, doing flips, fighting with bad guys, playing butt tag—a world was unlocked that expanded out and out and out leading to current day, where 5-year-old Wally V spends 2-3 hours a day with his Lego guys and action figures hosting epic, movie-length battles and storylines that take place on what I would call the activity table in his room, but he would call some otherworld where Ninja Turtles and knights and Captain America and mummies co-exist and everything is awesome. This is where being the son of a fun dad will take you.
There is no guarantee that this is where the child of a fun dad will go. I actually also had a fun dad. My mom was the choir director at our church growing up, which left my dad in charge of getting us ready on Sundays. For some reason, probably because it was a cold winter’s day and the three of us elementary-school-age kids had been cooped up too long, he decided that it was “fun with catalogs” day.
He gave us the JC Penney catalog, opened it to the jewelry page, and let us pick out what we liked. Then he cut it out for us and taped it on. So we showed up at church dressed in our Sunday best, glammed up with our taped-on paper watches, rings, and necklaces—frugal and fancy.
And here I am, a parent, and not the fun one. But how can I compete? And why would I want to? This is not a case of good cop/bad cop—he might be Sgt. SuperFun, but that doesn’t make me Lt. BoringPants. Instead, I’m Captain MeTime. Behind every fun dad, there is a mom who is getting stuff done. I don’t know the rules to butt tag, because while they are playing, I am doing the satisfying act of checking things off my list with the beautiful background noise of their squeals and giggles.
When you have little ones, it is a parenting truth that the one doing the dishes after dinner is the one taking the break. And during some epic hallway games, I might just be found in another room sneaking a few pages from a book or a few minutes of some delicious mind-numbing TV or a few sips of wine with my eyes closed and my brain turned off because I have put in my 11 hours and I am done. It might be even more of a blessing to be the wife of a husband who is a fun dad.
The best news is, this gift is not lost on the kids. When Wally V was 3, he asked his dad, “Why are you so fun?” I would venture to guess that is one of the best questions he will ever be asked. And the answer is simple—because you are two lucky, lucky kids. Now go play some butt tag.