“Mama?” my daughter asked me as I began reading one her favorite books aloud. “Mama?”
I tried to change the subject. Only a few hours into Kid Duty, or as I like to call it, My Daddy Day Care Experiment, I was not about to meet this crux issue head on.
Fortunately, she dropped it as we kept reading story books.
Elizabeth was on a backpacking trip with college students in the West Elk Mountains for three days while my job was to watch Pippa—which would be the longest stretch I’ve ever done solo.
I was bummed not to go backpacking; this was the first Lifelines one I’ve ever missed in Crested Butte. Then again, we needed a female staff member on the trip, and we couldn’t find a babysitter anyway. So, Elizabeth went. And honestly, I wanted to spend the time with my daughter.
Recently she turned two years old. Over the past year or so, there were some times I have felt rather absent from her life—not by choice, but because of a grueling season of treatment where I was often sick or recovering from being sick. Even when I was there, I wasn’t always there, so to speak. She has grown increasingly mommy-centric the past several months, as most kids do, but I think in a way we both needed this time together.
More than just wanting time with her for myself, I also believe her having a close relationship with me is good for her in the long run. All kids need a strong bond with both mom and dad. I want Pippa to be confident and secure, to have a strong relationship with her dad, to know much I love her. I want her to face the world leaning into life, rather than tentatively away from it. Facing challenges with courage, rather than shrinking back.
So, onward with the Daddy Day Care Experiment. I had to wonder, how would I keep her occupied for 72 hours? How will I keep her from the inevitable sorrow of missing mommy? I formed a rough plan, but knew flexibility would be key. I also vowed to keep my iPhone away in my pocket when she was awake, which I did for most of the time.
The first morning when Elizabeth took off, Pippa woke wailing because of a cold. Not a great start, but a little children’s Tylenol and we were off and running.
For some reason, Pippa is obsessed with “riding the school bus,” as she calls the free shuttle bus here in Crested Butte. She keeps shouting and shouting as soon as she sees it. So, later that morning, we walked onto one of the colorful buses, which are painted by local artists. Then we went to the library, and picked up a bunch of new books. Considering we read her about 10 stories a day, we always need new material.
For lunch, I brought the big guns: Mac-a-doodle (Annie’s mac and cheese), her favorite meal. I kept some in reserve for later just in case.
The rest of the day went well, including naps and putting her down for bed. But for some reason I didn’t sleep well, maybe fighting off the same cold? The next morning was rough when I heard crying at a little after 6 a.m.
Of course, the days renewed my appreciation for all that Elizabeth does. How could it not? I’m familiar with the routine, as I try to help here and there each day. But it’s another thing to take on the entire responsibility. Way to go moms! Props. As hard as it can be, I can see that it is also extremely rewarding, as the logged time helps bring a deeper closeness.
The next day, we went to the Trailhead Children’s Museum, and then back to the routine: lunch, nap, etc. Later, we rode the bus into town (again) and ate at Teocali Tamale. Pippa had extra guacamole, as usual. One highlight of walking around town was her insatiable desire to find dogs to pet. “Pet the doggie! Pet the doggie!” The first dog we encountered seemed unfriendly, so we found a Golden Doodle, who was very sweet. Dogs and kids are the ultimate ice breaker. Soon we were hanging out with a family from Grand Junction who was dining outside at a table. I’m certain they were about to invite us to sit down, but I soon excused us.
The highlight of the Experiment came on the morning of day three: a chairlift ride up Mount Crested Butte! Pippa seemed quite content to be sitting in my lap as we whizzed up the mountain on a high-speed quad. All the colors of wildflowers like Lupine and Columbine burst forth like a kaleidoscope. And I kept pointing things out to Pippa. “See all these things? God is the King of Creation.”
Pippa seemed to love the wind in her hair. She was rather quiet, not from fear, but more taking it all in. I can always tell how she is doing in these moments because I just ask her.
“Pippa happy?” I ask.
“Pippa happy” she replies, whispering.
When she is not happy, she usually lets you know. Or just says nothing at all.
Once we got down from the mountain, we went for one more school bus ride, this time riding the whole town circuit.
All in all, the experiment was a smashing success. I could see a closeness develop with Pippa that I have not yet had. I felt like we turned a corner. As I was reading her a third book, story time digressed into a bout of, “tickle the Pippa.” Which also led to more hugs. Ahhhhhhhh.
It seems I must look for another opportunity to run this experiment again.