This last Monday was my son’s first field trip ever: out to a place called only ‘Pumpkin Patch’ by the school’s paperwork. We signed up to be chaperones, naturally, and were assigned our own kid, plus one more named Nicholas. Nicholas is essentially just like Giovanni in that he’s 5, mildly inattentive, and highly attention-seeking. He is not, however, a Virgo.
We went on a tractor ride from the main farm to a pumpkin patch, where we picked pumpkins. Giovanni didn’t want to touch his pumpkin because it was dirty — in fact, he didn’t want one initially because they were all dirty. He’s a Virgo, so he picked up the cleanest-looking one, touched it only by the stem, and dropped it into a plastic bag where it would not be removed until Daddy cleaned it off at home.
Then, we went to the barn, where there was a giant hay bale maze with a super-tall slide at the end. My wife stayed outside with the camera while the boys and I ran the maze. Hella fun. I couldn’t slide, so I had to take the stairs down while she snapped shots of the boys. Then we went back in and got on the catwalk above the maze, and took pictures of the two kids as they ran the maze alone with us yelling instructions from above.
After that, we fed and petted goats and a pig. Giovanni was quite nervous about getting near the animals, so I spent a quarter on a handful of goat feed to encourage him. He promptly got licked once by a goat, panicked, and threw it all into the goat’s face. And then went and washed his hands. I love my Virgo boy.
Finally, I had to find out how much time was left (didn’t want to be stuck in the maze when the bus pulled up.) While I was off talking to Mrs. Hicks, the following exchange went down between my son and my wife:
Gi: “Mommy, I want another adventure.”
Mom: “Oh, really?”
Nicholas: “Yeah, I want an adventure, too.”
Gi: “I want to see what’s in that building. I want to go in there.”
Mom: “Let’s go!”
Now, it might be hard to see the amazingness in that little exchange, so let me explain. My wife and I have been trying to show our son the power of adventures. It’s kind of a theme we’ve had running for his whole life (and well before, honestly.) We do stuff like go get lost and drive around because who knows what you’ll find? We try new foods (“Food adventures!”), we check out new stores (“Mommy, I wanna pop some tags!”), and we go to places like the Museum of Flight or other museums on the (free!) first Thursday of each month.
We were really proud of our son because that was the first time that he had ever (out loud, at least) looked at something in terms of being a series of adventures — and definitely the first time that he had consciously sought out a new adventure when the current one seemed to be over. (He was right, by the way — the barn contained more animals to pet. We also yelled “Glugluglu!” at a turkey, who yelled it right back at us.)
I think that maintaining that perspective of looking at life as a series of adventures — even little ones like “let’s see if Trader Joe’s Gruyère-and-Arugula Mac & Cheese* is any good!” — will go along way toward extending my son’s wide-eyed wonder at how awesome the world is. I know it helps me do the same thing, and I value that a lot. If there’s anything that I can do to keep him in awe, I want to do that. A lot.
Adventures are important for a few reasons. First, they’re fun — they’re by definition something new and exciting. They’re learning experiences, and that’s part of why they’re fun. Second, they’re trials — when you’re on an adventure, you’re discovering something about yourself as well as about the world. Even if it’s as simple as ‘I don’t like Gruyère,’ it’s self-discovery.
But perhaps most importantly, it’s about being able to roll with the punches. When you’re not in adventure mode and something bad happens, it’s just depressing. My tire blew out on the way to church? Well, God’s not with me this morning. But when you are in adventure mode and something bad happens, it’s not a problem — it’s an opportunity! Huzzah, let’s figure out how to get the spare tire off of the bottom of the car! This is great!
I want my son to have that thrill of learning — and I also want him to have the resilience that comes with being able to see challenges as opportunities. That’s why adventures.
This was also my first experience in chaperoning, which meant it was my first experience in looking after someone else’s child. It was quite interesting — he was a lot like Giovanni, which made it easy to predict what he was going to do next (i.e. disappear and not respond when you call him). I had to rebuke him exactly once (“That’s the fourth time someone has asked you not to kick the pumpkins. Do I have to get a teacher and get you in trouble?”), and from that moment on, I was quite clearly Second Dad for that hour and a half.
I was also able to play and be an authority at the same time. Being a chaperone didn’t mean I had to wait outside the maze. It didn’t mean I had to stand back and watch them yell at the turkey. I was right there, playing and having fun (and adventures!) right alongside the kids — but at no time was I not also an authority figure. It’s the first time I can think of that I was able to both oversee and enjoy the experience at the same time, and I really had fun with it. It turns out there’s a line between ‘authoritarian dictator’ and ‘best friend’, and you can have the best of both worlds if you walk it correctly.
It made me think of myself in a different light. I’m still trying to figure out what “fatherhood” is — I really need to start reading my copy of “The Role of Fathers in Childhood Development” beyond just the introduction — but I thought for a day or two that “Life Chaperone” might be a good starting point. Of course, that doesn’t really take into account hugs and kisses, making dinner, or yelling “SHOOOOOOOT!” from the sidelines of a soccer game…so in retrospect, I think fatherhood should be a heck of a lot more than that.
I think maybe I’ll roll with:
- Domestic Overlord
- Adventure Coach
- Difficult Situations Advisory Board Member
- Daily Loving Rituals Participant
- Youth Enhancement Coordinator
That’s a good acronym for someone like me.
* Not a real product. Do not look for this in the store.