I had my first real experience being a man in a woman's world. It was at a playgroup hosted by a cousin of mine. It was the second playgroup I've been to with our son. The first was a playgroup consisting entirely of at-home Dads. This consisted entirely of Mothers.
The first shock to my system was walking into a house where eight to ten children between two weeks and four years old were running rampant. Or crawling, or just being held.
It was a perfect place to host such a gathering: a quiet, tree lined street, open living room with enough sitting room for the adults while having enough open space for the kids to do lots of playing with little potential for damage - damage to property as well as to themselves.
They've got a good stock of toys. There was a small rocking horse and one or two electronic-based riding toys. There was a black mesh bag filled with toy cars, books, small stuffed animals, hand-held games, and other novelties. A thin foam pad floor occupied a three-by-three space. The rooms were well lit with natural light. A stereo played a mix of rock 'n roll songs, including tunes by the Grateful Dead and what I think was the Indigo Girls.
Being such an early age, the parents were still generally involved in almost all of the play. I, of course, had our son and held him in some fashion almost the entire time. He primarily interacted with a girl of nine months. They did tummy time together. It was amazing seeing her so confident on her front hands, handling a small blue plastic block. She tried to share it with our son, but he is not yet so deft and dexterous. My cousin's son responds to most questions with a resounding, "Yeah!" A little girl of about two years said, "Bye," whenever she saw someone get up, as if they were leaving. The eldest child was a boy a month shy of four years. He had long hair cut like he belonged in the band The Killers. It was great. The kids played, then went to their mothers for treats, then went back to the grind. The rock-star and another boy got on each others' nerves as the morning progressed and, if given the time and the space, may have gotten to fisticuffs. Early in the visit, I pulled out my digital camera. As I took pictures, there was no regard for allowing me to capture the scene I focused on. The kids would walk in front of me mid-shutter, looking directly into the lens from point-blank, then walk around back of me, as they knew that the image would immediately be developed.
It didn't take long for me to realize that I was the only adult male in the room. It was not that I thought there would be other fathers. It was the old Sesame Street, "Three of these things belong together, one of these things is not the same." Indeed, for a moment, I didn't feel that I belonged. Not that they weren't friendly or inviting. Quite the contrary. I was immediately accepted as one of the gang. But the women were mothers. None of them appeared to be out of place. There was breast feeding. There was no talk about sports, except for a passing note that I wore a White Sox hat. There was no raunchy humor. There was talk about schools and homes and such family oriented things. I felt young. I felt for a time as if I was a friend or a younger brother coming over to play with their kids.
And I did play. Some of them climbed on me. With others, I tried unsuccessfully to participate in whatever game they had concocted in their head.
It is taking some time to realize that I am a father, the evolution of my former self. Our son will look at me as I looked at my father. Other kids see me as our son's father. When I walked into that house, I was someone's father, not just some guy. The mothers, as I do, must look around and wonder what happened to their twenties. What happened to working and to happy hour? What happened to getting up late Saturday and / or Sunday mornings? Now, everything is midnight feedings, early mornings, dirty diapers, wet diapers, bottles, breast feeding, formula, solid food, food allergies, tummy time, nap time, cranky time, preschool, kindergarten, testing into elementary school, day care, crying, whining, big smiles, big laughs, little bumps, little falls, little steps, crawling, picking up, laying down, car seats, strollers, and, finally, my time. And "my time" usually revolves around household chores that will get half-done before the little guy wakes up. Or you'll get your chores done and hope to eat. But just after making yourself something simple, like microwaved leftovers, you will hear the sounds of awakening and frown as you know that the next time you look at this plate, the food will no longer be hot.
It really doesn't matter that I am in a gender minority. Just as women have entered the work force and are just as competent as men, men have entered homemaking with equal competency. There are general gender differences that can make the genders differ in parenting styles. What we all do, though, is love our children, love each others' children, and try to give them the best world in which to grow.
In that room, with all of those kids and their mothers, I found that I felt right at home and that I was happy that our son and I could be in such a wonderful environment. After looking at that hot plate knowing that you won't get to eat for at least another hour, you go and, as you pick up that child they give you that thankful smile. And then you're not so hungry as you have filled with something so much more nourishing.