As a new stepdad there are many things I have to learn on the fly. The lessons are coming at me with relentless speed because I’m trying to catch up to a 10 year old girl who has 8 ½ years of life experiences without me around. It’s the reality of being a step-parent to a child who has spent her lifetime developing her personality and character before we met. She knows what she likes and she definitely likes what she likes. However, the flip side to that reality is that she and I have a long life ahead of us in which we can learn and grow together. There is a lot of love to share and a lifetime of memories to make.
My stepdaughter and I have a great, loving relationship. We share inside jokes and we enjoy many activities together. I’m a kid at heart, so I enjoy posing her stuffed animals in various situations to make her laugh. She laughs at my dad jokes. More accurately, she rolls her eyes at my dad jokes. We even team up to play jokes on my wife. We ride bikes together, cook together, solve life’s problems together, and pray together. My daughter’s favorite activity with me is definitely droppin’ beats! She loves music and dancing so I often let her have a turn on the DJ decks when I’m practicing at home. I enjoy being involved in her activities (except making slime) and I do my best to participate in sync with her preferences and style. However, the cold hard truth is that I sometimes get kicked out of things because I don’t do it right or simply because I’m a boy.
Let’s face it. Kids are apt to kick others out for not playing the right way. I can recall times as a child when I told my mom or dad, “You’re not playing it right!” After all, imaginations change as we develop and grow. I also have flashbacks to the daily battles with my brother in which I reminded him to keep his hands off of my Lego creations. Kids have preferences and they stick to ‘em! They often create their own little world in which they can make the rules, design the layout, and do things their way. Humorously, I believe I crossed this boundary with my daughter during a game of Barbie. Do you even call Barbie a game? I don’t even know. Anyway, my apparent antics got me quickly escorted from a game when all I was doing was using my imagination. Yep! I got kicked out of Barbie.
I’m not sure if it’s a rite of passage for dads or if I made a naive rookie mistake. I see now that I should have known better, but let me explain how I was duped. My daughter was having a sleepover with two other girls at our house. My wife and I were having a good time with the girls and all was well. We had all enjoyed dinner together, gone out for shaved ice, and even watched a movie. The point is, we were all getting along together beautifully. So, when the girls invited me to play Barbie, I gladly accepted. Of course, I went straight for Ken because that felt like the right move. I immediately made him start flirting with Barbie using a deep manly voice. To my surprise, that didn’t go over well. Strike one. Next, I decided that Ken should get in the car to drive around for a while. Again, I was terribly mistaken. Strike two. The final strike came quickly after that when I tried to manipulate Ken’s legs in an attempt to make him walk. Anyone with experience here knows that without bendable knees, Ken does not move very well. Thus, Ken awkwardly moved like Frankenstein as he made his way across the play room floor. In less than a minute’s time, it was over for me.
The manner in which I was asked to leave this playful gathering around the Barbie house was quite unexpected, but highly entertaining. My daughter’s seven year old friend, as sweet and tiny as can be, gave me the tap on the arm. As she repeatedly tapped my arm and looked me squarely in the eyes, she said, “Um…um…mister? You can be done now.” Wow! I got the tap from a seven year old! It reminded me of the scene in Grease where Coach Calhoun tells the dance-off contestants, “If you’re tapped on the shoulder, leave the floor, or else. I mean it!” I guess sometimes you just don’t’ have what it takes and this time I got told.
I am figuring out quickly that parenting can be a humbling experience. My daughter’s influence on me is clearly life changing, and there are many lessons I will learn as our paths continue together. In this case, I learned that everything has unwritten rules, including Barbie. I had never played before so how was I supposed to know? These girls were the Barbie experts and I didn’t even come close to their expectations. It’s quite humorous, but in a way, I felt like a failure. I would have appreciated a little feedback. It made me think about what we ask of our children when they find themselves in unfamiliar situations. Many times, they have no clue how to act. As parents, we must communicate the expectations and provide examples of undesirable behaviors that will receive consequences. Barbie helped me realize how confusing life can be when trying to act appropriately in someone else’s clearly defined world. Another take-away for me was the feeling I had when the experts had no patience with me. Being patient and responding patiently is a life skill. We must not only teach it to our children, but never forget it ourselves.