I'd made a tactical error and now all the little girls called me "Booger Man". It was the early days of my daughter Pallas' start in kindergarten. I walked her to school each morning and read books before the bell rang as the teacher encouraged us parents to do, so I'd become a familiar sight amongst her classmates.
I was happy enough to play the cool, fun and silly dad. Pallas' new friends all eagerly told me their names, often all at the same time so it was hard to keep them straight. Pallas, perhaps noticing that I wasn't returning the favour, took it upon herself to introduce me. "This is my dad, you can call him Nathan," she said.
"Uh," I hastily corrected, "maybe not Nathan." My brain quickly scanned its options while all the tiny kindergartners jostled and screamed and chaos-ed all around me. Letting them call me by my first name seemed a bit too familiar, while "Mr. Waddell" was much too formal. What was the happy medium?
"You can just call me Booger Man," I said. What's the word for when chaos turns into a thousand times more chaos? Because that's what happened. All the little girls screamed and laughed and pointed their fingers at me and yelled "Booger Man! Booger Man!"
At first it didn't seem like a big deal. Kids have terrible attention spans and never remember anything, not even to go to the washroom. So they would forget this little joke momentarily.
They haven't forgotten.
Now when they see me they'll drop whatever they're doing and come running over screaming Booger Man. The other parents look at me and I wince sheepishly.
I was explaining my predicament to one of the moms and she said, with exaggerated sympathy, "Aww, are the kindergartners bullying you?"
It's not that. The name doesn't bother me. The problem is that it blurs my role. I didn't actually want a role in the first place. We went to a kindergarten open house last year and my wife was all excited to see the school and meet the teachers and imagine getting involved in Pallas' school life. Not me. When I was a kid I made every effort to maintain a strict firewall between school and home. Separation of church and state, right? And now as a parent I had no desire to do all the things I'd seen other parents do, selling boxes of chocolates and being in constant email communication with teachers. "I already went to school, consarn it," I told anyone who would listen.
And then the first day of kindergarten came and I walked her to school and I was so proud and I only cried maybe two times. Three at the most. My little girl, so grown up.
Within a week I was the Dad who volunteered for their first "field trip"- a nature walk on the school grounds- and for things like finger-painting turkey craft gobble goobers or whatever they're called. I even took on the role of social justice warrior when Pallas told me that a boy in her class was saying she couldn’t look at Star Wars books because she was a girl. I immediately spoke to her teacher to ensure that no one would be policing what my daughter could and couldn’t so, especially along gender lines. To her credit, the teacher readily agreed and did a lesson on how boys and girls can play with whatever toys they want to.
So now, whenever my work schedule allowed, I was all up in your skoolz. Which is how all the tiny little children came to know me by sight and why my daughter felt the need to introduce me to them.
I know my role is not to be their friend, which is why I wasn't totally comfortable being "Nathan" to them. I also didn't want to seem like some sort of authority figure- I'm not a teacher, just a dad. So "Mr. Waddell" didn't feel right either. Society seems to have two default settings for dads- the bumbling, Homer Simpsonesque boob, or the emotionally absent, workaholic father. I don’t identify with either, really. Real life is far more nuanced. I admit, I'm a little bit bumbling. I've been known to send my youngest to preschool without any pants- apparently snow pants don't count as pants. And I do work a lot, which makes me actually absent, but I am hardly emotionally absent when physically present. My schedule gives me four days off out of every eight, so I get a lot of quality time with my children.
What is my role, exactly, as a kindergarten dad/occasional volunteer? And does what they call me have to reflect that? I should have just went with "Pallas's Dad", which isn't a name exactly, more of a definition, but better than Booger Man.
Anything would be better than Booger Man. What the hell was I thinking?
- Nathan Waddell