FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

Pretend City

Written By: Scot Butwell - Sep• 13•12

“You’re being a helicopter,” L tells me with more than a hint of displeasure in our first five minutes at a children’s museum called Pretend City.

There are kid-sized versions of a library, café, post office, gas station, construction site, health center, bank, fire station, beach, amphitheatre, art studio, and farm, and toddler-age kids scrambling and scurrying everywhere.

It’s utter chaos, and D is running from one venue to the next, too busy to take notice as L makes a few more criticisms of my parenting and, yes, I am being a helicopter parent, trailing a few steps behind D everywhere he goes.

It is a no-win situation. If I step back, I I will be accused of not providing enough parental supervision. However, if I hover too close, I will be called a helicopter parent. I mean, I am called a helicopter parent.

pretend call

So I decide to let the Wife see our son free from my helicopter parenting. I already know the outcome. D has developed a habit of pushing younger kids down when he is on sensory overload from too much stimulation.

I sit down fifteen feet away and watch as D wanders over to a performance stage and topples over a two-year-old, blond-hair boy like a chess piece. This was my reason for hovering: to protect other kids from my son.


In a Time magazine article, it described the negative side effect of helicopter parents: that when children are shielded from all risk, they fail to develop the confidence necessary to take risks and persevere in learning.

So, no, I have no intention of wanting to be a helicopter parent. On the conrary, I like to give D autonomy–maybe too much freedom–to allow him make choices on his own and to learn lessons from his mistakes.


Okay, so. I admit I have work to do become a better parent, and even if D isn’t usually a risk to harm other kids, I’m sure that giving him a few rules would have been helpful, and if not followed, to dispense consequences.

But I’m not good at giving rules. Or consequences.


D finally slows down and his imagination kicks in at the Health Center. Whew! I pick up a stethoscope, tell him to sit down, and place it over his chest. “I’m going to check your heart, okay?” I say, and he gives his verbal assent.

“Your heart is beating fast,” I add, feeling the staccato beat of his heart. “Have you been running?”

He nods. I look in his ears, ask him to read the letter chart on the wall, whack his funny bone twice and before I can probe or test him any further, he gets up and leaves the doctor’s office after our forty-five second exam to explore the adjoining dentist’s office.

“You be the dentist,” I say. “I’ll be the patient.”

But then I realize he has never seen a dentist. So I hand him the metal instrument with a tiny, round mirror at the tip. “Look at my teeth,” I say, sitting in the patient chair. “Tell me what you see.” I open my mouth wide and wait for his diagnosis.

“They’re yellow,” he finally says.

An older Aspergerian kid (it was Family Autism Day), around twelve, points to an x-ray on the wall and launches into a full-detailed report, explaining how plaque forms and causes cavities if I don’t brush my teeth twice a day, two minutes each time. He tells me to floss every day or my gums will rot when I reach sixty.

I say good-bye as D drifts over to the marina where we play with styrofoam boats in a water basin before L storms in like a violent gust of wind. She has enlisted a docent to help her look for D, thinking he exited a side door.

“No, we’ve been in the doctor and dentist’s office,” I tell her.


D meanders down the hall to a large playroom. He sees two boys hiding behind a purple curtain. D and I slip behind the felt fabric. He looks out at two siblings, dressed in costumes, dueling in a sword fight, stabbing one another with foam swords, and he looks ready to take on the winner.

Right at this moment, L says, “It is time to go home.”

Not again. I explain how D’s imagination has just warmed up, telling her about the doctor and dentist’s offices, but my appeal falls on deaf ears. As I expected. All she remembers is the beginning part of our visit and D running buck wild.

I’ve learned from experience her mind is a steel trap. So as L and I struggle to get D to the front door D seeks to revisit every pretend venue, and I think his resistance shows he agrees it is too soon to leave the museum.

I finally corner D in the cafe where he is putting round plastic pepperonis on a pizza, and rather than corral him to the car, I accept the slice of pizza he offers to me with the sweetest smile.

Mmmmm, I say, just as L barged in not very happy. We managed to get D to the car, and I reflected on the drive home how difficult it is to escape our dysfunctional family dynamics even on a trip to a pretend museum.

pretend beach

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