FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

Pretend City

Written By: Scot Butwell - Sep• 13•12

“You’re being a helicopter,” the Wife tells me with more than a hint of displeasure in our first five minutes at a kid’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.

D is running furiously from one venue to the next, too busy to take notice as the Wife makes several 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. On the other hand, if I hover too close, I will be called a helicopter parent. I mean, I am called a helicopter parent.

pretend call

So I 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 audio-visual stimulation.

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


Ok, so. I admit I have work to do become a better parent, and although D is not usually a danger to other kids, I’m sure giving him some guidelines for behavior would have been helpful, and if not followed, laying down some consequences for his behavior.

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


D finally slows down and lets his imagination kick in at the Health Center. I pick up a stethoscope, tell him to sit down and place it on 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. “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 a few times, and before I can probe or test him any further, he exits 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.”

Then I realize he has never been to the dentist. So I hand him the metal instrument with a tiny, round mirror at the tip. “Look at my teeth,” I say. “Tell me what you see.” I open my mouth wide and wait for his diagnosis, as he maneuvers the mirror around.

“They’re yellow,” he says.

An older Asbergian kid (it was Family Autism Day) standing nearby points to an x-ray on the wall and gives me a full detailed report, telling me I need to floss or my gums will rot as I get older. He explains how plaque forms and causes cavities if I don’t brush my teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each time.

Then D drifts over to the marina where we play with Styrofoam boats in a water basin before the Wife storms in like a gust of violent wind. She has enlisted a docent to help look for D, thinking he had gone out 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, and we slip behind the felt fabric. He watches two siblings, dressed in knight costumes, duel in a sword fight, and looks ready to take on the winner.

He is smiling and happy, and then the Wife announces, “It is time to go home.” I explain how D’s imagination has just warmed up, telling her about his pretend play in the doctor and dentist’s office, but my appeal falls on deaf ears.

Once the wife has made up her mind, there is no changing it and, trust me, I’ve tried countless times. It is like a steel trap, so the Wife and I struggle to get D out the front door while he attempts  to revisit every pretend venue, and I think his resistance showed he agrees it is  too soon to leave the museum.

I corner D in the cafe as he arranges ingredients on a pizza, and rather than corralling him to the car, I accept the slice of pretend pizza he extended to me with pepperoni and sausage.

And then Wife barges in and we got D to the car and on the way home I reflect on how hard it was to escape the real issues in our family dynamics even on a trip to a pretend museum.

pretend beach

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