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

It is a no-win situation. If I step back, I I will be accused of not providing enough parental supervision for our son; however, if I hover too close, I will be called a helicopter parent by L.

pretend call

So I decide to let L see our son free from my helicopter parenting. I already know the outcome. D has developed a habit of pushing younger kids down at the park when 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 he is a chess piece. This was my reason for hovering: to protect other kids from my son.


Time magazine article described the negative effect of helicopter parents: that when children are shielded from all risk, they fail to take risks and to persevere at learning tasks in school.

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


Okay, so. I admit I have work to do to 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 be helpful, and if not followed, I could have dispensed consequences.

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


D finally slows down and his imagination kicks in at the Health Center. 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 for a doctor examination.

“Your heart is beating very fast,” I say, 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 a few times and before I can probe or test him any further, he gets up and leaves the doctor’s office after our thirty second exam, to explore the adjoining dentist’s office.

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

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

“They’re yellow,” he says.

An older Aspergerian kid, 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 get older.

Today is Family Autism Day at the museum, and as D drifts to the marina, he calms down as we play with styrofoam boats in a water basin before L storms in like a gale of wind. She 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. We slip behind the felt fabric, and he peeks out at two siblings, dressed in costumes, stabbing each other with foam swords, looking ready to take on the winner.

Right at this moment, when D’s body is regulated, and he is eager to engage in some yupe of pretend play, L says, “It is time to go home.”

I explain to her how D’s imagination has just warmed up, telling about the doctor examination, and how he looked at my teeth with the metal instrument and round mirror at the top, but my appeal falls on deaf ears.

I’ve learned L’s mind is a steel trap, so we struggle to get D to the front door as he seeks to revisit every pretend venue, and I think this shows he believes it is too soon to leave as well.

Finally, I corner him 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 extends to me with the sweetest smile.

Then L barged in, and we managed to get D to the car, and I reflected on the drive home how difficult it is for us to escape our family dysfunctional dynamics, even at a pretend museum.

–   To +

pretend beach

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