When Daddy’s in charge

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When I took my 4-year-old daughter Ellis with me to visit my sister in Boston, it was more than an opportunity to look at Where’s Waldo? books on the airplane. What I wanted was to be Ellis’s mom for a few days.

My wife Lisa is home with Ellis and her almost-2-year-old brother Isaac every day. She is the one who negotiates toy disputes and sets daily protocol. I am a bit jealous of her role because this fine-detail work is the part of child-rearing I like to do. Being at work all day means I miss out on the prime parenting hours. And then when I get home, the kids won’t let me do the grunt work because they regard their mother as the detail parent and me as the guy who comes home just when Mom’s about to send the kids to a kennel. When I do get to spend time with the kids, I know I’m doing well if Ellis absently calls me “Mommy.”

Being with Ellis for four days non-stop let me get into the highest levels of parenting: making decisions that matter. My first opportunity came early in our trip.

Toward the end of our flight to Boston, the pilot warned everyone to stay in their seats because he was expecting turbulence from some rain storms in the Boston area. Ellis took this as her cue to demand a trip to the bathroom.

“Right now, Dad. I have to pee real bad.”

There’s nothing like being in an airplane lavatory with your child wedged in between the toilet and the door…and trying to help. Especially when there’s a lot of turbulence.

We made it through the storms. As we came in low over Boston, I said to Ellis, “Look — there’s Boston.”

She looked out the window and said, “Dad, it looks like Flagstaff!”

We’re on the plane for four and a half hours and she thinks we’re in northern Arizona? Hey kid — this is New England. Clam chowder. Plymouth Rock. The Kennedys. No stucco.

Our first morning there, Ellis wanted to play in the rain with an umbrella. This was a chance for the real work of parenting. Isn’t a parent’s chief duty to make footwear decisions? I passed the test: She wore sneakers out in the rain and saved her “pretty” shoes for Boston Aquarium.

When we headed for the Aquarium, I asked Ellis if she needed to go to the bathroom.

“No, Dad.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Are you really sure? C’mon. Just try.”

“No. I don’t have to.”

“Really?”

“I don’t want to pee, Dad!”

“But you could if you tried, right?”

“Nooooooo, Dad. Let’s go.”

“Okay. I was just asking.”

This was really great parenting! I was having a wonderful and fulfilling trip.

The Boston Aquarium has a tank that’s about three stories high and filled with everything from anemones to sharks. Ellis had a great time looking for The Little Mermaid.

Our second day, we went to Crane’s Beach north of Boston. Ellis wanted to be buried in the sand. She didn’t have a bathing suit, so I let her lay down in the sand in her long pants and shirt while I buried her.

My wife would have said, “Her pants will get all full of sand — and her shirt — and what about her hair?” But my wife was at least 2,500 miles away. Nyah, nyah.

One night, we went to Legal Seafood, a restaurant in Natick, for our big chance at seafood. Fish and chips was listed on the children’s menu and I figured this was a good bet for Ellis because she loves French fries.

The only problem with fish and chips is that the fish is fried. Ellis had never had fried fish. She’d never even seen the stuff. Lisa and I would never fry fish. We bake or broil. Frying would mean we’d have to forfeit our less-cholesterol-than-thou attitudes.

I asked the waitress if she could possibly give Ellis baked or broiled fish with her chips. The waitress said no. No, we cannot save a perfectly good piece of scrod from the deep fryer. No, we cannot avoid corrupting young and impressionable taste buds. No, your precious daughter will have to eat deep-fried foods. Well, at least she’s still a virgin.

The last day of our visit, we went to the Acton Science Discovery Museum. Ellis had a great time making a drawing using a pendulum table, watching a tornado in a water chamber and rolling balls down a spiral.

Taking Ellis to Boston gave me some ordinary parenting time. I got to brush her hair and pick out her clothes. I made the decision to let her wear her Mickey Mouse socks even though they were yellow, red and black and the rest of her outfit wasn’t. And while I was being the ultra-fun Dad we even had a hotdog and a Coke perilously close to dinner time.

That’s the great thing about traveling. You leave some of the rules at home. Bedtime was moved from 8:30 to 11 because of the time change. One day, Ellis didn’t even once have milk. Don’t tell Mom, okay?

The flight home was non-stop. Ellis spent much of it looking at her Wizard of Oz sticker book and watching the in-flight movie, “Steel Magnolias.” But as the flight dragged into its fourth hour, Ellis got anxious to see her Mommy. To keep her occupied, I suggested we look out the window. She didn’t want to and shut the blind. I wanted to look out, so I raised it. She shut it. I raised it.

The only way I could get her to leave it open was when I said, “Let’s see if we can see our house. Look — there’s Mommy and Isaac getting into the car to come get us at the airport.”

She put the blind up.

As we were landing, she said, “When we get off the plane, I’ll stay with Mommy and Isaac and you go back to Boston.”

That’s the thanks I get for the unauthorized Cokes? The quality time?

Ellis was glad to see her Mommy and brother. Isaac was so glad to see me that he wailed, “Daddyyyy!” and burst into tears.

Lisa told me that during the walk to the baggage claim area, Ellis called her “Daddy” by mistake a few times. I guess that means I did a good job.

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