“You should never meet your heroes.” That’s how the saying goes, and maybe it’s true. For my son, last weekend, meeting a childhood hero became reality, and the reality proved different from fond perception. It left me thinking not just about misunderstood heroes but considering what is age-appropriate for toddlers in the big bad world.
To let my partner and newborn sleep in, me and the little man often head out on early morning weekend jaunts. Often these excursions take us to Auckland’s Tamaki Drive. Sometimes we mix it with the tourists at Mission Bay, sometimes we stop for a fluffy in Kohi and sometimes we just chill on St Heliers benches watching salty dogs and active people activating active wear.
Making regular cameos in our outings is the novelty bus Kelly Tarlton’s uses to transport visitors to its waterfront aquarium. The bus is modelled after a Great White shark through a pretty aggressive custom front end. The bus is of great joy to my boy and whenever he sees it he’ll get mad excited and shout “whale bus, whale bus”. His species identification is a bit off, but what does it matter, so I go along with the whole whale bus thing and point it out to him.
Last weekend we were passing the aquarium and I noticed whale bus was parked up outside, providing an unexpected opportunity to be an awesome dad and take a closer look. Little man was pumped as I liberated him from his car seat and carried him towards whale bus. We approached the sheet metal specimen from the rear and walked around the front to take in its full glory.
Looking up at it from ground level, it suddenly became super intimidating, standing 12 odd foot high with huge teeth, whale bus totally looked like it was about to munch us. I took a step back, while the little man hit the roof, he started crying and hugged on tightly to me hiding from the
monster of the sea/highway. Only then, I realised this was a prime case of good dadding intent gone wrong.
We walked away from whale bus and I tried to calm him down. Then it seemed our luck had changed as a Fire Truck came driving towards us, I told little man to wave at the firemen as they drove past. He did, but as they passed they sounded the loud horn on the truck. Little man got frightened all over again and resumed inconsolable crying.
We returned to the car, both wanting to put the disastrous detour behind us. As we drove off I heard my boy softly say “whale bus is a shark”. He was right, whale bus was a dirty old sharp-toothed badass shark that gobbles up tourists from their hotels and spits them out at the aquarium to pay exorbitant entry fees. His terrified reaction was completely understandable for a two-year old. I just never saw it coming.
For dads, it’s reasonably common sense knowing what’s age-appropriate on TV and online, but real-world experiences can be less black and white. I’ve seen my boy get really frightened by
unusual weather conditions, loud music, pet animals and boozed women. So now I try to put more thought into his viewpoint of the world around him, and also the sensitivities of his age. Another lesson came a few months ago. During a continuing effort to teach him to be gentle to animals, I took him towards a friendly, but large, dog for a pat. It also ended up in major waterworks. Then again, if I was pushed in front of a dog that was the same height as me, looking me in the eye with big teeth and meaty breath – I’d probably cry too. It must be a frightening perspective for a little fella. So are our expectations of toddler bravery unreasonable?
From a dad’s perspective, as our sons and daughters reach two years-old and beyond, we begin seeing them less as babies and more as little buddies to take on mini adventures. So, it’s easy to get ahead of what their physical abilities are and also their emotional capabilities. This dad made an easy mistake with the whale bus face-to-face disaster. Now the awesome mystery is gone and my son knows that his favourite whale is actually a shark… and a bus.