Huge thank you to Polly, AKA Lesbian Dad, for sharing her picks on favorite places with kids in the Berkeley area. Her blog by the same name is an insightful and photogenic look at the intersection between mother and father.
Fave playground: It’s not a playground, per se, and the general public is only permitted after school and on the weekends. But my favorite public sphere adventure place in town is King Middle School’s Edible Schoolyard. As the kids play hide-and-seek around the various crops and hop from hay bale to hay bale under the pergola'd meeting area, I check on what’s in season and drink in the view out over the bay to the Gate. We peer at the fish in the pond (if they’re there, which raccoons and pond maintenance doesn’t always guarantee), and we always wind up eating our snack staring at the chickens in the coop behind the tool shed. The kids may prefer clambering on play structures at traditional playgrounds (King has two good ones for little and medium-sized kids nearby on Hopkins, next to the pool, if they really insist), but their imaginations run wild at the Edible Schoolyard, and I always leave totally refreshed.
Cactus or picante? Picante, duh. But not just for its superior kid-friendliness (color-in placemats and crayons aplenty, fountain for them to play at in warm weather, tortilla-maker to watch and charm free samples from), but for superior menu range and depth. The difference in tortilla chips alone makes this a no-brainer. Personal fave: Enchiladas de queso con molé, washed down with margarita (over ice and with salted rim, por supuesto).
Fave date night: We pack up the truck with a big blanket, two cheap, low-slung lawn chairs, and a thermos of hot chocolate. Grab fresh fruit from the farmer’s market, pick up bread, cheese, and olives from Cheese Board, and get a split of wine from North Berkeley Wine Company. Drive up to the parking lot terraces above the Lawrence Hall of Science, park the on the highest terrace with the truck bed facing out to the bay, and then set up the lawn chairs. Hunker down to watch the sun set, the bay become iridescent, the lights twinkle on, and the stars slowly emerge as we have long conversations about anything and everything, as if we were a-courtin’ long, long ago. Cheapest date night ever; bar none always the best.
Fave toy store: It’s not a “best kept secret” that I’m revealing here, but I still have to count myself among the stalwart Mr. Mopps‘ lovers. When they were on the brink of going bust in 2010, I was beside myself about the deterioration of the neighborhood: first Black Oak leaves; et tu, Mopps? So when former local Devin McDonald and partner Jenny Stevenson bought it and breathed just the right kind of new life into it, I was equally beside myself. It maintains the best of its old self, and has only shed detritus: the store stocks a minimum of commercial media product tie-in and a maximum of ol’ school, standing-the-test-of-time toys for a vast range of ages; it has a huge selection of dollar-or-less baubles, always in demand for birthday party giftie bags; it offers a range of good books and–finally!–a carpeted reading area in which to dive right into them! Toy store perfection!
Fave thing from when you were a rookie dad that you want to tell other rookie dads: The most painful thing for me in my early parenthood was the vivid sense that I was an “also ran” in the eyes of our first child (not so our second, who considers me a walking god, and I’m not about to disabuse him of that notion). In the eyes of our first child, the sun rose and set on Mama, and I felt like chopped liver, so much so that I would woefully spell out the letters “C” and “L” on my forehead to my partner when the occasion arose (which it did, over and over for the first several years). I knew I had an irreplaceable role in our family; knew our daughter needed me. But the clarity of the distinction wore heavy on my heart. The news? It gets better! Getting the whole family through the toddler years takes so much patience and faith, but hang on! My daughter’s and my relationship has persistently strengthened and deepened, and the unique things I offer her have become utterly indispensable to her. I am not “as good as Mama,” I am Baba, quite distinct and deeply cherished. Our daughter is eight now, and I can’t even remember the last time I used the “C” – “L” hand sign on my forehead. So: if you feel a sting as you stand and watch the deep, visceral, birth mama-child bond, abide! Persevere! The relationship that carries our children through to their adulthood is the one forged in the heart.