I am a Boy on The Playground

28 Apr

Yesterday I took the boys I babysit to a public playground. The oldest is not not quite in elementary school and the younger brother is around 2, I think.

First, a funny anecdote. One person asked me how young the little brother was. “um.” – pause – “somewhere around 2?” This answer invited a quizzical look and the reply, “you don’t know his age?” End of conversation.

Anyway, onto the reason I am writing this post. The older brother has been watching Peter Pan and has decided that he is Captain Hook, a “bad pirate.” (When I asked him why, he answered “I have to grow up someday.”) Now, he wanted to go to the park because, naturally, the playground is his ship and he has to make sure mean girls do not take it from him.

He takes a bucket of toys to the park. I neglect to inspect this.

Immediately upon arrival, he speeds over to the playground. A number of children were playing in one spot. The rest of the playground is relatively empty. He marches up to the children, having placed his pirate patch over his eye and withdrawn his sword (a spatula), he shouts “Get off my ship!” And this is how he continued to begin his interactions with other children throughout our time there. Either the children would begin to play with him, or, as was the case on several occasions (two with the same child), an overprotective parent would whisk the child away and give me a quizzical look. Now, a spatula was unfortunately not all the bucket contained. It also harbored several fake guns and knives, which were distributed the children who decided to play. Cries of “walk the plank” were shouted at girls from the top of slides, and “shoot him” at those dubbed peter pan. Several parents were not happy that such violent toys had been brought to the playground and I must admit, I cringed every time I noticed other parents removing their children from the action, or giving me dirty looks. I spent a good deal of the time thinking to myself what I would say if I was approached.

(This distaste was not universal, mind you. Several parents cared very little. It is interesting to note that the two were distinct groups. Upper class white fathers were universally appalled at my decided non-interference. Lower class moms were unconcerned or amused. Take from it what you will.)

As I watched the scene unfold, I wondered if I was ever that assertive as a child. I honestly can’t remember a time when I marched up to any group of strangers and told them, under no polite circumstances, to obey my will. ‘This is my ship, you have to leave.”

What struck me was one occasion where the father began to whisk his little girl away, the boy I babysit yelled “hey! don’t do that!”

When I had arrived to babysit earlier that day, he had run outside and was jumping up and down. “we’re going to the park, we’re going to the park.” (I had promised him the week before. It had been rainy, and we stayed inside the entire time.)

Remembering his enthusiasm at going to the park, and his dismay at the loss of his potential playmate, made me realize – he had been eagerly waiting, possibly all week, to go play pirates. The way he decided to get things rolling was to simply go be a pirate. Surely the other kids will respond by also playing pirates. You have to get the ball rolling somehow, right? His “embarrassing” assertiveness was just a call to a game, a game he really really wanted to play.

Anyone who knows me, especially those of you from my pre-UD existence, knows that I do exactly this sort of thing. That is, I say something absolutely certain to offend, or provoke, someone into conversation. (Interesting people see these as invitations.) I do this because talking is what I like to do, and I need other people to join in and, preferably, someone to oppose me. You see, we boys don’t mean any harm by it, but how else can we get everyone to play along?

“You could ask, nicely.”

Wrong! What if you don’t want to play? Or don’t understand how much fun the game is? What if part of the game – and this is the fundamental point – is pretending it’s real life? For the little guy and myself, the game is no fun if nobody cares.


6 Responses to “I am a Boy on The Playground”

  1. Terrill April 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    A good analysis of yourself, for sure! And, I appreciate commiseration with regards to other parents staring quizzically at S’s “games”. An especially fond memory of mine is being on a playground with Russian kids as S tried to kill the “Commies”… Of course, I am simultaneously thinking: “OH NO! Don’t say THAT,” and, “Lighten UP, parents!”

    By the by, B is 19 months 🙂

    • Cole April 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

      Ha. I would love to be a fly on the wall of his pre-school. Administrators will probably have a red flag by his name until high school.

  2. CrystalSpins April 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm #


    • Cole April 30, 2011 at 12:10 am #

      Hi Crystal, I can’t say I take your meaning. You’ll have to elaborate for me, so I can either a) join with you in the castigation of those mean hyper-sensitive parents or b) improve myself by taking to heart constructive criticism. Though, if the little guy is the target, I will then be forced to come to his defense.

  3. CrystalSpins May 3, 2011 at 12:35 am #

    No, I think the little guy is adorable.

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