Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Playground dynamics

I've been thinking about the fact that when you are engaged with your kid in a public space, like the playground or the bus, other people's kids start to gravitate to you.  By now I've gotten used to seeing parents at the playground who are totally disengaged from their kids -- they sit there reading their Economist or talking among themselves as their kids bolt around screaming their heads off.  I've been maintaining an attitude of low-level, simmering self-righteousness about this -- about the same level of ire reserved for smokers who fling their butts on the sidewalk and people who take up two seats on the bus.  Engage with your kids! That's the point of weekends!

Like most weekends, we spent a fair amount of Memorial Day weekend at Riverside Park enjoying the playgrounds. Alice has a nice routine where she clambers up the ladder or the stairway (which earns her a high-five from me), makes her way across the bouncy bridge, and goes down the big-girl twisty slide.  I kind of coach her along and narrate the action.  (It's not helicopter parenting, it's having fun and building confidence.) This weekend she started swinging on the monkey bars on her own, holding her legs out in front of her and just dangling there, her face an expression of quiet intensity that's usually only seen when she's trying to poop.

Sure enough, several kids started hanging out with us.  One little kid on the slide objected when I described him to Alice as a "little boy" -- "I'm a big boy!" he said ("Well, you're littler than me," I told him.)  Another girl, Inga, wandered over to us and got very bossy about the bubbles we were playing with.  I entertained her for ten minutes while her nanny was oblivious to the whole thing. 

Then today on the bus a little four year-old kid just started talking to us about nothing.  "I'm four and a half." "My name's John."  "My favorite bus is the M104, but sometimes we take the M4."  "My shoes light up when I do this."

Kids are drawn to other kids, and a lot of kids like to talk to Alice and learn about her.  But then some just seem very hungry for an adult to pay attention to them, to talk them through the playground, to provide some kind of order and cohesion to the experience.  It's very odd to be in that kind of position sometimes.  But I'm enjoying the process of learning how to talk with kids and entertain them and lead their pack.

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