When we first started taking Miles to the playground at about 11 months, he had no notion of things that were too big for him. The kid hadn’t even mastered walking, but if there was playground equipment he wanted to be around it, on it, under it, and trying to fall off it. In these days, my sister (hardly bigger than a kid herself, at 4’11″ and pretty lean) was a boon, because she could go down all the slides and squeeze into these made-for-kids nooks and crannies with him.
I find this just slightly more difficult. My fat ass has to stand back a little, hover around the gaps and hold to catch him if he falls — and I usually do.
I usually went during the day when I wasn’t working, and usually only encountered kids in the 1 – 6 age range. As can be imagined, Miles was generally run over, and occasionally scolded by slightly older children for being a baby. (There was one kid in particular who meant well — he was so alarmed by Miles’s presence, and kept trying to stop him from climbing by pushing him, yelling, “No, you’re a baby!” Miles was unperturbed.)
And while I generally don’t think that kids are assholes, no matter how often I swear my child is a jerk, I do think that people in general — and kids especially — tend to be less aware of their actions as they relate to others. Empathy is a hard concept.
I have a hard time at playgrounds — I’ll bring a book, but then spend so much time staring at Miles, waiting for something to happen, that I end up not reading anything. Or I’m terrified that I’ll lose track of him. Today we went to a small, only-one-exit-to-my-back indoor play area; I spent time on my laptop finishing up some work, and I can’t count the number of times I had to stop and focus on where exactly my child was. (Tunnel-vision, thy name is Ashes.)
The other day we went to a playground, and there were a couple classes there — from school or from daycare, I couldn’t tell you — with something like two dozen 8-10 year olds enjoying the first warm day of the year. As you can imagine, they were rowdy.
These kids were like cultists, the kind of kids people imagine when they talk about rowdy, uncontrollable kids that are ruining our culture one temper tantrum at a time. (No, I don’t believe that.) At one point there were something like 15 of them all clustered on these small stairs leading up to a slide, screaming at the top of their lungs after another little girl: “ALISHA! ALISHA! ALISHA!” For ten minutes. I don’t even know why.
The thing is? They kids were all darling with Miles. They weren’t rude when I encountered them, they always made space for him to get down the slide, they made sure that they didn’t run into him or knock him down — one little girl actually let him hold her hand and lead her around for a little bit. A couple kids mentioned that there was a baby, but they weren’t bothered or at all inconvenienced by his presence in their space.
These bizarre, slightly terrifying children weren’t actually all that bizarre or terrifying — they were just being kids. (That said, I feel for poor Alisha, whose name is not actually Alisha.) This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this in the last couple weeks, and it’s so refreshing. It’s like when you think something is going to taste bad, and it turns out to be delicious.
Children aren’t actually assholes most of the time, they just look like it in large groups.
Edit June 30th, 2011 to add: Followed up with Teenagers (Also) Aren’t Assholes