"Swide, mom-mom? Pwease?"
When your toddler stares at you with those little Bambi eyes and pleads with you to take her to the park to go down the slide, well, it is pretty darn hard to resist. As my husband reminds me - this season of life is short-lived, when the answer to her desire might be so simple and within our grasp (though perhaps just out of range for our energy level at the moment).
Every time we go to the park, I think "We should totally come to the park more often!" and then, every time we leave the park and she throws herself on the ground in a rage of despair thinking she will never return again, I think "We're never coming back to the park!" Whew.
But, the other day, she got me at just the right time. Both girls had taken their naps (you know, the usual 30 minute-er) and were ready to either destroy the living room (again) or take out their aggression on the playground. So, to the park we went!
Just two words: Wanna play?
And the afternoon was turned into an adventure.
We are super blessed to live across the street from a park, but oftentimes we are deterred from going there simply because the kids that play there are too old or rough and might potentially knock over a toddler who's bound and determined to go down the tunnel slide eight thousand times in one afternoon. So, we totally lucked out this particular day when we arrived and only saw two other boys who were completely disinterested in us. Yay!
As Matilda made her rounds (rope ladder, slide, stairs, slide, ladder, slide, stairs, tunnel, slide...) I observed the other two boys on the playground. While my attention was primarily on ensuring Matilda's every-3-minute-rescue-from-certain-death attack of the playground equipment, I couldn't help but catch myself listening to these other two little fellows.
They were as different as different could be. While they were both about the same age (maybe 6) one was rough and rowdy - he had blonde, spiky hair and blue jeans; and, the other was proper and polite - he had squirrelly dark hair and wore a navy prep school uniform, cardigan and all. The rowdy blonde kid was hopping all around the equipment, testing the limitations of every rope or slide, all the while inviting the shy boy to join him. While the quiet fellow would timidly follow along, he awkwardly mimicked the same moves in a much less suave fashion.
I couldn't help but think that each boy fit a very obvious stereotype we see as adults. It was almost as if I was witnessing a flashback sequence from Saved by the Bell where Screech and Zack Morris meet for the first time. I'm telling you, it was so strange. I just kept thinking - "If you two were ten years older, you wouldn't be caught dead hanging out together!"
Now, maybe this all sounds super judgmental and superficial. I know I'm canning these poor kids into a stereotype that they certainly could outgrow or not even be close too becoming - but, it was so striking in the moment that it couldn't be ignored. In a world where bullying is making the evening news, these are the kinds of stereotypes the children of today are experiencing. And here they are, two future oddballs, the jock and the nerd...absolutely having a blast on the playground.
Better yet - these new little buddies had JUST met. I overheard the rowdy boy's dad say that they were just visiting from out of town, that they'd never been to this park before - so, these two had no reason to want to necessarily play together. No reason, except the only reason you need when you are six: to play.
These two opposites possessed all they needed to have a wonderful afternoon: joy! They didn't care what time it was, who was watching, what so-n-so had just posted on Facebook, or even that dinner time was just around the corner. They just wanted to PLAY! And the fact that there was another kid there - any kid at all - was such a triumphant bonus in each of their proverbial books, that it didn't matter if he was different or half-alien or growing a tail - anybody can become a buddy when you just want to play.
They both had their playground goggles on. Totally blind to the future potential that this other person might not like them. Completely unaware of their background or differences or home situation. Having no idea what they believe in or how expensive their shoes may be. Absolutely not an inkling in their head of how the rest of the day might pan out beyond the next couple minutes of focusing this ridiculous task of pretending this slide is a surfboard over an ocean full of zombie sharks. No guard up. No preconceived notions. No caution or judgment. No doubt that a good time won't be had by all. Just two words: Wanna play? And the afternoon was turned into an adventure.
Somewhere around age 10 or 12 I think I lost my playground goggles. Probably on the bus to school one day when I decided to not sit next to the smelly girl with the dirty sneakers. Or I may have left them in the locker room at recess after I got told I couldn't be a pretend cheerleader with two other "prettier" girls. Or maybe I broke them on purpose the day I made a joke in the lunchroom that got everyone laughing, but left one girl crying and alone.
Growing up is hard stuff. Nobody does it "right". And every day we have the choice as adults to make a conscious effort to step in the direction of something that used to come to us totally unconsciously, something that used to be second nature, something that used to be as easy as smiling: making friends.
These boys were so carefree and funny. Their joy was only interrupted by the time constraints their parents reminded them of. And, when they had to depart, and go their separate ways, they each took with them little memories of a happy afternoon.
That day, so did I. And, along with the happiness, a new pair of goggles to remind me how to look at the world. A new perspective to give others the benefit of the doubt. A new lesson in remaining transparent. A new insight on loving through the simplest and smallest of actions.
Thanks, boys. I sure hope you never lose your goggles.