This past weekend, I found myself with the kids at a play area in the mall. A play area is basically a large area with a soft floor and a whole bunch of nonmoving kids’ toys: giant plastic airplaines for them to climb on, small slides, and so forth. It’s surrounded by barriers the kids can’t get through so that you can simply let your kids play without having to worry about them running off.
The etiquette at these places is pretty straightforward. All the adults stay on the periphery and only interfere in cases of extreme danger, violence, or tears. The first time I was at one of these, I had a tough time with that. I’d much rather play than watch others play. However, you’ll quickly find that if you’re out there playing with your kid, none of the other kids will play with him.
Fortunately, I have an exception now: N. When you have a toddler that can barely walk, everyone (both kids and adults) understands that you have to be there to play catcher.
In any case, on this particular evening, there were about 20 kids in the play area. C stayed with me until he realized that I was focussing on N. Then he went running off to join the biggest group of kids.
They were being led by a rather bossy little girl who was 6 or 7 years old. They were playing follow the leader, but she was occasionally stopping the game to have them all sit down, or "take a break", or do one-on-one races, or whatever else occurred to her.
C was being surprisingly compliant. He doesn’t react well to being told what to do, and I was both surprised and impressed that he was fitting in so well.
Then it happened. They were at the big plastic plane, pounding on its wings and jumping up and down, and Bossy Girl started shouting at them all to stop. The other kids stopped, but C didn’t want to. He really likes banging.
Soon, he was banging and jumping all by himself. Bossy Girl pointed at him, "hey! I said stop."
C didn’t even look at her when he said "No." He didn’t shout or sound angry or anything like that. It was more as if she’d asked him if he wanted a refill on his tea and he was politely declining.
I couldn’t help but smile. I knew her pain.
She pointed again, shaking her finger. "Stop! I said stop!"
"Sit down! Right there! You sit down!"
At this point, I didn’t know what she was going to do. I thought her little head was going to explode. She stomped her foot, and started to shout. C just laughed, looked at the other kids and ran off.
And they all followed him.
Bossy girl was stuck with a tough decision. She’d now lost the entire group. She stood there for a few moments, looking around. Then she ran to the front of the group and steered them back into her game (C included).
That girl has a future in politics.