Just Another Day at the Playground

My four-year-old, Jacob, is no shrinking violet.  Really, I’m thrilled that he is so comfortable in his own skin.  But does he have to be so loud about it?

Case in point.  We were at the neighborhood playground a few weeks ago.  It was a warm, sunny day in early September.  Lots of kids playing.  Lots of parents milling around.  Jacob sprinted to the top of the slide and belted out, “I’M HIGH AS A SANDWICH!”

Okay, two issues.  First, you never want to hear your four-year-old start a sentence with “I’m high as” because no matter how that sentence ends, it’s going to call into question your fitness as a parent.  (NO, this is not a phrase he picked up at home.)  And second: high as a sandwich?  What the hell does that even mean?  Moving on.

Because I never learn from my experiences, we were back at the same playground just a few days later.  Jacob ran a few lazy loops around a grassy area and then squatted down to pick something up.  “Let’s play POOH STICKS!” he screamed to all of the kids within ear shot.  Kids he had NEVER MET.  Okay, so Pooh Sticks is a game that Winnie the Pooh likes to play with Piglet and Tigger.  But, I have a sinking feeling that nobody else on the playground knew this.  Most of the kids nearby looked at Jacob confused.  A young couple playing with their two-year-old quickly shuttled her away.

What amazes me about Jacob is that he is completely undaunted by the prospect of enlisting other children- complete strangers- in whatever he has planned.  Shortly after discovering that no one wanted to play Pooh Sticks (a head scratcher, I know), Jacob was on to his next scheme.  He found two little boys, most likely brothers, playing together and decided that he would join them.  Or rather, decided that they would join him.  “Guys!  Let’s play WOLF!” he called to them excitedly.  Because if you are going to convince complete strangers to join your game, it’s best to pick something that NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD OF.  How can you do this?  INVENT A GAME.  (Done and done.)  Apparently, these two little boys were not terribly excited about playing Wolf.  They made this clear by walking away from Jacob.  Quickly.  Completely unphased, Jacob ran after them saying, “Okay, then I want to play what you’re playing.  Guys!  Guys! What are you playing?”

Now unfortunately, I’m not sure what happened over the next few minutes because I had to tend to my one-year-old, Emma.  But when I looked over at Jacob again, he was playing hide-and-seek with the two boys.  Jacob and the younger of the two boys were “hiding” under a small plastic slide and the older boy was across the playground counting to ten.  When the older boy got to ten, he began seeking.  And found Jacob and the younger boy immediately.  Jacob was upset.  But not about being found.  “Nooooo,” he said earnestly, “you have to count to TWENTY!”  For some inexplicable reason, the older boy thought this was completely reasonable.  He walked away, and counted to twenty.  Then returned.  Jacob and the younger boy were still hiding in the same spot.  But this time everyone seemed satisfied with a game well played.

And then there was the incident on the playground at school.  (Must.  Start.  Avoiding.  Playgrounds.)  When I came to pick Jacob up at preschool last week he was playing with a new little girl who is almost as aggressively outgoing as he is.  Jacob ran over to me and asked, breathlessly, if he could go to her birthday party.  I gave him my usual, pat answer, “It’s up to her Mommy or Daddy to decide.  We can’t invite ourselves over to other people’s houses or parties.”  At this point, Jacob usually looks at me annoyed and says something obvious like, “Yes we can”.  And he means it.  Because he does.  On a daily basis.  But, this time, he seemed to accept my answer and sped off.  “I’ve finally gotten through to the boy,” I thought, relieved.  Then I realized that the new girl’s father was just about ten feet away.  And Jacob was now standing two inches in front of him.  Speaking intensely.  No doubt negotiating for an invite to her birthday party, house, family vacation, bat mitzvah, whatever.  Crud.  I considered whether it was better to try to intervene then or do damage control later.  Ultimately, I decided: neither.  (I’m sorry- did I give the impression that I actually take responsibility for my four-year-old’s behavior?)  I watched Jacob out of the corner of my eye.  The new girl’s father was trying to usher her (quickly) off the playground.  But the new girl was much more interested in following Jacob up the stairs of the slide.

“C’mon little monkey!” the father called to his girl with a hint of desperation in his voice.  At which point Jacob turned and while hanging halfway off the stairs to the slide, screamed, “I’M THE LITTLE MONKEY!”  Oh dear Lord.

Sometimes I look at Jacob and am just in awe.  Other times I look at him and try to figure out how a child can be the product of neither nature nor nurture.  I have to respect his courage.  And that he is not hindered by the fear of social rejection.  He is the little monkey.  And I suspect that, in the long run, it will serve him well.

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