For a child, everywhere is a playground; for an adult, it is the same, only the plays are different! ― Mehmet Murat ildan
We’ve all had the moment where someone hasn’t been kind to us. Many of us have recognized a friendship that lacked sincerity or support and conceived an exit strategy so that we could become better without a burden or negative influence. Some of us have experienced toxicity repeatedly and worked to identify what we do to invite or participate in such scenarios. Regardless, encounters with the unkind are to be expected and hopefully teach us about managing the uncomfortable and navigating the need to work through or with problematic people.
Yesterday I took my girls, ages 4 and 6, to the local playground. While pushing my youngest on the swing, I noted four teenage girls who had recently arrived. Tall, thin, and beautiful, these girls stood out amongst the backdrop of preschool and elementary school-aged children, but also because one was determined to play. I loved that she wanted to revert to a game of tag. I watched eagerly to see what her friends would do when called upon to engage. Two of the girls happily dismounted their bikes and were eager to partake. But one remained, wearing her displeasure in expression and stance. When the initiator asked her if she’d like to join, and the girl shook her head no, a curt “go home then” was issued.
I watched the two joiners look back but simultaneously proceed towards the initiator.
As the girl closed her eyes to begin the game, the fourth girl, the one who looked like the whole scene was beneath her, called upon her friends to abandon the girl counting. They quickly mounted their bikes and rode off, laughing as they left her behind.
The whole scene was cringeworthy. There were multiple mean moments at play; from the counter telling the nonparticipant to go home and then the nonparticipant soliciting friends to abandon the counter. I saw glimpses of frustration and fear on their faces, and I saw moments of apprehension and guilt in their eyes. No matter the age, the playground is a space where social cues and behaviors are formed, tested, and on full display.
As they pedaled away, I saw two toddlers duke it out for the best sandbox space. Before the teenagers’ arrival, I had watched kindergartners decide whether they’d include or exclude newcomers. I’m happy to report their choice was inclusion.
Yesterday I saw a lot of play. And while every scenario varied in age, they shared the same struggle. Who do we allow in our space? Who participates willingly and eagerly?
It’s a good question worthy of a cup of coffee and some conversation. Today I’m raising my mug for safe and serene spaces with people who light me on fire and burn bright with me. These people are my playground posse.