Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Playground Rules & Etiquette 101

Kristy teaches high school, which makes the fact that she had to work last night suspicious to me. She claimed there were some sort of parent/teacher conferences going on and she had to be on hand to tell parents how smart or how dumb their kids are. She does that with me all the time. If not for the fact that she took GK with her, I would have accused her of lying to get out of a Monday night at home with its bathtime, dinner preparation, cleaning, and all of the other events that are akin to stuffing square pegs into round holes. Kristy would never do that anyway because she wouldn’t know what to do without the rest of us. At least that’s what I keep telling myself, and that’s what I told C, JP and S last night. Lying to get out of school night preparations would be unthinkable, it would be against the rules.

I was faced with the proposition of taking these three home to tackle laundry and dinner and baths, or taking them to the park, where they could run free and be supervised by other children’s parents. The decision was an easy one.

Peabody Park was overrun with children. It looked as though some sort of child dam had broken upriver and flooded the playground with its supply. My kids fall right in to playing with strange children, for which I am grateful. Not just because it means they’re out of my hair when we go to the park, but because one of the things I like most about being the father of an 8-year-old and others who are younger, is watching them interact with other people of the same height. I enjoy how they refer to each other – the boy with the orange shirt, the kid with the brown skin – and watching how they resolve disputes, which is amazingly quick and friendly. I also appreciate it because it is not how I was as a child. I was shy, still am, and I’m sure I missed out on a lot of fun because of it. I think that even as a child, though, I liked just sitting back, watching the action, though I know it would have been great to just jump right in and organize a game of tag or hide-and-go-seek the way C does. I think I turned out alright regardless.

I was pushing S and another little girl (how did I get stuck with an extra child?) in the swings yesterday and watching C and JP play tag with a group of kids, the game being run by another dad with quicker feet and a better back than I. It occurred to me that, along with not yet having taught C to ride a bike and never yet having taken my kids fishing, both things on my Bad Parenting List, I may have also inadvertently forgotten to teach them the rules and etiquette of playground play. Specifically, that if you get tagged, then you are IT, and there’s no way around that. I first saw JP get tagged, obviously tagged, and him immediately denounce the game. He wasn’t playing anymore. Then I saw C get tagged. Now this wasn’t quite as clear, as he was in the stretch for home base at a pretty good clip, but I think any referee on the field would have called him IT. I did. But he insisted he was on base. He would live another day without being IT.

And what’s so wrong with being IT? I realize the goal of the contest is to Not Be IT, but when you’re IT you get to terrorize all of the other kids. They run from you, screaming, afraid for their very lives, it seems. At home, The Quartet is always IT. Kristy and I hide, and when they find us, we run. They always seem to tag us, though. Sometimes they’re sneaky and it’s with a hug or a kiss. But sometimes it’s with a shoe thrown from the living room couch.

I sat down at the park with JP, because he wasn’t playing anymore, and explained to him that when he’s tagged, then he’s IT, and that’s just the way it is. All he can do is run as fast as he can and tag some smaller, slower child, maybe that one over there with the eye patch (run at her from her left!). He didn’t respond, just looked at me like I was crazy. “I’m not playing,” he said. And that was that.

The game was eventually called on account of extreme thirst and dinnertime, and we went home so C could ask questions. Home, where the rules are more clearly defined. Where when you’re tagged, you’re IT and where there is no lying to get out of nightly chores, even if you do take a kid with you.