Where the Children Play

I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?

Cat Stevens

One of the things I really enjoy about being  a parent is watching Parker play, and how his play has changed and developed from merely picking things up and banging them to work on his motor skills to playing out rather elaborate stories with his trains. It really makes me happy to see the imagination and creativity that goes into his play, whether it’s playing with his trains or pretending to tuck his teddy bear into bed. But Parker’s play also has the effect of pulling me out of myself and away from the computer, as it did this weekend as I sat perusing political blog posts and feeling rather uninspired until it was time to get up and take Parker to the big playground near our house. Unexpectedly, I found myself seeing a world of possibility in child’s play, and wishing adults could be more childlike in some ways.

We go the park because Parker needs to go to the park. This kid needs to run and needs to climb. Not just for exercise, but his own well being as well as Daddy & Papa’s sanity. He has swimming lessons on the weekends as another way of getting out of the house and getting some exercise, but it’s really all about the park, the big slide, the swing, and all the other cool stuff to climb on. Sometimes it takes me a while, but eventually I stop thinking about the other stuff I want to do (to read, or post) when I get back home, and I find myself having fun watching Parker’s joy in being free to run and climb and use his body.

But this weekend was a little different. We’d been at the park for a while, following Parker from one area to another, watching him climb the stairs to the slide and laughing with him as he rode down, and pushing him in the swing. We were just about to start suggesting to Parker that we would be going home soon (we learned long ago that planting the suggestion a little early eases the transition), when we realized that Parker had — unbeknownst to us — started playing with another boy who must have been nearby as the park was full of parents and children, and somewhere along the way parallel play became unison play, before any of the adults knew what was happening.

What surprised me, and kind of awed me, was the way it happened. I don’t remember them sizing each other up, and there certainly wasn’t an introduction. That was left to the parents, as we introduced ourselves to each other and shared some information about our kids. The boys didn’t even exchange names, because that didn’t seem to matter any more than it mattered that one was Asian and one was Black, or that one was a year older than the other. They were kids in the park, and were there so play so they played together, pretending to drive trucks and fly planes together while running from one end of the park to the other as the parents tried to keep up with them.

After a while another kid joined them, this time a girl who was younger than both of them. They included her with about as much process as took place when the two boy started playing with each other. Again, it didn’t matter what her name was, that she was white or a girl, or that she was younger than them. She was a kid in the park, like them. And they were there to play, so they played together. That was what mattered, and the parents were left to sort out details like names, ages, etc.

In the back of my mind I wondered what the other kids’ parents thought about Parker apparently having two dads, but it didn’t seem to matter to them any more than it did to their kids. At one point, the other boy decided to include the hubby and I in the story of their play by pretending we were aliens on a planet they were exploring, but Parker happily exclaimed "No, that’s my daddy and papa!" And they played right along, and we adults followed right along.

Maybe I’m making too much of this, but it occurred to me that our kids were able to meet each other and be with each on a level that we adults can’t always access because we have to jump over hurdles like race, gender, orientation, etc., whereas our kids seem to run right around them as if they’re not there. And who knows? Maybe they aren’t there, but we’re so used to seeing them there or being told they’re there that we think we have to jump over them, or that there’s no room to run around them. But as we followed them through the park that evening, even though we were right there in the park with our kids, it seemed like they were playing in a whole other place that we could see but not reach.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in the political blogosphere lately, watching what’s happening, making commentary and reading it, putting hurdles in place and trying to jump over them, sometimes falling flat. To be honest, even with everything going on in the political realm, my heart hasn’t really been in it for the last couple of day, as far as political blogging goes. I look at it all and end up angry, bitter, depressed or some combination of all three. Every once in a while I get tired of it, at least until something stokes my fires again and I find myself back at the keyboard.

This morning while riding the train to work and listening to music on the iPod, I heard a cover of the Cat Steven’s song quoted a the start of this post (and from which I sort of borrowed the title), and I found myself thinking about Parker and the other kids playing together this weekend and it seemed so easy because they’re differences didn’t matter to them. In fact, their differences didn’t even exist for them. And I thought about the question in the title of the song: Where do the children play? It’s somewhere that they’re not black or white or asian or whatever, where they’re not boys or girls, where it doesn’t matter who their parents are, etc.; where all of the things that seems to tie adults up in knots don’t even exist.

It kind of reminds me of another song on my iPod, Sweet Honey in the Rock singing "On Children" from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not
even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

Where do the children play? I’m sure I’ve been there before, a long time ago, though I’m not entirely sure where it is. I’ve seen it recently, but I don’t know just how to get there. Still, it seems like a pretty nice place; one I think I’d like to visit again sometime. Soon. Maybe tonight I’ll leave the computer off for a few hours, and spend it playing with the my son instead.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
This entry was posted in Books, Family, Life, Parenting, Politics, Race. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Where the Children Play

  1. Reina says:

    T: A beautiful piece full of lessons for adults and, indeed, a nice break from politics. It shines perspective on the irony and idiocy of politics.

  2. Joan says:

    What a fun thing to watch!  I remember Owen once trying to tell me about a kid in his kindergarten class but he couldn’t remember the boy’s name  so he resorted to rambling off the ‘details’ that he knew about him.  He wore blue sneakers, he used a green pencil,  his favorite color was yellow and he liked to play with the blocks a lot.  I was mentally trying to remember all the boys in his class (for some reason it was very important for him that I knew exactly who he meant, I couldn’t just nod my way out of it!)  I had narrowed it down to 2 kids and asked "Oh Tyler or Kevin?" "I don’t know"  so I asked something that would be, what I thought, a final deciding vote "Honey is he black, or is he white?"

    *Blank stare*

    We spent several more minutes trying to figure out  which little boy he was talking about but all the while, in the back on my mind, I was silently really amazed at how kids find the important parts of each other and focus on those and ignore the other things.  As the year went on he began categorizing some kids as "more brown" and some as "more pink" but it was a distinction on par with "blonde or brunette" or "boy or girl"  It was cute while it lasted.  The next year his teacher scolded him for not using the "right term" and apparently gave him a lecture about black vs white and he came home feeling bad that he had been "saying the wrong thing" all that time and worried that his best friend, who was black, was going to be mad at him!  Luckily, he wasn’t, and he is still, almost 5 years later, his best friend!

  3. KathyF says:

    I especially like that last quote. I’m about to take my daughter to the airport. Another heartwrenching goodbye to a daughter who refuses to even let me house her body anymore, much less her soul!

    Enjoy that kid while he’s young; they fly away far too soon.

  4. Mark says:

    Terrance–
    Absolutely beautiful post. You, I, and several other bloggers are getting Bush burnout, and to read something as moving and insightful as this is a great change of pace.

    And KathyF hit the nail on the head — I keep saying how I can’t wait for The Boy to start riding a bike, beat me in Madden on the PS2 (which shouldn’t take long), and play Boggle with us …

    then I sit there and see him, now at 18 months old, running around with unbridled joy, laughing hysterically at something as simple as a balloon, giving the dogs hugs, and just soak it in, realizing that it’ll be gone before I know it.

  5. Lorin11 says:

    Hi Terrance:

    I loved your post, although I have a slightly different take on it.  As you know, my son Evan is autistic.  He’s 6 1/2 years old now.  Evan is a glorious boy, with all that that implies.  However, he is not toilet trained, has barely rudimentary verbal skills, and, until recently, didn’t play with any other kids.  Evan had been in a special school until this last September, when we transitioned him into a public school with autistic support classrooms.

    Because of his and my situation, and where we live, he has not spent very much time around other kids.  Sure, there are a couple of playgrounds, and I take him there whenever I can.  But Evan has not really paid any attention to other kids as he plays.  Other kids have been essentially irrelevant to him.

    Recently, I found out that Evan has made a friend at school.  His name is Peter.  Peter is, based on the description I have received, more of as aspie than an autie.  What i mean is that he can talk, and write, just like any other kid his age.  Apparently he just loves Evan.  So much so that the teacher will occasionally use the coercion that if he doesn’c complete a task, Peter can’t play with Evan.  And it’s helping Evan.  Peter is teaching him words; he’s talking more.

    Two weeks ago, the school took the autistic kids on a field trip to the local aquarium.  Evan’s behavioral specialist called me after the trip.  She said "You should have seen our boy Evan today.  He walked up to Peter, and gave him a hug."  It’s the first time he has ever shown affection for another kid.  Now, he and I are hugging all the time, although I have to do it in a certain way, just as I am allowed to kiss the top of his head, but not his face.  So he has the modeling behavior.  But we waited over 6 years for this.  

    With an autistic kid, the progress can be glacial.  But sometimes, it’s like when spring comes in the Arctic.  Once in a while, a huge chunk breaks off and falls into the water, creating massive ripples in its wake.  I live for those moments.

    And, Terrance, don’t forget why we do what we do.  It’s not just for us.  It’s for our little boys, so they can live in a world where, when they grow up, the questions of difference which haunted their parents and grandparents will become less meaningful, and will eventually disappear.  Time is on our side.

  6. Aaron says:

    Great post followed by great comments.  Hooray for Lorin11’s Evan.

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