With my two boys driving me nuts at home and the temperature pushing 95 there was only one option for the day; the splash park. Excluding education, splash parks are probably the single best use of my tax dollars. The splash park is next to a normal playground as well, so as they got tired of the water they’d run to the slides. Back and forth they’d go between buckets of water falling on their head and monkey bars. I stood in the sun for an hour with my head on a swivel watching as my two boys darting in and out of fountains and the dozens of other children. Within 15 minutes of being there, my youngest had fallen in with a group of girls with whom he played for the entire time. Finally the sad moment came when it was time to go.
“But dad, can’t I stay with my friends?” he begged.
“No, we need to go get some lunch” I replied, secretly thinking “are these really your friends? You’ve only known them for an hour”. As I turned to leave I heard the sad good-byes.
“Are you sure you can’t stay? Why do you have to go? Are you coming back?”
“I don’t know, it’s okay though. I’m going to have a party at my house and you’re invited. I have a fort we can play in.”
As I buckle him in he says “Dad, can my best friend from the park come over and play some time?” I don’t know how to answer. How do I tell him we’ll likely never see her again?
My four year old son has a best friend at every park we visit. We a playground aficionado. Ask him and he will outline the specifics of each of the dozen or so parks within 5 miles of our house. Which has the best slide or best swings. Which has the climbing wall and which has the bridge. But along with each he has a name: “That park is where my best friend Elizabeth is and that one is where my best friend Mary is”. Each visit assembles a new group of best friends. I witnessed it first hand a few weeks ago as we spent one on one time at the park. Within minutes he was not only leading me, but a small band of “pirates” around “Pirate Island” in search of gold (which unbeknownst to me he keeps in every pair of pants he owns for just such an occasion).
I smile at how easily he makes friends. How he genuinely wishes to continue the friendship and misses them when we leave. He never over complicates it or looks too deeply into their intentions. Their words are truth, there’s no politics or arguing. “No, I don’t like that. Let’s do this.” is all the discussion that’s needed. And as I get ready to head into the office this morning, I think of all the bantering, patronizing, and politicking I will do today.
How much easier would it be to live life like a four year old?
How would each interaction change?
I envy the simplicity with which he lives life. The unsuppressed expression of his desires and personality. He doesn’t fear judgement only exclusion, to which other four year olds have the same fear. We’re all here to play so let’s play together seems to be the lifelong philosophy. Until an adult decides “we don’t play with them”. We corrupt them and open their eyes to fear, judgment, and exclusion. Where they see joy, we see pain. Where they see excitement, we see danger. We grown them from a life of fun and wonderment to one filled with skepticism and half-heartedness.
Imagine going to a playground where you see pockets of children at different ends playing. Then out of nowhere one group rushes another and starts beating up another yelling “You can’t play prince and princess. The best playground game is Cowboys and Indians and you all have to play that from now on”. It’s what we essentially do. As they grow up we teach them that acceptance has conditions and loyalty is fleeting. “Form your own opinion, think for yourself, and when you figure it out force someone else to think like you” is the basic reasoning. Could you explain the world more simply?
Everything a four year old is is genuine. There is no duplicity or ulterior motive. They say what they mean. They include everyone, but also leave others to their own. What would happen if we all lived life in a similar way? Why can’t we?