I’m supervising children on the playground – talk about a complex hierarchy of leaders, followers, overt dissidents, henchmen (yes, they still exist) and those who remain outside of it all, unperturbed, joining in when the mood suits. I wonder: all the rules that permeate their play – are they instinctive, or have the children simply tossed out the padding of grownup ways and injected the stripped down, straightforward rules of engagement into their playground society? Maybe it’s a combination depending on who’s the boss that day, shifting alliances, mood, weather, and forces that no one can see, including, and perhaps especially the child who is in their grip.
And when the freedom of running, climbing, wrestling, catching, comes to a halt as a conflict arises, the part that each child plays rushes forward, magnified, doubled down, a great invisible shield. There is no neutrality. Those who are directly involved stamp their feet, or quietly dig in their heels, perhaps outwardly capitulating but seething inside. There is no “win-win” here. That’s grown up speak, and rarely honest.
And so us adults, us injured, tender, careworn, cynical, bossy, confused caregivers step into the fray to soothe, to mediate, to listen, to try our level best to be neutral witnesses in spite of our own muddled feelings, to offer a balm, a strategy, to dole out a consequence, to do all of the things that we have been taught, when really what each child involved grapples with is none of our business, and our only assignment here is to listen, to try to love and protect while they figure it, each for themselves, to hopefully remain whole, but not at the expense of the one whom they see as enemy, however temporarily. More you can’t do.
At the end of the day I head home to engage in the adult version of the same games: running away, belonging to, hiding, jumping for joy, yelling and whispering. You’re it, you’re out, no fair! How often I want to stamp my feet, refuse to budge, to once and for all, win. That’s the hardest thing I think: to be strong, have a sense of humour, prevent further injury, and not pick sides. It’s easier when I’m being my professional self, and the conflict is between people half my size, but see me at home, when I’m battling those old foes whose phantoms suddenly appear in the faces of my loved ones – see how I not only elbow my way out, but how I know I am right, right, right! I am literally, back on the playground.