Toddlers Down the Amazon


Buddy Boy is 4. Boo is 2. Size? Roughly the same.

Boobaby is going to flatten her little sister.

A few days ago, Boo followed a 14-month old boy around the playground, kissing him every time she got a chance. Poor kid, just practicing this new “walking” thing, and at every turn he’s met by my Amazonian daughter trying to hold his hand. Seriously, she at least twice this boy’s weight.

Boo was so invested in taking care of him like the “big sister” she’s about to become that she pretty much ignored his actual big sister, who’d previously been a good friend to us. Toddler friendship is fickle: it’s like junior high, but without the backstabbing.

* * *

What happens at the lower playground stays at the lower playground.

Our park has a “lower playground” a bare twenty yards away, but because it’s down two boundary-marking steps, Boo treats it as if it’s a dark and mysterious jungle.

Today, Boo mostly hung with a tribe of four-year old girls down on the “lower playground.” They’d invented a game that I couldn’t quite make out from my distant perch on the merry-go-round, but it seemed to involve one girl acting out a complicated tea party pantomime, then having the other girls mimic.

Or it might have been another of our favorite games: “Gas Station Attendant.”

Whichever. They were having high-level, kid-driven, creative fun for upward of twenty minutes, during which not a single girl pushed or yelled or wanted to take a turn out of order. They were little frikkin’ angels, and it ticked me off, because I can wheedle, beg, point out, and persuade Boo to be nice to her friends and she still pushes (sometimes) if she wants something.

* * *

Finally, an epiphany.

I really wanted to check out the game, so I casually perched on a bench twenty feet away. Instantly the game’s tenor changed to something between “bridesmaid’s dress sale” and “preschool cage match.”

The kerfuffle started when I’d approached. Not for the first time but more clearly than ever, I realized that groups behave best when the kids think they’re not being watched. They self-police, but that breaks down if they know an adult is nearby. I suppose their inner authority is trumped by our big-personhood so, paradoxically, they act worse in the presence of grownups.

So I need to learn the trick of keeping my distance. When Boo’s playing in a group, I should stay far enough away that she doesn’t sense me but close enough that I can catch her before she draws blood.

It’s a fine line.