Playground Egalitarianism

June 29th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  11 Comments

Class war!

Class war!

Yesterday was screeching hot in New York City, so JP spent a good part of the day in the playground cooling off in the sprinkler. Later in the day he was joined by one of his little buddies for a playdate, and his friend’s mother brought along some water pistols for them to play with. Now, I happen to live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is rapidly gentrifying (please direct all your hate mail to the Dadwagon tip line): bodegas and over-priced cafes and the like. One of the odd ways to see this social dynamic is in the playground.

First, you have the gentrifier parents with their gentrifier kiddies. This is not, as one might expect, an all-white crowd. There are mixed race families, same-sex families, the whole Benettonian rainbow. Along with that are the non-gentrifier families, which are almost entirely non-English-speaking Latino (with some Russian).

I could write a book on the tensions and pleasures of that juxtaposition. I’ll focus on one thing: water pistol aggression. JP and his friend were blasting away with their little guns, in a very friendly way, and for whatever reason, not at each other. A young Latino boy decided to join the fray, but when he sprayed JP, JP cried and ran away. Not too surprisingly, the little boy thought this was amusing, and spent the rest of the afternoon chasing JP with his water pistol and shooting, with tears from JP the unhappy result.

I tried a variety of things: first, I told JP to spray him back. This worked initially, but not for long, as JP ultimately just didn’t want to be sprayed. More tears. I told him to tell the boy to stop then. Didn’t work as the kid didn’t speak English, or if he did, he wasn’t letting on. I told JP to move away from the kid if he didn’t like being sprayed. No go. The kid followed him around, spraying and evidently enjoying the tears he was provoking. I tried talking to the kid. He sprayed me.

All of which is no big deal. Eventually the kid got tired of JP, JP found other kids to play with and everything was fine. But one thing I thought about was the total embargo on male aggression among the gentrifier families. Aggression is a disease in the “enlightened” classes these days, something that is stamped out whenever it rears its ugly, pushy head. JP, at least at this stage of his life, just doesn’t have it. That’s largely good. I don’t want him knocking other little kids around, and I don’t want anyone hitting him. But this child he encountered had plenty of aggression. He identified a weakness in JP and pushed at it.

There was no real danger for JP so my instinct was to push him to work it out himself. I stepped in when that didn’t work. And when my intervention failed, well, I didn’t really know what to do. The kid didn’t respond to me and his parents weren’t in evidence. Not the most dramatic tale in the world, but it is a part of the odd mixture of families and upbringing that you see in a neighborhood like mine.


  1. Matt says:

    June 29th, 2010at 10:44 am(#)

    This reminds me of my friend Chris Colin’s issues with his neighbors in San Francisco: http://7×

  2. Ernie says:

    June 29th, 2010at 11:03 am(#)

    Going through this same thing with my 4 yr old son…when I find it goes too far and the other kid won’t stop even at my request (usually after 2 tries) I’ll simply remove the other child from the equation.

    If they’re shooting a water pistol, then I’ll take their water pistol away. If they’re simply screaming at my son or provoking him in another fashion I’ll simply tell them to leave. Of course I’ll look for their parent first and ask the kid where his mom/dad may be, but if they’re not around then I’m taking charge.

    I’ve also told my son on a number of instances that after 5 tries at telling a kid to stop he has every right to push that kid (without repercussion from me) away from him as long as it’s not off a swing or another playground object.

    I’m not afraid of the other parents being upset with me or stating that the kids should work it out or any other reason that my son should learn to deal with the abuse. If that parent has an issue with me, well they should’ve been there to deal with their kid before I had to step in.

  3. Proud says:

    June 29th, 2010at 5:20 pm(#)

    I am proud of you for trying to teach your son to stand up to bullies. Too many people think that the “appropriate” thing is to allow yourself and your children to be used as punching bags. If, and only if, someone hits you, hit back.

  4. scottstev says:

    June 30th, 2010at 4:22 am(#)

    I have a rule with my 5 year old and toy guns (water or otherwise) in that he should first ask anyone he’s planning to “shoot” whether they want to play guns with him. That prevents one of my personal pet peeves where a kid starts “shooting” random people, dragooning them into their game.
    I don’t mean squirt guns in a playground, but more pointing guns at adults and shouting “bang, you’re dead,” which I hate when it’s done to me and I’d rather be doing something else other then pretending to die 20 f’ing times in a row.

    I’m sure that JP was bullied rather encountered an older kid who hasn’t quite learned to modulate his activity with kids younger than him (at least that’s how I read this post). I’m starting to talk about “wrestling” – aggressive play with a friend and is fine, “fighting” – which only adults can agree to do (when dad is watching MMA on TV), and “protecting yourself” – which is when you have no choice. We’ll see how well he can make these distinctions.

  5. scottstev says:

    June 30th, 2010at 4:23 am(#)

    sorry, last paragraph should read “I’m NOT sure that JP was bullied…”

  6. Daddy Files says:

    June 30th, 2010at 11:23 am(#)

    It’s a fine line and you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. No one wants to fight all their kid’s battles, but at the same time you don’t want to be the overprotective ninny either.

    I think the way you handled it was exactly what I’d do, except I would’ve snatched the gun away from him when he sprayed me and then whipped out my Uzi of a Super Soaker that I carry around with me wherever I go and blasted the little bastard back into the stone age.

    But that’s just me…

  7. Jords says:

    July 22nd, 2011at 4:27 am(#)

    An amusing end to your comment Daddy Files, but more seriously I have personally seen a number of heated arguments and even fights break out over this very thing. It can be an extremely fine line, when you are trying to deal with anonther child potentially bullying your own.

    Most kids playgrounds will have signage that states an adult should be supervising their children, but you rarely see this, since many parents can just use a playground to offload their children unsupervised as a way of gining the parent a break.

    I’ve always believed that kids playgrounds are very important to let your child socialise, meet and play with others as part of their learning. But still being mindful of problems that can happen. Its also interesting to see how your child reacts in different situations, and as a parent, teaching them how they can deal with them.

    I would have dealt with this situation similarly, but if this kept going would have asked around to find out the childs parent & if all else failed, took the pistol from them.

    Having a backup Super Soaker would also be great to give to your child for revenge! : )


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