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.