The other day at Carroll Park, before Jean, Sasha, and I headed over to Gowanus Yacht Club, Sasha was running around the little-kids section of the playground. There were steps to climb, a wooden bridge to cross, a bar to hang from, a slide to slide down. And as she made the circuit of these obstacles, Sasha attracted a companion, a 4-year-old little girl in a swimsuit with a Band-Aid on her knee.
Sasha is only 2 and a half, so the interest this kid showed in her surprised me. But they ran around together, and Sasha asked about the girl’s boo-boo, and showed off her own boo-boo, a mostly healed scrape on her knee.
“You can’t call that a boo-boo!” said the other little girl.
It was all kind of cute. But the girl wasn’t just playing with Sasha, she was also speaking, frequently, to me. There was a long guessing game about her name, and she wanted help climbing on something, and she was basically addressing me, and vying for my attention, the way Sasha does. The difference being, Sasha is my kid, and I’d never seen this other one before in my life.
This is a not-uncommon occurrence: I’m out somewhere, with or without Sasha and Jean, and some child chooses me as a play pal, the adult who’s going to help build a castle out of blocks at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum or play catch in Prospect Park. I don’t mind this, exactly, but it’s disconcerting, and I’m trying to understand why.
On one level, of course, I wonder: Well, why me? Why not your own parents, kid? And then I look around and don’t see the parents, or see them (or the nanny) doing something else, on the phone or whatever, and it’s clear why I’m chosen: I’m available. Also, I’m pretty good at playing. I can be silly, I’m happy to jump and run and roll around, I can still sort of get myself into that frame of mind that seems irrational and erratic to adults but utterly natural to children.
Still I can’t shake this feeling that it’s weird to play with someone else’s kids. I don’t know what the ground rules are: Am I seen as an actual adult, or just a bigger kid? What responsibility do I have for the child? I try to remember my own childhood: Did I approach other, unknown adults to play?
In a way, this is a good thing in my little utopian yuppie child-bearing corner of Brooklyn. Kids play with everyone, and everyone watches out for each other’s kids. But I don’t know if this is happening on a widespread level, or if it’s just me? And if it’s not just me, if it’s you the kids are coming at, too, how do you deal with the situation?
I mostly think this is something I’ll just get more and more used to over the years. In fact, it’s almost becoming an instinct to spontaneously join in random kids’ games. Just yesterday, a half-dozen kids under the age of 5 came roaring down the street (trailed by a few parents), firing pretend guns from their fingertips, and I couldn’t help but get off a few shots at them myself. Then they moved on, and so did I, and I didn’t have to bandage boo-boos or buy anyone ice cream. Maybe it’s better that way.