Scene i: The park by the lake, waiting for a friend to show up for a playground playdate. We were a bit early and some teenagers were playing basketball. Monkey wanted to play too, but I discouraged him, as I could see they wouldn't even hear his advances, let alone welcome the diminutive company. Then they went away and were replaced by a solitary smaller boy - about six, I thought. Monkey really wanted to play with him, so I said, "Well, why don't you go over and ask him if you can?" And watched my beautiful open-hearted boy head off to have his feelings trampled all over. There was a short exchange and he came back to me slowly, and a little confused. "He said 'No'."
What can you say? I told him I was sorry, that some big kids just don't want to play with littler ones, that maybe he just wanted to play on his own today.
Scene ii: The bigger kids, the ones who are all of five years old and in their last year of nursery school, were gathered in a huddle to one side of the playground. (A different playground, a different day.) Monkey, who is in this playground himself one of the big kids when beside the three- and two-year-olds, is a good half-head shorter than the bunch, but still hovers gamely, drawn in by the shiny scooter one of the boys has. We have to go, so I head over to get him just as he's asking for a turn and being knocked back.
"But why can't I? Why won't he share his scooter with me?"
Again, I fumble for a reason. Because he doesn't want to. Because he's bigger than you. Because he doesn't really know you. Because his mum isn't here to make him, because he's five and you don't hover over your five-year-old making sure he shares nicely with the others any more.
Scene iii: Monkey, indefatigable, wants everyone to know him. He insists that we tell the employee at the flooring center, where we're looking for floor-tile samples, his name (even though he's shy and doesn't want to tell him himself). We try to explain that you don't have to tell everyone your name, but eventually we do, and Jerry - his name's Jerry - is very nice back. Maybe life would be a bit nicer if we did tell everyone our name.
Scene iv: I overhear Monkey at today's playground, as he approaches one of the mentally disabled teenagers who goes to school near there: "My name's Monkey. And my baby sister is called Baby Miss." The boy doesn't really know what to say, and soon heads off elsewhere. I muse about whether I should mention how some of the big kids here are "different". Everyone's different, when you're three. Why would he notice the subtle cues that lead adults to assess that someone isn't quite right, is not the full shilling, is other? Why should it matter? I think, until it matters, that's a conversation we don't need to have.
However, I think a conversation we maybe do need to have is the old-fashioned one about strangers. I know that current thinking is that rather than teach "stranger danger", we tell kids always to let us know before they go anywhere with anyone. Yes, I completely agree. But how do I explain that while it's fine to introduce yourself to another kid in the playground, you shouldn't introduce yourself to the old man wandering shoeless in the park? Or that even though the lady who brings his lemonade in a restaurant tells us her name, we don't have to tell her ours in return? Or maybe I need to take some lessons in openness and sociability from my son.