I took The Boyz to the park the other day. It’s a park that is across the street from an elementary school, and we were there about thirty minutes before school let out for the day. This was our first time at this park, and the usual line of cars began queuing up at the school not long after we arrived, waiting to pick up students.
We had arrived at about the same time that another home school family had. My two sons (the oldest was at play practice) and the two girls and one boy of the other family were all about the same age, and it was less than a minute before they all found each other and started playing tag. Running on the equipment and the two play areas about one hundred yards apart, they quickly learned each others’ names (and forgot them – having to ask each other several times) and engaged in tag and eventually some Star Wars type of cops and robbers, complete with finger blasters.
The mother of the other family was at a picnic table at one play set, which oddly enough still included a full metal, pipe jungle gym, and I was over at the other set, one of the modern plastic one with tubes and slides and all that stuff. It was pretty easy to mutually trust each other to keep an eye on the kids and modify any behavior that might get out of hand while we each read our books. I also had our dog, Splatter, with me.
So things go along as normal, until school lets out. As I had hoped and expected, some of the parents took advantage of the park and brought their kids across the street. This seemed a normal activity as there were three or four (my back was turned while sitting at the picnic table and they had gathered at another one) who obviously knew each other and had obviously done this before.
One of our children went up to one boy from the school and asked if he wanted to play tag. He said, “No, I can’t run because of my asthma,” and sat down next to his father. Another boy decided he would play tag, and so all six of them started in on the “1, 2, 3 not it!” routine to determine someone who would be “It.”
Now, we all know this goes on for a bit because they are trying to figure out who said it last. It was pretty clear to the kids and me (and I am sure the other parents who had just arrived) that the new kid was always last. And each time he was told that by the other kids, he said he wasn’t, or that he tied someone, or that he wasn’t ready, so someone would again launch into, “Okay, this time it is for real…1, 2, 3, not it!”
The last time, my youngest was actually last, and the new kid made a big deal about it guffawing and harping. So my youngest told him that he had always been last in the other times and should be “it” instead of my boy.
Unfortunately, this other youngster, who was about ten, had already rubbed me a little wrong when he climbed off the play set and walked about fifty feet to his father and said, “Dad, tie my shoe.” Mostly the rubbing was from the fact that the father did it, no questions asked, while he talked with the ladies at the table about “The Blacklist,” (which is a show I happen to enjoy, too, by the way) and I find it peculiar that a ten year old does not know how to tie his shoes.
But I digress.
The challenge my boy had given to this other one was a matter of fairness. While quick to say he wasn’t “it” all the time he was, the other boy was just as eager to point out when someone else was the loser and brooked no argument in opposition to his decree.
But my boy wasn’t done with the challenge and seeking fairness and asking the other boy to take responsibility. Eventually, after about two minutes of “I’m not going to be it” and “I wasn’t last, you were” from the boy, my son stopped pounding him with the truth and asked him why he won’t do what he knows is right.
The boy’s answer? “I don’t want to be “It.” I don’t like being “It.””
My boy’s answer? “Then you can’t play tag with us. Because someone would tag you and you would have to be it sometime.”
By this time, my other son had come over to get a drink from his water bottle, and the other three home school kids had disappeared over near the arroyo that borders the park (that’s a concrete ditch for water runoff), looking over the edge and obviously wanting nothing to do with the new kid since he wasn’t playing fair.
So I called to my youngest son, for him to come over to me. Ostensibly it was to offer him a drink of water from his own water bottle, but in reality as he got next to me I said, “What happened to the other kids you were playing with?”
He said, looking around, “I don’t know – oh, they are over there,” pointing a hundred yards away to the ditch.
“Why do you think they and your brother left?”
“Because he wasn’t playing fair?”
“Yep. What do you think you should do?”
He looked at his brother and said, “Hey, let’s go see what they are looking at,” and they both ran off to the arroyo.
During this little conversation with him, the father of the other boy called to him and they started to make their way to the car, with the other little boy who had asthma. It was very obvious that the man had started to remove his child shortly after my boy arrived at my table because he knew his son was not going to have any playmates from kids who wouldn’t put up with someone who wasn’t the boss of them.
You know those feelings when you have been at a playground when your counterparts get the idea that you disapprove of their parenting – or lack thereof – based on the actions of their children. You’ve had the same feeling and sensed the shame the other parent has felt.
Or maybe you have felt that shame.
Shame is a great motivator and teacher, and we all need it.
But this is not an article about shame. It’s a real-life example that we home schoolers encounter every day – sometimes more or less subtle – that makes us shake our heads when people say they think home schooled kids need an organized school system to learn socialization skills.