Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Playground Wanderer

I was a playground wanderer, when there wasn’t a swing to play on.

I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself. I survived. I found friends, even back then. Not many. But enough. In junior high and high school, things got better. Even better at college, where many days I craved the sociability of my companions. I went on a few dates. Not many, but enough. I got married. We have three children.

Our oldest son is a playground wanderer.

His one close friend moved to Monterey. Kids in his cub scout pack tolerate him, but he prefers to hang with his siblings, or with Mom or Dad. Some kids at school and in scouts are rude to him – but that’s normal. Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

I remember the hurts, as I’m sure most kids do. The bullies. The one kid you thought was a friend but laughed at you once so you were never friends with him again. The one kid you thought was a friend but turned out to be a bit of a perv, so you weren’t friends with him any more. Kids change friendships as often as adults change their socks. It’s normal.

I recently encountered one of my elementary school friends. He’s one who used to come over once in a great while when, I don’t know, he wore me down enough that I decided playing with him rather than my brother and sister would be okay. I still felt that awkwardness, that feeling of I’m glad you’re here, but when are you going home?

I recently blogged about this – feeling socially awkward now in two languages, rather than just one.

I’m still a playground wanderer, though I’m not on the playground any more.

The playground is the world and I’m a wanderer in it, though I’m not alone. Wanderers are never alone; we’re just there on the fringes, on the edges, pretending to enjoy most company but really preferring, at heart, the company of few.

And I miss the swings.

Swinging is parallel play. You swing, someone else swings on either side of you. You talk. You talk about swinging, and pumping legs, and swinging high enough to see on the roof of the one-story, four-classroom building next to the elementary school. There are combs and Frisbees and I swear at least one pair of boots up there, and you talk about them and who threw them up there and whether you could kick your own boot off at the right moment and send it sailing, sailing, sailing through the air onto the roof, where it could wander with the other lost objects on the gravel-covered tar paper.

Then the bell rings and the swingers keep swinging, laughing and scoffing at the bell even as they drag their feet on the ground to slow down their momentum so they can go get into line.

But then the play stops. Alone again, naturally.

They say you lack empathy, those of the playground-wandering ilk. Then why is it they’re the ones who treat you like turds, because you’re shy, a little different, “active, but odd.” I did not understand that then, nor do I understand it now. Give them the puppy dog eyes and they poke them. Sometimes pretty hard.

And that’s okay. Part of being human is being treated like dirt or finding some dirt to treat. But let him who is without sin cast the first stone, I say.

Playground wanderers aren’t any more sad or melancholy or angry than any other kind of kid. We still laugh and play and sing and have fun and go to school and read and think and date and get married and have kids who are all the things we are and aren’t.

We have fun. Sometimes, it’s just different.

I could go for a bottle of Rhubarb Delight right about now. After all, everyone is different.

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