Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"We Were Mean, Then We Were Nice"

Since quite early in the year, several of the girls have enjoyed playing "family." Often this game involves everyone taking the role of an actual member of one of their own families. For instance, they might play Cecelia's family or Clara's family. No girl plays herself, usually assuming the role as their own mothers. Some of them can really do spot-on impersonations of their moms, uncannily imitating their gestures and facial expressions. Sometimes boys (or me) are recruited to play the less desirable role of father.

Not long ago, a family encampment sprang up, using a few of our loose parts as props. One girl was cooking, sending the others out to forage for various things she needed, everyone coming and going in a busy game that might have looked to an uninitiated observer like the girls were just collecting a small pile of rubbish. As the game evolved, they moved down to our new playhouse.

It wasn't clear to me that they had abandoned their former home, but a group of boys didn't hesitate. I arrived on the scene to find them wantonly destroying the girls' work. And as if to make sure I was left with no doubt, one of them said as I approached, "We're destroying the girls' house."

This has been an off and on challenge this year, with a group of boys lurking about pretending to be the nemeses of the girls, usually keeping it to themselves, but occasionally doing things like this. It has caused more than a few major conflicts. I said, "Were they finished using their house?"

"We don't know."

"I wonder how the girls are going to feel when they see you've wrecked their house."

That stopped them for a moment as they all peered down the hill to where the girls were playing, oblivious to the destruction. "They would probably feel bad."

I said, "I think that's how I would feel if you broke my house."

Then, "We don't care, right guys?" They turned together conspiratorially, chuckling, confirming, "Yeah, we don't care."

Like I said, it was unclear whether or not the girls had simply moved on or if they were planning to return, but the attitude of not caring got under my skin a bit, especially since this had become something of a pattern. I said, "I care." Then elaborated, "If you break someone's things, on purpose, and don't care, then I would call that mean." I instantly wondered if I'd gone too far, if I'd perhaps projected my adult perspective onto something that was really none of my business, but for better or worse, the words were out there. In the moment, I reflected on the fact that I'd at least spoken my own truth, but I would say no more.

The word "mean" seemed to stop the chuckling as they milled around for a moment, the boys studying their toes. There was quite a long pause, during which I fought the urge to fill it with more of my words. It's in the pauses that thinking can take place. Finally, one of the boys said, "We were going to build it back, right guys?"

"Yeah, we were going to build it back better."

As the boys got to work translating "better" as "bigger," I went down to where the girls were playing. I wondered if the boys had been motivated to make things right on my behalf or the girls'. I hoped my words had prompted them to reflect on their behavior, it's impact on others, and sparked the urge to make amends. I worried that they were merely acting to assuage my disapproval. I'll never really know.

Sitting near the girls' play, it was evident to me that their abandoned home was entirely forgotten. Meanwhile, the boys had used all of the materials at hand. From where I sat, I could see them milling around their handiwork, eyeing the girls on whose behalf they had labored. I imagined they were waiting for a response. When none was immediately forthcoming, however, they took matters into their own hands, approaching the girls as a group, saying, "We fixed your house."

It confused the girls who interrupted their play to peer up the hill to where the boys pointed.

"We destroyed your house, then fixed it better."

"Yeah, we were mean, then we were nice." 

I'll never know.

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Papa Green Bean said...

This reminds me when I was a little kid and would say, "I want to be nice but I can't be nice".

Marta said...

Hi Tom,

I love your blog; I haven't commented on it yet but I have been reading it daily for quite a while now.

I have a little two year old and both my partner and I share pretty much all of your vision on education... if we lived closer we would send her to your coop preschool for sure.

Anyways lots of things to talk about but I decided to comment on this post because one of the things that I always notice is that the children you describe almost always self-divide themselves among boys and girls (not necessarily in conflict, as in this post, but just as a matter of fact, for playing and so). Is it true? Why do you think this is the case?

Our girl doesn't go to daycare but is quite sociable and for now doesn't seem to mind interacting with either boys or girls--but she clearly would prefer older girls, if it was her choice.

Thanks again for all your wonderful posts.