Thursday, April 27, 2017

Because I Thought I Knew It All

These girls are best friends and they've been that way since the first day of class. They spend large parts of their days playing their games of imagination together, usually in an intimate huddle. It's not that they exclude others, on the contrary they are usually open to newcomers, but they are often so wrapped up in their friendship that the rest of us become invisible.

When we're indoors, I tend to find them either in our loft or under our loft, wearing their princess dresses, being movie characters or sisters or mother-and-baby. For the better part of this school year their three and four year old classmates have worked around them, too busy with their own activities to take special notice, but lately they have begun to draw the attention of their classmates.

There is one girl, a bit younger than our best friends, who regularly announces to me her intent to play with "those princesses." She then moves her body closer, watching the "glamorous" girls intensely, listening to them, but all while maintaining her distance, often going through a process of approaching and retreating in a cautious cycle, but never, from my perspective, really engaging. She's obviously somewhat in awe of the pair and it causes her to flit about near, but not within, their orbit. Later, she'll tell me she was playing with them, providing details she picked up from their conversations and her own observations. I've suggested that she might want to put on a princess dress herself, to stand closer, to perhaps even talk with them, but for now this is enough, it seems, just to be near them.

There's a boy, on the other hand, who has no qualms about actively joining them. His approach, one that is almost always a winner under any circumstances, is to come bearing gifts -- food made from play dough, stuffed animals, artwork. He's also more than willing to take on any role in their game, playing a prince or a daddy or whatever "male" character the girls offer him.

And then there the group of 4-5 boys who are obviously interested in playing with the girls, but are unwilling or unable to adapt their typically rowdy play to the quieter, more intimate games the girls tend to play. These guys roam the classroom, often well-armed with blasters to use on the bad guys, hoses to put out the fires, or whatever. Sometimes they approach our best friends in attack mode, barging into the loft, blasters blasting, insisting that the girls are villains to be subdued. Other times they insist that the castle is ablaze and they've arrived to save the day. And at other times they come as bandits, bent on stealing something or other from the girls.

I should mention that both of these girls have older brothers. They are hardly intimidated by this band. Nevertheless, when the pattern first emerged several weeks ago, I didn't think it was fair that the boys could interrupt, scuttle, or otherwise intrude upon the girls' games, and it seemed to me that this was their sole object, to make pests of themselves. I found myself attempting to help the girls defend themselves, reminding them that they could just tell the boys to "stop," while also reminding the boys that if someone said "stop" that they had all agreed to stop.

We talk a lot in class about listening to one another's words and watching one another's faces. I frequently note, aloud, that the girl's faces "look angry." At least that's how they look to me, although I've been frustrated that they haven't always used the word "stop," which is a more effective technique that just scowling, and instead have been responding to the boys by wielding their "frozen powers" at them, or otherwise "fighting" back, creating these loud, intense stand-offs in which everyone is shooting everyone.

I should also note that the best friends have rarely complained about the boys' interloping: my adult intervention has been largely at my own initiative. Yesterday, the girls were playing "Petco" in the loft, each pretending to be puppies. I heard the boys proclaiming, "We have to get the bad guys!" as they approached from across the room, all carrying old cell phones and remote controls as weapons, so I moved closer to the loft which was indeed their destination. They pounded up the stairs, shouting, "Bad guys!" then took aim at the puppies. The puppies rose up on their hind legs causing the boys to stop on the top step, not daring to come closer. I was about to point out the "angry" expressions on the girl's faces, and to suggest that they could say "stop," when I decided to say nothing, which is almost always the best approach.

As the boys fired their blasters, the puppies began to defend themselves by barking. It was only then that I realized I was wrong. The girls weren't angry: those expressions were intended to look fierce. They were pretending, just as they had previously been pretending to take a nap. And the boys, rather than ruining the game, were creating a dramatic moment in the story they were all playing together. And in that moment, I understood why the girls so rarely said "stop" to these boys: it was fun!

After a few minutes, the boys, laughing with one another, retreated and our best friends decided it was time for some lunch. And I walked away feeling like a jerk for having been so dense, wondering how many fun moments I'd scuttled because I thought I knew it all.

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