Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Our Queen

Yesterday it rained hard as we convened on the playground. Most days I try to role model playing in the rain, but this was quite a bit beyond our normal misty drizzle, so I ducked into the playhouse along with a clutch of four and five-year-olds. Someone suggested we play "family." Two kids chose to be "baby princesses" and one agree to be their mother, the queen. I said that I would be the "servant."

Our queen, a girl I've known for her entire life, commanded me, "Wash this plate." It was a joke.

I played along, "As you wish, madam" and pantomimed washing the plastic plate she had handed me.

She appreciated my turn of phrase.

"And cook the dinner!"

"Right away madam." My emphasis on the word made everyone laugh, our queen included. There was some hubbub as other children tried to bring their crime fighting game into the play house. I stepped out of character for a moment to explain what we were doing: "She is the queen, they are the baby princesses, and I'm the servant."

Someone asked, "What's a servant?"

I answered, "That means I have to do whatever the queen wants."

"That's right," agreed our queen, then turning to me, she demonstrated, "Wash that table!"

By now, she had fully adopted her role as imperious queen. I said, "As you wish, madam," again evoking general mirth, even from the crime fighters.

Someone found a large scrub brush among the debris that inhabits our space and our queen handed it to me, commanding me again, but this time fiercely, "Use this! Now clean the floor!"

"Right away, madam!"

We were interrupted again as others sought to join our game. I said, "She's the queen, they are the baby princesses, and I am the servant."

"What's a servant?"

"That means I have to do whatever the queen wants."

One of them asked, "Can I be a servant too?" We all agreed, sure, so now we were a staff of two. Our queen handed a plate to the newcomer, commanding, "Wash this plate!"

"I don't want to."

"Wash this plate!"

"I don't want to."

Our queen was going to try one more command, but stopped herself, instead handing the plate to me, saying, "Wash this plate!"

"As you wish, madam!"

Our queen, paused to appreciate that hilarious word, madam, then stepped up to me until her face was only inches from my own. She screamed, "Cook the dinner!" It was an act, a good act, informed I assume by the movies she's seen with mean queens bullying meek protagonists.

I said, "At once, madam!"

Then she announced, "Everyone to the roof!"

I replied, "Very good, madam!"

As the rest of us once more enjoyed the silliness of that word, our queen clambered the ladder to the upper deck. I was willing to follow her, but by now I was hemmed in by children either playing our game or watching our game. I can barely fit through the child-sized ladder hole so I have to ascend to the top by climbing the exterior of the structure. I was expecting at least some of the kids to follow her, clearing a pathway for me to do so as well, but not one of them budged.

Our queen called down to us, "Come up at once!" When no one responded, she shouted, "I command you to come up!"

One of the baby princesses said, "Madam," and everyone laughed. As we enjoyed the joke, our queen climbed back down, then as if nothing had happened she handed me a plate and said, "Wash this plate!"

"As you wish, madam!"

I don't expect or even want obedience from the children I teach. Indeed, I genuinely don't understand why anyone would ever want it from anyone, except perhaps by way of making things run more efficiently, like trains keeping to their schedule, the long suit of many dictators. I reckon that some of the kids come from families that expect at least a little obedience at times, although I'm confident that none of them regularly scream at their children like our domineering queen, even if they've had their moments, because impatience and frustration, as our queen demonstrated, is the natural state of one who would insist that others, even children, obey them. We had just been playing a game, but even then, I'm pleased that the baby princesses and others simply refused to be commanded. I'm pleased that our queen, throughout, despite the ferocity and screaming, was merely acting, playing a part she found comical.

Still, I think, it was a great experiment, playing with "tools" I hope the children I teach will never seek to pick up in the world beyond our little kingdom of pretend.

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