Friday, January 18, 2019

Cheeky Babies

Somewhere near the dawn of this school year, we invented a game the kids call, "Cheeky Baby." We were engaged in a standard game of children pretending to be babies and I their adult, when at one point they all fled from me, possibly because I told them that it was time to go to their doctor for some shots. As they ran away, I shouted after them, "Come back here, you cheeky babies!" and the game was born. This was in our 3's class, but the game has recently spread to our 4's and kindergarten classes. Often, half the kids on the playground are involved.

I'll say, "It's time for all my babies to take a nap," then they run away as I shout the namesake line: "Come back here at once, you cheeky babies!"

I'll say, "It's time for your hugs and kisses," then they run away as I shout the line.

I'll say, "It's time to eat your yucky food," then they run away as I shout the line and so on.

Sometimes I mix things up by saying, "Whatever you do, babies, don't take a nap. It's time to run down the hill." A few will always take off running without having listened carefully, but most defy me by feigning sleep at my feet, while I'll say, "You cheeky babies, you're a supposed to run down the hill!"

You get the idea, it's a game of defiance, and specifically of defying parental authority. Of course, they are not babies and I am not their parent, so everything is once removed, but as tedious as the game gets sometimes, especially when they want to play it day after day, I find it fascinating that they take such joy in being cheeky babies. And if you believe, as I do, that children's play is at least in part preparation for the future they see before them, it isn't too much of a reach to suggest that this game is preparation for the day when they will, nay must, defy the authority in their lives.

There are always a few who decide they are going to be my "sweet, little babies," and do whatever I say -- napping when commanded, eating their yucky food, holding out their arms for a doctor's shot -- but most stick with the game of being cheeky (a word that isn't commonly used in the US and which I tend to employ as a less judgmental synonym for "naughtiness"). There are likewise a few who stand off to the side looking baffled by the game they are watching.

Lately, I've been making the game more elaborate mostly, by way of keeping it interesting for me, forbidding them from doing more and more complicated things. For instance, "Whatever you do babies, do not run to the stage and do a dance, then slide down the concrete slide," or "You are wearing your nicest clothes, babies, do not roll down the hill." Yesterday, I even went so far as to sub-contract the role of defied parent to one of their actual parents, who had a good time with it.

No, I don't think it's a problem that the children I teach are practicing the act of defying authority. In fact, I'd be thrilled to have some researcher come in to confirm that this is what they are doing because obedience is probably the most dangerous and anti-democratic thing we routinely try to teach our children. Just as likely, I reckon, is that they are simply playing a game of opposites, enjoying the joke of it, and indeed most of them are laughing as they run away, laughing at one another, laughing at themselves, laughing at the silliness of my impotent shout, "You cheeky babies, come back here at once!" But at bottom it's impossible for this game to not be at least a little bit about claiming independence by sticking a thumb in the eye of arbitrary authority, and ultimately I expect that this is why the game of Cheeky Baby continues to be a game they demand day after day.

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