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5 Things I Learned as a Playground Spy

October 4, 2012

Our local elementary school usually has recess aides who supervise the school playground before and after lunch. When two of the four aides were unavailable for various reasons, though, the school asked for parent volunteers to step up and help out for the month.

What? You don’t look like Audrey Hepburn
when you fill in as a recess aide?

This has sparked a great little network of “playground spies” to emerge among fellow moms. Even if you can’t personally witness the fun that is recess first-hand, you can count on your fellow spies to fill you in on how the little buggers are really behaving when they think no one is looking.

I had to laugh when I got a phone call the other day from a girlfriend who had just finished her shift as a recess fill-in.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Your son is a man-whore,” said the instantly-recognizable voice of my good friend without prelude.

“Oh yeah, which one?” I asked, laughing.

“Stacey, you have two sons.  Which one would I be calling a man-whore?” she countered.  (The “duh!” was unspoken and understood.)

“Oh, of course.  So what did Scottie do?”

She then regaled me with the tale of my first-grader, surrounded by girls and succumbing to the first-grade equivalent of batted eyelashes and doe eyes.  Completely oblivious to how his actions delight his little harem, he willingly saves seats and shares supplies in such a way as to result in phone calls that make me laugh hard enough to pee my pants.

A couple of weeks earlier, I received another spy report via text from a different mom friend.

“Spying on my kids and saw Robbie on the playground,” she wrote.  “He and his friends are tagging the cr@p out of each other, but having a blast doing it.”

This was great news to hear, since last year I was struggling with a whole other set of playground issues, worrying about my son feeling lonely and left out.  Over the summer, he gained a bunch of confidence, achieved childhood milestones, and generally came out of his shell. So hearing about his crazy, regular-boy behavior on the playground really warmed my heart and help settle any nerves I had about his third-grade year.

After getting reports like this, I decided to volunteer for my own shift as playground spy.  I wanted to see first-hand how all of the kids, not just my own, were doing at recess.  I made a few observations on childhood in general, while I was there.

  1. Kids are inherently kind.  With all of the focus on bullying and the garbage they call news on TV anymore, you’d think we’re raising a generation of criminals and deviants.  But I’m happy to say that recess showed me that kids will naturally rise to the challenge and do the right thing much more often than not.  I was on my guard to watch for anyone excluding other kids or being mean, but saw many more actions of opening up circles to include rather than the opposite.
  2. Kids are creative and flexible.  It was a rainy, misty day, so that meant recess was limited to the blacktop area only, with instructions to stay off the grass.  That meant more kids crammed together on a smaller surface, yet no one complained and everyone went along with the rules, just happy to be able to play outside instead of stuck in the gym or library. Games of football became games of catch or Jackpot.  A brand-new game of mini-wall ball was created with a bouncy cap instead of a ball.  And girls tied a jump rope to a basketball post and happily allowed the basketball players to alternately jump into their game without complaint.
  3. Kids are organized and fair.  Without any coaches or teachers to be “in charge,” kids will organize their own games with clear and fair rules, and stick to them.  As aides, it’s our job to watch, circulate, and be there if needed.  But we’re not asked to step-in and lead, which gives the kids the chance to lead themselves.  It’s amazing to watch how they all fall into place and it’s a great reminder to back off at home, too.  When left to their own devices, they come up with much more fun rules than we do!
  4. My son IS a man-whore.  I apologize now to all the moms of girls in his grade.  I expect phone calls and your husbands’ shotgun threats in another ten years.  All I can say is that he is clueless now, but obviously really enjoys all of the attention your daughters shower upon him.  I now understand why his shirts seem so stretched out when I do laundry.  The gaggle of girls literally chasing him around the playground and grabbing his shirt to the point of it almost coming off illustrated that quite clearly.  I think it’s adorable right now, but am hoping that he never realizes his power and uses it for evil.
  5. I am not completely uncool.  Yet.  My oldest son did, in fact, acknowledge me on the playground with a “Hi Mom,” a smile and a wave, before running off to play.  Granted, he did not come within a ten-foot radius of me the whole time his grade was outside, but at least I got a hello.  For as much of a ladies-man as my younger son is, apparently I don’t rank as highly as his harem does.  He did come running up to me at first with a big grin, and a “Hi, MOMMY!” shout, but abruptly stopped before I could hug him and went off on his way.  I am happy to report, however, that the girls in his grade all came running up to me with hugs and smiles and hung around to chit chat for a few minutes with me at the beginning of recess.  I knew I could always count on girlfriends, no matter what age.

So I’m happy that I was able to spy, I mean watch the kids at recess this week.  I’m comforted to know that they’re all doing better than fine and having fun as kids should.  And parents, pat yourselves on the back and ignore the latest troubling news reports.  From what I saw on the playground, you’re doing a great job.

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