The scene: Owen and I were at his favorite playground on Monday. He was playing more on his own than ever before — racing back and forth on the climber, down the slides, up the climbing wall. I was standing off to the side, watching, smiling at the way his little body climbs so effortlessly and appreciating the joy he exudes just running around. (In short, it was one of those perfect playground days that my hilarious blog-friend Meg wrote about NOT having on the very same day).
He ran down the hill to another play area where two girls (maybe 5 years old?) were running around together. He started running right alongside them, without saying a word, just beaming at them and including himself in their game. It was sweet. I chatted with their parents and we laughed at how social he was. He kept asking me to come play and I encouraged him to play with the other kids while I stayed on the sidelines.
Owen: Mommy! Come run with me!
Me: You go ahead and run with those girls. They are having so much fun.
Little girl (to her friend): Hey! Let’s play hide and seek!
Owen (his face lighting up at the mention of his favorite game): Yeah! Let’s play hide and seek!
The little girls ignore him.
Little girl (to her friend): Ok, I’ll count and you hide over there behind that tree. (Side note: Don’t you love how little kids play hide and seek? Telling you where to hide?)
The girls run away and Owen runs behind them, trying to hide with the one who was hiding. They stop the game and stare at him.
Owen (to me): I want to play!
Me: You can, buddy! Just say, “Can I play with you?”.
Owen (to the girls): Can I play with you? (In the sweetest little singsong voice).
Little girl: No. It’s a girl’s game ONLY.
Owen (still smiling, completely unaware of the message): It’s a what game?
Little girl: GIRL’S GAME. Like, you can’t play. Because you’re a boy.
I watched a confused look come over Owen’s face while the girls ran away, giggling. My heart broke for him. Thankfully he didn’t seem to care all that much, and I quickly took his hand and offered to run with him or push him on the swings. We chatted quickly about how it’s not nice to exclude others in your game, and the girls should have let him play.
Kids are kids. Kids are mean sometimes (intentionally or not). It’s the first of many, many instances of feeling left out, I’m sure. But I just thought we had a few more years of innocent, happy playground time.
He asked me several more times that night why the girls didn’t let him play. I know he was trying to process what happened and I didn’t have a great answer for him except that sometimes friends just want to play with certain people. Thankfully he bounced back quickly and soon attached himself to an 8 year old boy who was doing all sorts of dangerous jumps off of the climber (so, clearly Owen-the-daredevil’s new personal hero). He jumped right in with “What’s your name” and clapped and laughed at every stunt. On our way out of the playground the 8 year old high-fived Owen and said, “You’re pretty cool. I never would have guessed you’re only 2.”.
So, all in all, those girls didn’t ruin Owen’s day. But they kind of ruined mine.