After school today, Spencer and I headed over to the new playground. We had only been there a few minutes when a jeep came barreling in with it's radio blaring, and a handful of teenage boys poured out. The thought "oh, great" flitted through my mind before I even really processed the situation. Mad at myself, and worried that we might be losing another great play space to hooligans, I took a deep breath... And then reassessed them. What I saw did not wholly reassure me. They looked like the jonas brothers met skater punk, if it were to be designed by holl!ster. Determined not to judge a book by it's cover, I went about my business of playing with Spencer. But being curious by nature, and a mama-bear, I also kept tabs on what these kids were doing as they moved around the playground. Unfortunately, so did Spencer. He witnessed them climbing on top of the swing set, jumping over the smaller apparatus, and walking on the monkey bars. As I was deciding whether or not to leave, I started watching them straight on, instead of out of the corner of my eyes. I began to realize there was a grace about what they were doing, and that their antics on top of the playground weren't reckless, but in fact had a purpose to it. It was, dare I say it, verging on beautiful. And very creative. But also very dangerous. Spencer must have thought so too, because he was edging closer and closer to them. While I was debating on how to break the ice, and if I even wanted to, Spencer took charge of the situation by trying to mimic one of their crazy moves. My heart caught in my throat, and I felt rooted to the spot.
Meanwhile, three of the teenagers jumped into action. One spotting, one helping Spencer by showing him where to put his limbs and how to move his body, and one in front spotting/cheering him on. Lo and behold, Spencer did a [modified] trick! He turned, and beamed at me with one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen. It was apparent he was incredibly proud of himself, and thrilled to be a part of the "big kids." After giving him a round of applause, the boys made it clear that he should only do that if they were there to help, driving their point home by getting down on his level and giving him a quiz that consisted of "Do you do this alone? Do you do this with your mom? Do you do this if we are here?" After they were satisfied Spencer wouldn't do any crazy stunts alone (he responded "Noooooo" "Nooooo" "Yes?"), they turned and introduced themselves to me, and told me that you could tell Spencer was going to be an athletic kid. A few mentioned how blown away they were with his speed, his daredevil tendencies, and his agility. (I guess they were watching him while I was watching them?) It turns out that they are local 16 and 17 year olds who are very into free running (I had no idea what that meant before today), and this playground happens to be one of their preferred practice spots due to the layout. They spoke of free running with a passion you rarely see in "young people" today. It was refreshing.
What was even more refreshing was that they were absolutely ok with Spencer tagging behind them as they went from apparatus to apparatus. They were constantly including him by hopping him up onto the equipment and making him feel like he was doing really cool tricks right alongside them. (Very safe tricks though) I was amazed to watch them constantly be aware of where he was and spotting not only each other, but spotting Spencer to make sure he was at all times protected from injury, both as he did things and as he watched. I realized they were communicating constantly with each other and checking themselves that they never did anything too crazy for Spencer to see and gleam. And as I watched them I really began to respect what they were doing.
I realized then that I would be proud to have Spencer be just like these kids in a dozen years. They were athletic, friendly and outgoing, respectful and conscientious. Truly amazing people that I was ready to write off. And for that, I am ashamed.
As we left the park, Spencer got high-fives and the "maybe we'll see you here again" send-off... as we walked to the car, I realized my child was strutting he was so proud. His head was held high and he was was practically floating. The whole way home he talked about the afternoon with "big kids tricks SPEN-SAH TOO kids tricks fun park fun kids fun go back play kids?!" You get the idea. I realized that I really do hope we see them there again.
Lesson learned. Don't judge a book by it's cover, you might just miss out on an amazing opportunity for you and your kid.