The other day after school, I told the boys we could stay at the playground for a little while. My three year-old, Jude, had brought his basketball and my six year-old, Daniel, had recently mastered the monkey bars and wanted to show off his new skills.
As we rounded the corner of the building and glimpsed the playground, we realized there must have been some sort of after-school program going on; the place was swarming with kids. My first thought was, “Oh man, we should probably just go home. Look at ALL of these people.”
Then, out of the pack, running toward us at top speed, came Trotter, one of Daniel’s classmates, a smile stretched wide across his face, eyes big and bright. As he got close he yelled, “Hi Daniel!” I assumed he would slow and maybe raise a hand for a high five, but no. He ran straight into my son and gave him a huge hug. “Wanna play?” he asked, slightly out of breath, and the three of them ran off toward the slides.
I watched the boys chase and climb and dangle from things. I shot hoops with Jude for awhile until another little boy we didn’t know asked if he could play too, and then I watched them take turns shooting, rebounding for each other, and cheering each other on.
After about an hour, it was time to go. I needed to get dinner going and I knew the boys would be tired. Neither wanted to leave, of course. They were having too much fun with their friends. After they had all said their goodbyes and we were walking to the car, Madeline, a sweet little girl who happens to have a little crush on Daniel (which, by the way, he reciprocates), came running up. “Daniel, you almost forgot something!” she told him, and once again my son received a huge hug.
Kids are so awesome. They don’t see a crowd and think, “Ugh. We should just go home.” They see the monkey bars and think, “I can’t wait to try them again!”
They don’t see their friends and think, “Oh, I wonder what I should say,” or “I hope I look okay,” or shyly shake hands. They tackle each other in ginormous hugs and flash big, honest smiles.
They don’t fixate on who is making the most baskets or who has to run more to get the rebounds. They just shoot and laugh and give each other friendly pointers and say, “Ooooh, good shot!”
Of course, this is not always the case. We see plenty of tears at our house at the end of a game of Memory, when my six year-old has 7 matches and my three year-old only has 4. There are daily arguments over who gets what toy, book, cookie, etc. And just recently, Daniel refused to wear shorts to school, because “Everyone else wears jeans, Mommy.”
But that day on the playground, all I could see were these little people who were doing this “life” thing better than me. Better than most grown-ups I know.
They operated from a place of freedom. Freedom to smile, hug, run, try new things—hard things. No one seemed to be worrying. Everyone was too busy doing. Being.
And they didn’t just do things, they did things BIG. Big hugs, big jumps, big climbs. When they ran, they ran as fast as they could. When they laughed, they laughed hard.
Those kindergartners didn’t see race or income level or body types. They saw people. People they wanted to play with. They saw friends.
So, I am letting my grown-up, self-conscious, scared, cynical, judgmental, worry-prone heart marinate in this playground memory. I am letting all of those big smiles and honest eyes and brave climbs wash over me. Because all of that fearlessness and freedom—I want to soak it up.
And don’t be surprised if, the next time you see me, instead of a casual, polite hello, you get a big ol’ hug.