This happens, and I don’t know why. It happens often, and it’s something I’ve become intrigued by. Perhaps my fascination makes it happen. This is the small moment of today:
I’m in the supermarket standing at the basket queue. You should know this because it’s the queue for the till nearest to the door and to the cafe upstairs. I’m minding my own business, in that spaced-out blankness of the occasional shopper. I have no idea why but I look up: up towards the cafe. Up there is a girl of about 4 or 5 years of age and she’s looking down at me. She’s sat down with what I assume to be her mother and brother and she’s smiling at me. The mother is busying herself with whatever they have to eat or drink up there. I look away. I look back and the girl is still looking down at me. She’s shifted her body round to face me more. I’m amused. That part of my brain that urges me to write here, that I use when I’m around children or talking about play, kicks in. I think: maybe I made this happen. Maybe I didn’t realise it but maybe I shot her a play cue to make her return it at a distance. How did I do this? I didn’t even know she was there. I’m amused but I think, on some level, what if I don’t keep looking up there? Will she get bored and look away? I disengage. I look around the other queues. I project my attention to the self-service machines I usually like to ignore. I look around at other shoppers. I do this for a few minutes. I do everything I can to show that this isn’t part of the play, that this is play disconnected. The guy at the till is ready for me. I can’t resist a quick look up at the cafe. She’s looking down at me, smiling.
An author I once read – his name was Stuart Brown, I believe, though not, I think, the Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play – offered up the notion of arrows of thought; that is, projections of thought that can affect others; you can throw it out there. Did I not disconnect well enough when I was pondering the self-service machines? I was thinking of the machines, not the child. Was I still connected-in and, unbeknownst to me, throwing out those arrows of thought though? How did I connect in the first place? I didn’t know she was there. Was I affected by her arrows at me?
This happens often. When it does, I might be being weighed and measured by children because of the way I look. They might just get fascinated by my clothes. They might be thinking about the oddity before them that is me. I have, on more than one occasion, been asked by a child ‘What are you?’ rather than, ‘Who are you?’ That doesn’t trouble me. That’s fine.
What is it that these children see though? I see some children doing it to some other adults too, but it’s more difficult to fathom from outside the loop: when I’m looped-in there is something ‘common’ between me and the observing child that, I suspect, we both might ‘get’; there’s something I know I definitely feel projected at me (something I don’t know for sure is being felt by other adults when engaged by children in this way because I’m not inside that other adult).
My trust is that, when I’m in children’s play setting environments, they will ‘see’ me because I’m engaged, hooked into the play mode of thinking. However, when I’m out and about (in supermarkets, on buses, on trains, generally minding my own business, blank to the world beyond my little personal space bubble), how am I ‘seen’? Sometimes I’m even downright out of sorts. Sometimes I wouldn’t give me the time of day if I came across me on the street. Yet . . . I get seen, weighed, measured, wondered at, looped-in, connected.
The other day – and I don’t even know if this is connected to all of the above or if it’s just a completely random occurrence and I’m reading too much into it – I was slowly driving down a cul-de-sac because I knew children played in the street there, and a small child raised his finger from where he stood on the end of his driveway and shot me! It was a slow-motion drive-by shooting in reverse!
These are all small moments of some magic. The girl in the upstairs cafe in the supermarket looked down at me, kept looking, smiled. If it was my cue that started it, I don’t know how that happened because I wasn’t aware of it. If it was her cue, then I don’t know how it happened either because it wasn’t a cue I saw or heard: if it happened this way, did it happen with projected arrows? What she saw in her initial fascination in me, I don’t know. Nor do I know what kept her attention: the way I look, or acted, or held myself, or responded?
These small moments of connection are a source of intrigue. I don’t know why they happen, but they do.