Stories are moments, and moments become stories. I’ve had various conversations this week with play and playwork colleagues, and those conversations are always a chance to connect with stories. Being a good playworker involves doing this. Understanding play involves doing this. However, stories go much deeper: they connect us all. We come from traditions of oral histories, and we can’t afford to lose that story-telling.
I’d like to share some small stories about moments. These are stories about moments spent with children; they’re important because moments like these can often be overlooked. When we overlook the moments, we don’t truly see what we are, what others are, how we connect. How many moments of possible connection are there in every day? What do we miss if we don’t see moments at all?
Moments of quality with respected others
Moments, like atoms, are what we’re comprised of. In the context of moments of people – rather than places – experienced, others affect us (though they sometimes don’t realise it). In the playwork world, I’ve shared conversations with writers and thinkers and playworkers and they have left their moments on me. Morgan (who I know to read here), do you remember a conversation we had in a hotel lobby in Wolverhampton five years or so ago? You sparked my further thoughts about the leftoverness of play. Bob Hughes advised me to ‘ask the right question’, and to observe the background. Pete King said ‘write that book!’ Jess Milne simply said to take a banana when training, ‘for the brain’. Gordon Sturrock didn’t say anything: he just watched the way I worked – which was enough. Jacky Kilvington and I discussed the ‘allness’ of play. Eva Kane told me, simply but that was all that was needed, ‘children know’. Perry Else let me in on a sneak preview of his, then, new book over breakfast on a sunny morning when I wasn’t as awake as I could have been. Arthur (who also reads here), do you remember a conversation we once had at BoP, possibly involving whisky, in which neuro-linguistic programming was swilled around?
Perhaps none of these people remember any of these conversations with me. It doesn’t matter, because I remember them. This unashamed name-dropping isn’t a name-drop after all: plenty of those in playwork circles have had the opportunity to talk with plenty of the above as well; those outside of playwork circles won’t have heard of these people anyway. My point is that it’s the quality of the mark that’s left that counts.
So, we live on a planet of infinite possibilities of moment-making, and into that mix go the children. Here are four stories of moments, of connections: because stories are moments, and moments become stories that should be told:
The moment of a thunderstorm
A few years ago I was involved in a play day event. We were on a large field and a range of play opportunities were on offer. Myself and my colleague were manning the messy play resources. Children just came and went, covered themselves in paint and foodstuffs, got good and sticky and, well, messy! Then the rain came. Pretty much every other adult on the field scattered for cover, but we were doing the messy stuff: we stayed out there, barefoot on the grass. The children with us were soaked. This is the set-up for the moment in question.
When the children had had enough of the rain, the field cleared. I sat at the door to the pavilion, on the paving slabs outside and under the overhanging eaves. The rain was hammering down. The messy play stuff was left to disintegrate out on the field. All I could hear was the rain. I looked around and there gathered behind me were ten, fifteen, twenty or so children, all sat down wrapped up, quietly eating sandwiches, watching out like I was. We sat there and watched together as the thunderstorm rumbled over.
The moment of a small place found
It’s a wet and dreary afternoon. I’m sitting on the sofa, with my feet up on it, as Gack plays on the floor. We’ve been out walking and he’s been bouncing from one thing to another all day. He’s not focusing on anything in his play for very long: perhaps that’s just a part of being two years old. He suddenly picks up his dummy (that’s a pacifier, if you’re reading in American!) and climbs up over me, aiming for the gap between my body and the back of the sofa. He lies down there against me, saying: ‘Want tewwy on’. (Tewwy, being television), which I interpret as his way of saying ‘this calms me’. In a minute, I say. I smooth his hair.
It’s very quiet here. All there is to hear is the sound of the rain – coming from the open back door – and the clock ticking. We don’t say anything, and he lies there, and I stroke his hair. We both just listen. Gack slowly falls asleep. I sit there for a long time with him, and I’m trying not to move; the cramp sets in. His breathing matches mine, or maybe that’s the other way around. Either way, he’s there for a long time in the gap between me and the sofa.
The moment of a kerbside
I’m following Gack, one day, on his push-along car because he asks me to. He’s heading along the path of the cul-de-sac. He stops at the corner, at the kerb, so I sit down there too. He just watches the other children playing on their scooters and bikes in the road. We don’t say anything. Soon, some of the children come over (children who I’ve met before, briefly). They all sit around on the kerb too. We’re all just hanging out on the kerb, me and these two to five, six, seven year olds. There isn’t really a huge amount of conversation, we just hang out. I feel like I’m accepted. One of the children’s parents watches on from a short distance. I see this. I’m OK with this. The children are OK with me.
The moment of a wave
Recently, I came out of a fairly unproductive meeting. My head was just trying to get back into the ‘real world’ outside of the rarefied environment of political-speak and small, neat, clinically partitioned-off meeting rooms. I was walking down the street. I saw a big yellow school bus, which caught my attention, coming to a stop in traffic. As I walked past, one of the children inside smiled and waved at me. I wasn’t quick enough to wave back. I smiled. Two or three seats back on the bus, another child did the same. So, I smiled and waved back. He seemed pleased by my response. A few seats further back again, another child smiled and waved. I smiled and waved back to her. She seemed happy at this.
Children wave at people they don’t know. Maybe they know about moments and how the possibility of those moments being formed can mark them for a while. Knowing about moments allows a marking in me.
Moments become stories, and the story is a moment in itself.