plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

It was the last day of the school term, but that doesn’t matter when you’re a three year old doing a tour of the local parks. We made our way, by random child’s choice, from the least used park (a poor, hidden, under-used little place at the bottom of my road), via another, to the most open and full park on the circuit. The latter of these, although just as dull in fixed play equipment to my adult eyes as the others, filled with the overflow of variously aged school-children released for the holidays. In short, there were plenty of people there of different ages and genders.

After a while of sitting in the sun, observing Gack’s usual comings and goings about the place, something just a little out of the ordinary took place. I thought that here was something I needed to write about. Here’s the build-up: Gack saw another boy of about his age pushing himself around the tarmac areas of the park on what must have been, to Gack, a wondrous sight; something coveted; something needed — a four-wheeled scooter! Not the ordinary common or garden two-wheeler, like his, not even the three-wheeler ‘two at the front, one at the back’ variety — a full-on four-wheeler! Gack needed to ride that scooter. He told me so.

It’s not yours, I told him. Deal with it. ‘But I want to have a go,’ he said straight up, though not taking his eyes off it. ‘So go ask.’ I sat on the grass and refused to do anything to help him because this was something he ought to man up about and just do. After a short while, it seemed, Gack realised I wasn’t going to do anything. The other boy was scooting around, oblivious to the desperate need of this other child a few yards from him. Eventually, Gack’s little voice peeked out from somewhere in the entrails of the static wooden train structure. The other boy rode past. ‘He didn’t hear me,’ Gack said on coming back to report to me. I shrugged. He went off and tried again.

Again and again the other boy circled around in his oblivious way. Eventually, there was eye contact, smiles, something connecting taking place. Somehow, the next scoot round the train was Gack scooting round with the other (laughing) boy in tow. The play took hold, and the other boy made use of Gack’s two-wheeler scooter in return (even having a need to wear Gack’s bike helmet). I watched on, slightly surprised that all this had taken place, and the play tumbled around and around.

That’s the build-up because at some point soon after this I started taking more notice of what the other boy’s father was doing: or rather, I started taking notice of what he wasn’t doing. He wasn’t doing anything. He sat about twenty yards from me: him on the bench under the tree, me on the grass. We both couldn’t see both of the boys all of the time. He wasn’t doing anything to get in the way of the play, and he especially didn’t do anything (apart from knowing where his boy was) when the child gravitated over to me. This happens (the gravity thing) sometimes, I find. It’s almost as if some children can sense the playworker sensibility. I don’t know. Maybe.

The other child didn’t speak with me at first: he just wandered closer and I sensed that he was curious, or then he wanted his scooter back for a while, or that he was checking to see if I was paying attention, or something like this. When the boy came over and sat with me and Gack, out of the corner of my eye I sensed from his father . . . just no panic. When the two children and me chatted on the grass, the boy’s father could see us but didn’t call his son over. He didn’t change the way he sat. He didn’t show any agitation or alarm of any sort. There was no negative vibe (not even when his son asked me to help him put Gack’s helmet on — I thought quickly about this, but in the moment it felt OK). I wondered if I should make at least eye contact with the boy’s father, but I didn’t because I knew it wasn’t needed: he didn’t seem to need me to ask for distant affirmation that this was OK, and I didn’t need him to say so in so many words. It was just fine. When Gack and the other boy wandered over and chatted with the other boy’s father, it was all fine.

Why am I surprised by all of this? Frankly, I see and feel a lot of the opposite when out and about in the parks with Gack on any other day. Generally speaking it’s the maternal protection instinct that I feel come at me in waves (even when with a three year old who, even if it’s not always clear that I’m related to him, then at least it’s evident that I’m on ‘snot-smearing on bare arms’ terms with!) I’m sorry to say that (although not by a long shot always) I’ve had enough knee-jerk ‘man in the playground’ reactions from over-protective mothers to warrant being pleasantly surprised by a father’s ‘everything’s fine’ approach (though the female au pairs and suchlike don’t seem to be as bothered as the mothers).

After a while, when Gack and I needed to get on, and when the boys had swapped their scooters back again, I did talk briefly with the other man. He’d come over to support his boy and I told him a quick story about what I’d seen earlier in the play. That was all. I didn’t feel it necessary to say thank you for the trust, or suchlike. It was all implicit within the overall communication. Off we all went on our separate ways.

What had happened here? Was I lucky enough to come across an unusually understanding play-appreciative and, most importantly, trusting father? Are the adult genders so far apart really in protective stances towards their children? I can only tell it the way I felt it at the time.

Gack and I left the park to go hunt down a bus. The heaps of released and variously aged school-children who were also in the park also didn’t seem to have any concerns about any of the adults around them. Trust, in a society that a lot of adults seem to have forgotten about how to do, goes a long way.


Comments on: "How far a small matter of trust goes" (6)

  1. Not all dads,

    (ok, pc: ‘male-gendered primary or secondary carers’, if I have got that right, although if you want to be ultra-pc you have to say: ‘cis- or trans- gendered’, apparently, a distinction I stumbled across recently on an HR site).

    Where was I?

    See how pc derails a train of thought?

    (I’m smiling at the appropriateness of train and derail, though not in a making a joke about the rail tragedy of Santiago DC, obviously).

    Vonnegut describes a more brutal pc derailment in his superb short story ‘Harrison Bergeron’, crap title, btw, Kurt, try: “The boy who had to be chained”. No, Joel I am not obsessed with titling stories ‘the boy…’, it’s just coincidence.

    I ought to blog on the topic of ‘how pc destroys critical thinking’.

    So… where was I?

    Ah yes… I was saying that not all dads, or step-dads are cool like that, but I think the majority are.

    And, if they aren’t, it is because they are too laissez-faire, not because they are too helicoptery.

    I speculate when telling my story ‘The Boy Who Mistook My Loaf For A Chicken’, that the uncool parenty-person in the story was a step-dad, because that would explain his harshness – driven by anxiety and ‘transferred over-protectiveness’. Perhaps.

    Maybe all (or nearly all) biological dads are cool like that.

    Maybe. Nice if true.

    And maybe step-dads aren’t as cool?

    Pity, if true.

    Fairly easy to guess why it might be, if it’s true that stepdads are less cool (well it is for me, having been a quasi or actual step-dad in at least 3 LTRs).

    You ask: ”Are the adult genders so far apart really in protective stances towards their children?“

    I think they are. I’m not going to qualify that, I’m going to assert it. It is a proposition, an invitation.

    It would be great to hear from several kinds of folk:
    1. ladies (I use the term ‘ladies’ for a number of reasons, including, but not restricted to, irony, needling, humour, etcetera)
    2. men who are dads
    3. men who aren’t dads
    4. as 2 but playworkers (is that you Joel, or are you a step-dad?)
    5, as 3 but are or have been playworkers (I am a non-biological dad ex-playworker myself)
    6, women who are or have been playworkers
    7. women who haven’t been playworkers
    8. women who are both mums and playworkers
    9. women who are ‘just mums’ (a simple two-word phrase which, in some contexts, can send a feminist into a rage, but in this context is justified, because it does not imply denigration of motherhood, it merely points out a category called ‘women who are not playworkers -and- are mums’ (Mums, also known as ‘the most valuable and important people on the planet’, in case Mumsnet are monitoring this).

    Yes there is a certain kind of mum, I reckon, by no means all mums (and we haven’t mentioned class yet, but it also important: question, are working class mums more or less likely to be YMHIASMHP?) but these helicoptery mums do exist, do they not?

    Comments please.

    Not brickbats, although comments wrapped around brickbats will reluctantly be tolerated: I’m wearing Kevlar.

    And of course blokes can be YMHIASMHP as well, I’m not being crudely sexist here (I may well be being sophisticatedly sexist, mind.) There won’t be many of them in the wild, but the category must exist: ‘yummy daddy having it all, superdad helicopter parents’ or YDHIASDHP.

    And grans, and grandads, but please, let’s not.

    So: what causes YPHIASHP?

    (That’s ‘yummy parent having it all super-helicoptery-parents’ btw, pronounced ‘yerfy-ash-puh’, which I’m further tempted to abbreviate as YAP, but I won’t.)

    A. What causes Yerfyashpuh?
    B. How does YAP(oops) affect children?
    C. Is it a bad thing or a good thing or a neutral thing, or just a thing, and…
    D. Does it matter?

    My answers are, in order:
    A. Complex interactions in the world of work, which are much wider than ‘more working mothers’
    B. Probably a lot
    C. bad thing
    (my replies to B and C are probably the mandatory ones for playwork trainers)
    D. Yes, but not as much as what we might call ‘the playwork field’ might like to think. Why is that?


    Let’s take an extreme example: serial killers. (You must read Stuart Brown on this topic, dear readers, google his name and NIP)

    SB tells us (and I believe and respect him and his work) that the murderers he researched all had one thing in common: ‘lack of play in childhood’, aka ‘extreme play deprivation’.

    I’ve never understood why his work is not more widely known on this side of the pond.

    (Top tip for national conference organisers: do invite Stuart Brown, do not invite Pat Kane, or if you already have, please apologise to your attendees.)

    So why have some kids from bad backgrounds avoided the front page of the FBI’s website?

    Why don’t more -or all – kids from horrible backgrounds become psychokillers?



    © Arthur Battram,not to be reproduced without my written/emailed permission


    Sorry Joel, once again I have posted a blog into your comments. Why do I do that? Well, it is because I if I make this a proper blog, I will have to do a lot more work on it, and I’m pressed for time.*

    *Pressed for time’ would make a great Doctor Who story. If you use it, Neil Gaiman/Mark Gatiss/Stephen Moffat, I want royalties.

    • Hi Arthur — good to see my blog posting has inspired plenty of your thoughts. It’s not a problem that you sometimes get in the flow of things and end up posting like this here. You’ve got so much going on with your comments I don’t know what to tackle first! I think, going to the main thrust of my blog, it would be good to get some more opinions on why various people in this multi-faceted thing we call ‘society’ have differing levels of trust (so that we can delve into why trust, as a general whole, seems to be in short supply). Adding in the playworker angle (male, female, older, younger, any combination) would also be an interesting game to play. Sometimes I write these blog pieces, and I’m aware I’m wearing various hats at once (playworker-in-the-field, playworker-on-busman’s-holiday, quasi-parent, trainer, etc), and I read it back and it can feel a little holier than thou and skewed towards the ‘playworker is always right’ perspective. I know that’s not the case.

      You ask, and I paraphrase, if it matters that the close-attention parent affects the child. Sure it does, in my opinion, and from observation and discussion with children over the years. Just the other day I was doing a spot of training on some basic playwork things, and there happened to be a couple of eleven/twelve year-old boys there too: I asked the group about their ideas on play, and one of the boys said that he considered play to be ‘for education’. Did he get that from his parents, from teachers, from grandparents, or any of the above plus others? I don’t really even know what he meant exactly, but it kind of took me back a bit. (I think I may blog about it sometime soon). Yes, sure, children grow up — but what they grow up with sticks with them. Whether we’re playworkers or not, we all have some significant responsibility in what we put into children’s heads, right?

      • This is going to be a quick, gnomic ungrammatik, devil’s advocate thang:

        So, we have responsibility for what we put into children’s heads?
        why is that?

        in any case playwork gets precious little chance to ‘larkinise’* OPCs** compared with their peers, parents and teechaz.

        I can only be responsible for shooting you if I aim a gun at you. if I am cleaning a gun and it goes off, and you walk into the bullet, I am not responsible.

        so to what extent are playworkers responsible? most of the time, even if we aim at them we miss by a mile. like I say kids grow up despite us.

        they are, bad pun, self-raising!

        I’m remindded of the young man who stopped me in the street. he had been coming to the AP for years, he thought it and me and the other workers were great. I had no idea who he was, nobody did. He must have been coming to the AP and ignoring us and being unnoticed.



        Now, I’m not with you on the trust thing.
        sure I get the dad trusts son to ask for go on scooter thing, other dad trust you and gak and so on, but….

        say more please

        Say a bit more about trust in this context.

        *larkinise, you can probably work out that I mean ‘they mess you up, your mum and dad…”
        **OPC = other people’s children

      • Say more on trust? I’m not sure I can. I mean, playworker or non-playworker alike, we should all take responsibility for what we deliberately or might inadvertantly put into children’s heads. In the latter case, we ought to try to be aware of being caught off-guard. You might say to all of the above: why? Children grow up, sure, but they might keep with them parts of others, as we all might, and those parts have various affects. If I’m a part of someone else, I want that to be the best part of me I can give them.

  2. BTW, did you know that ‘Gak’ is a Klingon delicacy consisting of live [and vicious] bloodworms in a spicy sauce? Eat them before they eat you! Truly the repast of a warrior!

    No really! According to Star Trek. Not a majot trekie, just happened to catch one ep of DS9 that was funny…

    • I’ll take your word on the Klingon Gak, though Gack here has a silent, significant C (other consonants’ significances notwithstanding)!

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