Something I’ve long been very aware of is the potential magnitude of moments: the things that pass us by because we’re not wise enough to ‘read’ them correctly. I’m adding to my understanding of this all the time, in new things learned and in re-realisations. This week I re-realised that I’m tall. I’ve known this, obviously, for the duration of my entire adulthood, but this week I re-realised that — in our moments of adult-child relating — there’s more to physical height differences than just the visually apparent. I’m well used to sitting on floors in past places of work with children, and at home, but in the winter on this playground, I’ve been walking and not sitting much. When a girl came to the fire pit this week, in a grumpy mood about something in her day, firing all the ‘whatever’ attitude of her present state of mind at me, I wasn’t helping even though I tried to listen and joke with her.
She was telling me things of her day-to-days but it was laced with something simmering under the surface. It suddenly occurred to me to lower my height because I had been leant up against the palette wall to the fire pit. More than this, it suddenly occurred to me to crouch right down, leaning my lower back against the wood: she now stood over me. Her whole disposition shifted immediately. It wasn’t that I was consciously trying to engineer this change in her way of being, at that moment: it was that I realised, after, that I had been affecting her too.
The magnitude of the moment struck me. We should not underestimate such small stories as these. It leads me to think back a short while, to a story written of recently of visiting an after school club, indoors, where I was able to communicate non-verbally (or, as I felt it) with a younger child as we slid down the wall divider next to each other, together. It makes me re-think on the times when I’ve been lower than the physical height of children. There’s often a shift in communications.
Moments come in other shapes and flavours, not just those of height considerations, and they can also be misread. A few days later, the same girl was at the fire pit again and I already knew I was tired and I felt I wasn’t reading the play as well as I could have done. The girl had spent a fair amount of time just poking the embers that had settled there (the fire had been lit quite early on and it had had a chance to settle). When her mum came for her, the girl ran inside to her. There was no-one else around, she was one of the last to go, so I threw the water from the nearby bucket onto the fire to put it out. I went to get some more from the standpipe. When I came back, the girl came charging out again and saw the rising plume of smoke caused by the sodden embers. She called me all sorts of things. She stomped off, muttering under her breath words to the effect of hating me now. I realised that, although she didn’t say it in so many words, she’d wanted to show her mum the fire she’d been nurturing. I hadn’t read the play up till then well enough because I was tired.
This is a moment that I write in order to remember it. I write the following for the same reasons. On the bench outside, a boy was banging away at the innards of an ex-computer, which was pretty flat but he kept going anyway. He progressed to use of the sledgehammer, dropping it onto the circuitry from a small height. I stayed close by, wary of toes. The girl of the stories above came by: ‘I want to try; let me use the sledge.’ She hefted it, dropped it, a few times. The moment of magnitude in question was a reading of some small satisfaction.
Three children wanted wood for the fire and I sourced a palette for them which I’d put by earlier in the day. They started banging it with hammers to try to break it up but nothing would shift. They wanted the sledgehammer but when they each tried to lift it, it was too heavy for them. They succeeded, individually or by group effort, in raising it and letting it drop with a dull thud-plop onto the wood without much impact. In the end they resorted back to the hammers as I sledged the palette and as they hooked off the scraps. The children knew about health and safety well enough, I realised: ‘Hold on!’ one kept telling me, ‘Let me get out of the way’ (which she was, but I suppose she must have felt it necessary to tell me again).
A boy was being bugged by two others. I couldn’t see what the focus of the issue was, but the play of the two boys (which wasn’t so much play for the first boy) fell around inside and outside in sporadic bursts. Eventually, the bugged boy took himself off to the far side of the playground on his own. I watched him go, left him for a little while, but decided for some reason that I should go open up a conversation. I circled around towards the roundabout, pretending I was doing other things, but really, truthfully, I think he had me pinned almost immediately. He stayed there though, and I came to crouch down at the roundabout bars as he slowly spun around. I asked him if there was anything I could do. He blanked me completely. I asked again in other ways and I got the same response. Slowly, quietly, he slid the roundabout to a crawl, which allowed him to get off. He walked away without a word or a look my way. I crouched there on the bar, despite being below his eye height, slowly spinning on my own. I hadn’t read this one right, nor had I chosen the best course of action, despite my best intentions. Other children came over immediately and cued me to spin them, which I did. I watched the boy trudge off into the gloom of the middle of the playground. I didn’t take his blanking of me personally.
I write this small story, and others, here and now to remember about moments and their potential magnitude.